While many area boys basketball teams experienced success this season, extending their campaigns into the playoffs, Mt. Lebanon had a banner year, capturing a WPIAL championship and falling to eventual state champion Kennedy Catholic in the PIAA tournament.
So it comes as no surprise the Blue Devils dominate the 2019 Almanac All-Star roster, which was compiled by consulting local coaches, comparing statistics and watching games played throughout the season.
Lebo’s Hayden Mitchell tops the list. The senior earned Most Valuable Player honors.
“He flew under the opponents’ radar for two years,” Blue Devils’ head coach Joe David said. “Hayden did it all for us. He was the complete player. Unselfish.”
While his regular season statistics were not gaudy (11.5 points, five rebounds, 2.5 steals, four assists and 4.6 deflections per game), Mitchell picked up the pace in the playoffs and led the Blue Devils to their first district title since 2010.
“He played solid all year but really stepped it up and was a leader for us during the postseason,” David said.
His 13.2-point average topped all teammates. He averaged 6.7 rebounds and continued to be the playmaker with 4.2 assists per game. Mitchell also was a top defender and managed 4.5 deflections per game. Plus his accuracy from the charity stripe, a 90 percent conversion rate, “sealed” many games.
It was his rebounding that helped Lebo secure a 62-57 win over Butler in the WPIAL Class 6A championship game at the Petersen Events Center. He grabbed 10 boards while adding seven points. In the PIAA tournament, Mitchell scored a team-high 19 points and converted 8 of 9 free throws in the fourth quarter to seal Lebo’s win against Manheim Township, 67-57. He had nine points and nine rebounds in a win against City League champion Taylor Allderdice. Then he capped his career with a team-high 18 points, complete with four, 3-point field goals in the season-ending loss to Kennedy Catholic, 68-51, in the state quarterfinals.
For Mitchell, winning the WPIAL title was his career highlight. The championship came on the heels of a disappointing defeat in the semifinals of the 2018 tournament.
“This means everything,” Mitchell said of the district championship, “because the semifinal loss was heartbreaking. We worked every single day as hard as we could for this and to accomplish it feels amazing.”
Mitchell’s ability to shine athletically while also balancing the academics was equally amazing as his play on the court. He also excelled on the links for Lebo.
Mitchell helped the Blue Devils to two section titles and a fourth-place showing in the 2017 WPIAL team golf championships and a semifinal showing last autumn.
Individually, Mitchell qualified for the WPIAL golf championships and played at Oakmont Country Club, giving him another impressive venue at which to perform.
“Golfing at Oakmont was awesome,” Mitchell said. “I obviously have been blessed to compete there and at the Petersen Center.”
Mitchell is highly competitive in the classroom, too. He maintains a 4.8 GPA. During the Great Eight Classic held in Missouri, Mitchell walked away with the academic award for highest grade-point average among all 16 teams competing in that holiday tournament held in December.
Mitchell said smarts and his golf experiences have helped him in games situations and in remaining calm during tense times, including knocking down late-game free throws.
“Golf actually played a big part in my success on the basketball court,” Mitchell said. “Being able to make a putt at the end of the match compared to making a free throw at the end of the game is very similar.”
Mitchell noted, however, he is not the only one on the team who possesses these talents.
“Just analyzing and making reads plays a big factor in games,” he said. “I think that’s with everyone on our team. We had a really smart group of guys. Mentally, we were pretty tough.”
Mitchell’s next transition will also be tough, as he is considering some high-powered engineering schools such as Ohio State, Villanova and Bucknell. He will not play sports in college.
“I love playing golf, but I have invested more time into basketball,” Mitchell said. “I have been fortunate to play both and to have had great experiences. From our fans to my teammates, everything this season has been awesome. Amazing.”
Three join Mitchell
Mitchell’s teammates were nearly as incredible and three of them join him on the Almanac all-star list.
Unlike Mitchell, two of them, who are underclassmen, will continue to play basketball for Lebo and are talented enough to keep the Blue Devils in contention for further success during the 2019-20 campaign.
Jake Hoffman joins Mitchell on the Almanac’s first team while Blaine Gartley is joined by Sean Loughran, a senior, on the second squad. Hoffman and Gartley were first-team, all-section performers while Loughran garnered second-team honors.
Hoffman led Lebo in scoring with a 16-point average. He also managed five rebounds, two steals, 2.1 assists and 3.3 blocks per game. In the WPIAL championship win against Butler, the junior swingman exploded for 19 points. He buried five, 3-point field goals, including a long-range shot followed by a layup that gave Lebo a commanding lead, 56-49, with 3:35 to play.
“Jake was our most improved player this year,” David said. “With a good offseason, he has the ability to be even better next year.”
The same is true for Gartley.
The pint-sized guard possesses a keen eye and brilliant range. The junior averaged 12.4 points, three rebounds, 2.6 steals, four assists and 3.6 blocks per game.
“Blaine was our hardest worker. He was fearless throughout our championship run,” David said. “He was a true leader on the court.”
Since his freshman year, Loughran has led, too. He averaged 13.7 points to go along with 3.6 rebounds, 1.6 steals and two assists per game. He led Lebo’s attack on Butler, scoring 21 points in the WPIAL final.
“For four years, Sean has been a contributor,” David said. “During our championship run, he was a fantastic leader.”
Pair lead Panthers
Tanner Gensler and Chris Pantelis were senior leaders at Upper St. Clair, which finished runner-up to Mt. Lebanon in Section 2 with an 8-2 record and 19-4 overall after falling to Butler, 75-70, in the quarterfinals of the WPIAL tournament.
Both were all-section performers on the first and second teams, respectively.
A 6-4 forward, Gensler averaged 19.2 points per game to go along with 7.6 rebounds. He exploded for 39 and 42 points in section wins against Bethel Park and Peters Township. The 42-point performance is believed to be a school record. He is considering playing college basketball at La Roche and Muskingum.
“Tanner had a great year because all of his hard work over the years,” USC head coach Danny Holzer said. “He also was a tremendous team leader.”
In every facet, Pantelis was a great team leader, too. He averaged 11.9 points and 6.7 rebounds a game. He had a career-high 28 points in USC’s upset win, 58-51, against Allderdice.
“Chris was our rock in all situations,” Holzer said. “Since I have met him, he has been a hard worker. His leadership is exemplary. He’s a role model on and off the court.”
Pantelis, who maintains a 4.72 GPA, will continue his athletic career, playing football and majoring in pre-medicine at Johns Hopkins University.
Duo excels at BP
While it may have been a somewhat disappointing year at Bethel Park (2-8 in section and 13-9 overall), Alex Mullen and Ryan Meis did not let the Black Hawks down.
Both guards earned All-Section first-team honors and ranked among the top scorers in the WPIAL.
Mullen managed 17.9 points per game. The senior also averaged 5.9 rebounds. He converted 88 percent of his free throws.
Meis led the Black Hawks in scoring with an 18.9 average. The junior playmaker averaged 4.3 assists a game. He also pulled down 4.3 rebounds an outing.
Pipolo shines for CV
A four-year starter, Joe Pipolo propelled Chartiers Valley into the playoffs after a one-year hiatus from the district tournament. In Section 2, the Colts finished runner-up to Moon, which won the PIAA Class 5A championship. Overall, CV posted an 18-7 record after reaching the WPIAL semifinals and falling to York William Penn, 85-73, in the state playoffs.
Pipolo ranked among the top scorers in the WPIAL with his 18-point average. He was a playmaker and top marksmen from 3-point range for the Colts as well as a force on the boards. The senior earned first-team all-section honors.
Cote tops for PT
The future is bright at Peters Township because Colin Cote returns to the line-up. The junior averaged 18 points per game for the Indians, who finished 16-8 overall after falling to Pine-Richland, 66-64, in the WPIAL quarterfinals.
The 6-5 guard earned all-section honors and is noted for his outside range. He had back-to-back games in which he buried eight 3-point field goals.
“Colin can fill it up,” PT head coach Gary Goga said. “He had some huge games for us this year.
“He works extremely hard on his game and is continuing to improve as a player. We expect big things from him next year.”
David named COTY
No matter the year, big things come from Joe David.
In his 18th season as Mt. Lebanon’s head coach, he guided the Blue Devils to the WPIAL Class 6A championship and an Elite Eight appearance in the PIAA tournament. David’s teams have competed in five district finals, winning two titles in 2006 and 2010. Mt. Lebanon made it to one PIAA final in 2011 during his tenure with the program.
This season, David guided the Blue Devils to a section title with a 9-1 record. Lebo finished 24-4 overall after falling to eventual state champion Kennedy Catholic in the quarterfinals of the PIAA tournament.
David said he succeeded this season thanks to five “unselfish” starters and a system he termed “BORA.”
“A barrage of organized chaos and run-less attacks,” he said. “We were able to run it because my guys are in great shape. They have been some of the hardest working guys that I have had. So, when I saw other guys from other teams grabbing at their shorts, I knew that we’d be OK.”
And while David is OK with his players, Mt. Lebanon is keen on its coach.
“Joe is a terrific coach,” Mt. Lebanon athletic director John Grogan said. “He does a tremendous job year in and year out and our teams are always competitive, but in my mind he’s a better person.”
”He’s a hard worker but a really good person, dedicated to his family, business, community and our basketball program,” Grogan added. “He’s a competitive person but a caring one, as well. He’s teaching life lessons that our young men take beyond sports and the basketball court. I am proud that he is a representative of our program, school district and community.”
And David is The Almanac’s representative as Coach of the Year for the 2018-19 boys’ basketball season.