Titans successful season ends in with one-point playoff loss


JM Weber Photography

Keegan Smetanka takes a jump shot against Plum.

Brady McGuire

After having one of the best seasons in recent memory, the Shaler Area Boys Basketball team finished second in a strong section and earned a WPIAL playoff berth.

The Titans came into this season with a strong junior class consisting of Joey Desabato, Keegan Smetanka, Kaden Orga, Sam Himrod, Brandon London, Joey Miller, TJ Belles, and Julian Vizzoca. All eight of these players played major roles in their freshman and sophomore seasons and had a lot of varsity experience. The best part about this team: their chemistry.

“We didn’t have a selfish locker room. We had guys who played for each other, which makes coaching them that much easier and that much more fun,” Head Coach Rob Niederberger said.

The season kicked off with the Titans going 8-2 in non-section play. After Christmas break, the Titans would start section play with games against Plum, Woodland Hills, Penn Hills, Armstrong and Fox Chapel.

The first round of section play the Titans were without point guard Joey Desabato who suffered an ankle injury in the holiday tournament. The Titans stayed strong and went 3-2 in the first half of section play.

The Titans were tied in second place with Fox Chapel to begin the second half of section play, but with all players healthy, the Titans got hot in the second half of their section games.

The Titans went on to go 3-1 in their section setting up a showdown for second place in the section against Fox Chapel.

A packed house set the stage for a game that would have major playoff implications in seeding. The Titans ended up winning 60-50 to secure second place in the section behind Penn Hills.

“We played horrible the first time we played them at their place, so we knew we had to bring it that night. We all came together and contributed something to the win, so it was great. It was a great atmosphere to play in, and winning the game secured us second in our section,” Himrod said.

When the playoff seeds were announced, the Titans were given a 9-seed in the tournament. Their opponent would be the South Fayette Lions, who Shaler Area had lost to earlier in the season but beat in the playoffs last year.

The first round playoff game for the Titans was a defensive matchup. At half, the score was only 16-14. In the third quarter, the Lions got hot and raced out to a 24-16 lead. Shaler struggled offensively in the third, but an and-one by TJ Belles gave the Titans momentum going into the fourth quarter.

A 10-0 run in the beginning of the fourth quarter put the Titans up 29-28 with a couple minutes remaining. They would go on to extend this lead to 33-30 with only 45 seconds left in the game. But after a South Fayette layup and a missed free throw by the Titans, South Fayette had a shot to win the game. They went down and got a last second layup that would win them the game and end the Titans’ season.

“I feel like we had a really good season. Unfortunately not the way we wanted to end. I know everyone in our locker room thought we should have made a deeper run, but we had many learning opportunities and improved from last year,” Orga said.

The Titans had received recognition for their individual and team play. Brandon London got 1st Team All Section while Keegan Smetanka and Kaden Orga got 2nd Team. The Titans also had the second best defense in class 5A only behind WPIAL Champions Penn Hills.

Even though the playoff loss this year was tough for the Titans, next year’s team has a lot of upside. The Titans returns all eight of its players that played major minutes for them this year for their senior year.

“I think the team next year with everyone coming back is going to be special, especially with all the hard work we have been putting in, we have a great chance of going all the way,” London said.