By Roger Coda
As eight-graders, these North East basketball players could count all their victories that season on just one hand. Four years later, today’s seniors achieved considerable success by winning 13 wins and receiving an at-large bid in the District 10 playoffs.
“I’m really pleased; these kids won only four games in the junior high program, so they made a lot of gains.”
That’s how veteran North East coach Tom Pyle assessed the progress of this year’s team whose season ended in the opening playoff round last Thursday when the Grapepickers dropped a 64-56 decision to Sharpsville, the top seed from the Mercer County league.
“Any loss in the playoffs is disappointing, but you and the team have to feel good about the season,” he said. Of the five senior starters, only James Bailey had gained much varsity experience as a junior.
North East endured another poor-shooting night – connecting on 37 percent of its field goals — but was still able to claim a 13-12 edge after the first period and was down just 3 points, 27-24, at the half. The Blue Devils, who boosted their record to 15-8 with the win, gradually pulled away in the second half with a 16-14 edge in the third period, followed by a 16-14 tally to wrap up the victory.
“Of the 10 games that we lost, eight came down to one or two points late in the game, and we didn’t have anyone who could make an offensive play. We had the opportunity, but we just couldn’t get over the hump, and this game was exactly the same way,” Pyle said. “We did a lot of things well; we just didn’t make enough plays to make the game.”
Also figuring mightily in the final score was exceptional foul shooting by Sharpsville, who drained 22 of 23 shots, while North East was a still very respectable 15-of-19 from the line. Both teams logged 19 field goals.
Pyle pointed to the absence of Cody Artise, who suffered a football injury last fall and was unable to play the entire season, as a critical loss for the team that won North East’s first team camp championship in Buffalo this past summer. “In eight of those games we lost, I think he would have made a difference in five of them.” he added.
Jimmy Bailey led North East, which finished at 13-10 overall, with 18 points. Sean Bogart finished with 14.
The trio of Ben Davis, 21 points, Chad Piccirilli, 18, and Jon Wilson, 15, accounted for 54 of Sharpsville’s 64 points.
Even though the game was played on a weeknight at Sharon High School, a large number of enthusiastic fans made the two-hour drive in poor winter weather to cheer for their team.