Turning the Corner


“They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” said Coach Brad Wetzel. The team was down starting off at 1-4, but they were never out of the fight and they made that point obvious against Norwin in front of their home crowd and they surely didn’t disappoint.

The 1-4 season took a twist  December 20, the first home game at the Den, against the Norwin Knights. It was the start of something good for the Cats.

The students were ready, dressed in their Christmas attire, singing Christmas songs during foul shots, and making noise in order to make it difficult for the opposition. As the students were ready the the rest of the fans from Latrobe packed the gym for the first home game. The noisy atmosphere only continued from the opening tip to the final horn, which gave the Cats a bit of an edge with the “home court advantage”.

Wetzel believes the team’s chemistry contribute to their success. “The team’s chemistry is there and everyone on the team puts the team first before themselves.”

The team is incredibly young, having one senior (P.J. Self), but that has kept the team’s bond close on and off the court. They can trust each other. Being selfless, they have confidence to pass the ball to any teammate. They have a brotherhood.

The chemistry and that first home game has all sparked the success for the Cats six game winning streak that lasted for nearly four weeks.

The streak began against Norwin and the win gave the Cats first section win of the 2013-2014 season. With one practice in between, the Cats scorched the point column with their highest point total since the first game (80 points) the following Monday beating Laurel Highlands in a non-section battle.

Following the Christmas holiday, the Cats traveled to Penn Hills to play two basketball games against two Quad-A Section II opponents (McKeesport and then host, Penn Hills). They battled and pulled out two hard fought basketball games winning both games by a combined nine points. The team won their first game against McKeesport by a late two point basketball by sophomore Craig Stevens with less than 20 seconds left.

Less than 24 hours later the Cats took the court and took care of business beating host, Penn Hills by seven.

2014 came around and the new year didn’t change anything. The Cats got their second and third section win against Connellsville and, also youthful, Penn Trafford. Penn Trafford was the Cats first win away against a section opponent.

Although their win streak dissolved in January’s third week, the losses came against two of the top teams in the Section. The Cats lost both games by a combined seven points.

The team battled first place and undefeated, Hempfield, down to the wire at home. It took a late pair of free throws by Hempfield’s newest one thousand point getter, Kason Harrell, to put the Spartans ahead of the Cats in the final minute and ultimately beating their rival 37-35. Although victorious, the Spartans only managed to have four players scoring (two of four had seven combined points). Harrell also had 22 of the teams 37 points.

Three nights later the Cats hosted yet another top tier team from the section, second place Kiski Area. The Cavs had two scorers who combined for 43 of their 62 points. Mike Simmons had 21 and Joe Brungo had 22 (11 points from the free throw line). The Cavs, overall, shot 72% from the free throw line. The Cats got edged once again 62-57.

“They (the team) faced challenges, but they couldn’t just turn it around without hard work. The problems didn’t kill them and they all stuck together, they worked together to fix their mistakes,” Wetzel said. The entire team battled their challenges on each side of the ball and just went back to the basics.

After the six game win streak the Wildcats are back in playoff contention and are still battling to secure a bid to familiar grounds in the WPIAL playoffs. As January winds down with the back half of the section schedule, the Wildcats look to continue to keep up their winning ways in February. The Cats will try to replicate what they did over Christmas in February and let their play take them to a place where no one gave thought about them being a couple months ago.