Highlands displays growth in key Section 1-4A win at Knoch
That’s the word Highlands boys basketball coach Tyler Stoczynski used to describe the difference between a 15-point loss to Knoch at home Jan. 8 and a 54-45 victory Tuesday over the Knights.
The Golden Rams trailed by 10 in the first quarter but worked their way toward the victory to throw the Section 1-4A race into a tie at the top.
Johnny Crise scored 22 points and pulled down 11 rebounds, and fellow junior Luke Cochran scored 20 with seven assists to pace Highlands (12-5).
Both teams are 7-1 and in first place with two games left in the section season. If the race ends tied, both schools will receive a section championship plaque, per WPIAL policy.
“Early in the season, that could have been a catastrophic 10-points, maybe insurmountable,” Stoczynski said of Knoch’s early 18-8 advantage. “It just shows that our guys have completely bought into what we are doing. They’re trusting what we’re telling them and they’re executing some really nice plays out there as a team.”
Scot Fraser, Julian Sanks and Jared Schecengost all made 3-pointers in the first quarter as the Knights (13-5), No. 5 in Class 4A this week, took command.
But Schecengost picked up his third personal foul with 2 minutes, 11 seconds left in the first, forcing Knoch coach Ron McNabb to make some unanticipated lineup changes.
“Of course, the foul trouble hurt us,” McNabb said. “(Schecengost) having to sit out so much, Julian got his fourth foul and Ryan Lang got four. So we had to change up some things.”
All three players had four fouls in the fourth quarter. None fouled out, but McNabb was forced to mix-and-match players in unfamiliar roles.
“It was a challenge. We had to start switching things up early,” McNabb said. “We had to put a guard, Scottie Fraser, on Crise. I thought Scotty did a good job, but we had to leave one of their perimeter players open.”
The 6-foot-6 Crise followed a missed shot with a pronounced slam to give Highlands a 27-26 lead.
“We came into this game and knew it would not be an easy win, a dogfight from the very beginning,” Crise said. “When stuff doesn’t go our way, we have to come together closer than we have been.”
Knoch trailed by just two points at the end of the second and third quarters, but Highlands clamped down of defense in the fourth quarter, holding Knoch to six points.
“We really challenged our guys,” Stoczynski said. “They really thumped us on the boards that first game. We challenged our guards to go after the rebounds. Rebounding is nothing but toughness and they rose to the occasion.”
Scott Fraser led the Knights with 14 points and Jake Scheidt added 11, including a trio of 3-point baskets.
George Guido is freelance writer.