IRWIN — The Greater Latrobe boys’ basketball team just can’t seem to get any momentum on its side.
That was the case for the Wildcats during a 66-53 WPIAL Class 6A Section 3 defeat at Norwin on Friday, as Greater Latrobe stayed within striking distance through most of the fourth quarter, but couldn’t do enough to complete the comeback.
“The culture here doesn’t accept moral victories…doesn’t accept anything less than our best and right now. We’re just simply not playing our best,” Greater Latrobe coach Brad Wetzel said. “I think the emptiness we’re feeling is because we have more left in the tank…we have more to offer.”
Greater Latrobe (1-3, 3-10) won four section titles and no fewer than 16 games in each of the last five seasons. But the Wildcats have struggled through the first month of the 2019-20 season.
Greater Latrobe has lost seven of its last eight games, and two straight, currently. The Wildcats thought they had momentum on their side a week ago with a significant, dominant 63-41 home win against Penn-Trafford, which snapped a five-game losing streak. But a deflating 18-point loss at Connellsville followed, prior to Friday’s 13-point setback against the Knights.
That has the Wildcats at 1-3 in the section — tied for last with Norwin (1-3, 9-3) — and at a crossroads entering a home clash against Hempfield Area (2-2, 6-7) on Tuesday (7:30 p.m.).
“These guys are tough, and it’s a grueling schedule,” Wetzel said. “I think the leadership is going to be tested.
“Are they going to come to practice and keep working like they have been without getting those wins? My answer is yes, they’ll be there. We have to keep plugging away and I think we’ll get some wins.”
Greater Latrobe has won just six times in the last 17 years at Norwin. The Wildcats didn’t have a lead in this one as Norwin led wire-to-wire, starting with the first eight points and an early 11-3 advantage.
“I was hoping we could get out of the gate and not spot a team points,” Wetzel said. “Early on, I thought their size and strength hurt us inside. And then I thought after the first couple minutes, it was pretty much an even game from there on out.”
Michael Noonan led the Wildcats with a game-high 25 points while Ryan Sickenberger also finished in double figures with 12 points. Ty Bilinsky paced the Knights with 21 points, while Jayden Walker — playing his second game following off-season shoulder surgery — was a force inside with 14 points and 17 rebounds. Josh Williams also scored 11 points for the Knights.
“Having Walker back is a big plus for them,” Wetzel said. “He’s a big body and we had difficulty at times keeping him off the glass.”
The Wildcats trailed, 35-25, at the half, and Sickenberger’s three-pointer early in the third quarter cut the deficit to nine points at 37-28. The Knights scored the next six points for a 43-28 advantage.
Greater Latrobe got it back to nine points, 45-36, thanks to a six-point spurt from Noonan and Sickenberger, but the Knights led, 54-44, heading into the fourth quarter.
“They kept us at arm’s length and that was to their advantage,” Wetzel said.
Sickenberger’s three-pointer made it a seven-point game, 56-49, but that was it for the Wildcats. They had chances offensively to cut into the Knights’ lead, but were unable to pull any closer. Instead, the Knights finished with 10 of the last 14 points to seal the win.
“It’s frustrating because you get a couple turnovers, you get a couple bounces, but the shots don’t fall,” Wetzel said. “That’s true for any team, but I think this team has a more difficult time rebounding from that. I thought we had ourselves in position to make a run, but we just had to can a couple shots.
“Right when we would make that shot, they would answer, so that’s a credit to them.”
That has the Wildcats in an unfamiliar position at this point in section play. They have a critical home showdown Tuesday at Hempfield Area followed by an exhibition at Penn Hills and a showcase at Woodland Hills before the final five-game stretch run in the section.
Wetzel feels his Wildcats can rebound from their rough start.
“It’s just a matter of us shoring up the loose ends,” Wetzel said. “I thought there were times when we needed to get the offense to work instead of forcing the issue.
“I think the effort is there, but I thought we made some mental mistakes. We just have to be cleaner.”
Greater Latrobe also fell in junior varsity play, 66-39.
Ben Hamaty led the team with 13 points while Zach Marucco followed with eight points.