Mohawk defense denies New Brighton
Mohawk (41) Vs. New Brighton (26)
Jan 20, 2009
By JOE SAGER
NEW BRIGHTON — Thanks to a stifling defense and a patient offense, the Mohawk boys basketball team is headed back to the playoffs.
The Warriors parlayed their best defensive effort of the year into a 41-26 WPIAL Section 2-AA road win at New Brighton.
Mohawk (8-0 section, 14-2 overall) secured one of the section’s four playoff berths with the victory, the team’s sixth in a row. Also, it cemented the Warriors’ place atop the section standings over the second-place Lions (4-3, 11-4).
“We’re excited about that. Our goal before the season was to clinch a playoff spot. We wanted to do that as soon as we could,” Mohawk coach Kevin Wrona said. “Once we did that, we could shift our focus to the section title and we know that’s in our grasp now. We control our own destiny with that. If we can get one more win, we know what that means for us and we’re excited about that.”
Mohawk hasn’t won a section title since 1986. The Warriors can change that Tuesday at home with a win over Laurel (3-5, 7-8). Wrona’s troops need to win one of their four remaining section games to claim the championship.
“We made the playoffs and that’s always what we want to do as a program,” said Mohawk’s Matt Lorello, who finished with a game-high 18 points and 12 rebounds. “We just have to take it one game at a time now. We know we are one win away from clinching it and we have Laurel at our home court next week. It’s going to be a huge game for us.”
Last night’s win was important in the standings, but also for getting the Warriors prepared for playoff basketball. The team leaned on its defense to tame the Lions, who didn’t score more than 10 points for the game’s first 20 minutes.
“Coach told us we were going to have to grind this one out,” Lorello said. “We came into this game ready to go; we knew it wasn’t going to be a high-scoring game. We just had to play better defense than they did and we wanted it more.”
New Brighton’s defense was pretty strong, too, but Mohawk patiently worked the ball inside for its points. The Warriors converted only one field goal from outside the paint — Jake Grim’s 3-pointer 1:16 into the contest.
“That’s been the story of our season. That’s our strength; our strength is our inside play and we’re willing to go at it,” Wrona said. “But, we also have confidence in our perimeter guys that, if the game calls for it, we’ll be able to do that. New Brighton plays a physical man-to-man defense and we had to fight through a lot of things here, but we were able to find a way to get it done.
“We knew it was going to be one of those games where we’d have to come down here and we didn’t care how it looked — we were willing to grind it out,” he continued. “If that meant running our offense and running it through and through, we were willing to do that. I tip my hat to our kids for the way we battled defensively. We made them work for what they did get, too.”
Mohawk posted an 8-4 edge after the first quarter and increased it to 20-10 at halftime. The Warriors pulled away in the third with a 10-0 run to start the frame. The guests’ lead swelled to 21 points, 33-12, before New Brighton took advantage of some Mohawk miscues for an 8-0 spree to close the quarter with a 33-20 deficit.
“When you are playing on the road against the second-place team in the section, that can be expected,” Wrona said. “We didn’t think we’d come down here and blow them out. Maybe we got a little tentative and tight with the ball and they picked up their pressure. It was a combination of all those things that caused us to turn the ball over a little more than we liked.”
The Warriors regrouped in the final stanza and held on for the win. The guests made one field goal and went 6 for 14 from the foul line in the frame, but their defense remained tough. Lorello led the charge as he grabbed seemingly every defensive rebound in his vicinity in the final minutes.
“Matt has been doing that all season for us. As a senior, he knew what this game meant,” Wrona said. “When we got down to about three or four minutes, he knew we had the chance to do something special and he wasn’t going to let us be denied of that opportunity.”
Grim finished with 15 points for Mohawk. Colin Bredl added six points off the bench.
D.J. Pearson led the Lions with 14 points.