By: Jerin Steele
Friday, February 8, 2019 | 6:54 PM
In the moments following Monday’s 44-38 loss to Albert Gallatin, the stinging reality of missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade started to set in for the Gateway boys basketball team.
In his postgame talk, Gators coach Alvis Rogers told his players to soak in the moment and use it as motivation.
“We told them to remember the feeling they have, because they don’t want to have that same feeling next year,” Rogers said.
A young Gators team pulled off consecutive Section 1-5A victories over Laurel Highlands and Greensburg Salem last week to get back into the postseason picture, but the loss to the Colonials ensured they’d miss the WPIAL postseason for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
In the Albert Gallatin game, Gateway (5-14, 3-8) played without sophomore guard Bonzi Parks, a double-digit scorer. Parks was injured the night before at North Allegheny in what Rogers described as a freak non-contact injury, while trying to break through a trap while bringing the ball up court.
With a lineup missing one of its standouts, Gateway struggled in the first half before fighting back to make it close, but eventually fell.
Rogers said some of the things that have plagued the Gators all season like missed assignments on defense and turnovers happened in the Albert Gallatin game, but one area he felt really hurt them was missed layups.
“When you get open shots and layups at home you usually make them, but we weren’t able to do that,” Rogers said. “We tell our guys all the time that a missed layup is like a turnover.
“When you miss a layup it’s deflating. I always tell the guys that they work so hard for that look that they have to pay themselves. When you work that hard and you don’t pay yourself it ends up weighing on their psyche, but that’s a part of youth. When you have experience you might miss one, but you know that you’re going to come back and make the next two or three.”
The Gators have only two seniors, Nate Roper, the lone senior starter, and Lamonte Farrish, leaving a lot of significant minutes to underclassmen like freshman Will Kromka and sophomore Hunter Hicks, who Rogers said had a strong performance in the Albert Gallatin game.
Gateway struggled through the meat of its schedule, losing six consecutive games, five in Section 1-5A, before rebounding with a 39-36 win over Laurel Highlands and one of its strongest performances, a 61-42 victory at Greensburg Salem. They were positive moments, but the hole they dug earlier was too big to overcome.
“The guys haven’t played a lot of minutes at the level that we are playing, and I think that gets to be taxing on them,” Rogers said. “When things didn’t go their way, their confidence started to wane. When we came back and played the two section games we won, we had some time off before them. That did them good. They looked fresh and hungry, but the youth and inexperience at the high level we play has taken its toll on some of the kids, if not all of them.”
Gateway concluded section play at rival McKeesport on Friday and had nonsection games at North Hills and against North Catholic left on the schedule.
The Gators return the core of their team in Kromka, junior R.J. Stevenson, Hicks and Parks. They’ll look to get back on track next season after a humbling experience this year that they hope they can learn from going forward.
“I tell them how good or bad Gateway is that Gateway always has a target on its back because of the guys that came before them,” Rogers said. “I’m trying to get them to understand that. They have to come out and play hard every day, and they have to be focused. They’re young and we get most of the guys back, so it’ll be interesting to see how they react. I think they’ll be hungry.”
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.