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Latrobe boys hope to carry momentum into section play

Joe Sager
590368GTRLatrobeGate6121318
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Latrobe’s Noah Belak goes for a layup as Gateway’s Hunter Hicks (10) covers on defense on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018 during boys’ basketball at Greater Latrobe High School.

Excitement abounds for Latrobe boys basketball in 2019.

The Wildcats just hope the momentum from 2018 carries over as the calendar changes.

Latrobe racked up an 8-2 record during a busy and challenging December, which culminated in the championship game of the Josh Palmer Fund Elmira Holiday Inn Classic in Elmira, N.Y.

“I am extremely pleased. In my 18 years coaching here, I think this is the hardest schedule we’ve ever had. I think, with the schedule we’ve given them, that could’ve been overwhelming to a team,” Latrobe coach Brad Wetzel said. “They’ve answered the call, though. They come to practice every day extremely focused. If we continue to improve, we could be a very good team.”

The Wildcats, ranked No. 1 in Class 6A, won their first five games before they dropped an 89-60 decision to Allderdice. Latrobe rebounded for wins in its next three before falling to St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes, one of Virginia’s top-ranked teams, 96-50, in Sunday’s championship game in Elmira.

“We went down to Taylor Allderdice and played the best team in the West on their floor. It was probably the medicine we needed to see where were needed to be in about two months,” Wetzel said. “(St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes) has multiple juniors and seniors who have (NCAA) Division I offers. It was a big challenge. They were a lot like an Allderdice team, but a lot bigger across the board.”

Nevertheless, the trip was successful on and off the court for the squad.

“We had fun. It was good for team bonding,” Latrobe senior Reed Fenton said. “It was nice seeing teams from different areas. The second night, we played Elmira and, not only did we have to beat them, but the home crowd, too. It was a great environment.”

“We didn’t really know what to expect, but we had some good competition,” added Latrobe senior Alex Bisignani. “We all knew that going to New York would be fun. We all get along so well on this team. We had three games in three days and that’s a lot of basketball, but it was exciting.”

The Wildcats didn’t have much time to explore while in New York. They hung out at their hotel between practices and games, which was OK with them.

“It was a pretty good trip. It’s fun playing with guys you’re best friends with. Winning is the best part, too,” Latrobe senior Trent Holler said. “It was cool to have some team boding. We were able to hang out and get to know each other better. We were able to hop in on some Fortnite whenever we got back to our hotel, too.”

With the team back home, it’s back to business, which includes more WPIAL Section 3-6A competition, starting Friday at Penn-Trafford. Latrobe opened section play Dec. 21 with a key 66-62 win at Fox Chapel.

“We really put an emphasis on going into Christmas break strong. We wanted to bounce back after that loss to Allderdice. That Fox Chapel game was what we needed for our first section game,” Latrobe senior Bryce Butler said. “Our first game back is at P-T. That should be a tough one. It’s always tough going in there and playing a team like that.”

While the Wildcats are happy with what they’ve done so far, they know they have areas to improve in order to be ready for a long postseason run.

“We always say rebounding has been the No. 1 area where we can improve. We really work on boxing out. Our communication can always get better, too, so there are no discrepancies on where people need to be,” Latrobe senior Noah Belak said. “Playing in that tournament was so fun and I think it’ll really help us the rest of the season.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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