SHARON – It wasn’t so long ago Sharon High boys’ basketball program advanced to 3 consecutive District 10 championship games. While wins have been few and far between this season, the Tigers are trending upward according to Coach Zach Sarver.
“It felt good ... it felt good for the kids,” Sarver said following Sharon’s recent 37-36 win over Wilmington. “Santino Piccirilli played well ... Owen Schenker came off the bench and gave us a spark in the first half; knocked down a couple shots ... and then our guards played well in the fourth quarter – Lamont (Austin) and Derek (Douglas). We had no turnovers in the fourth quarter, which was big for us to have a chance to win a game.”
Despite a 1-3 region, 1-9 overall ledger, the Tigers’ intensity has remained constant.
“I think it’s just a reflection of the type of kids they are,” Sarver assessed. “I think when you experience adversity – which we’ve experienced a lot this season – it reveals the type of person you are. And our kids have continued to come to practice to work every day.”
During the 4th frame against the Greyhounds Sarver noted, “We had a team on the floor that averaged less than one minute per game last year. A lot of those kids were playing eighth-grade basketball last year. So we’re gonna set realistic goals and expectations to finish out the season with where we’re at and where we can get to.”
Sharon seniors are Joe Messina, Connor Porterfield and Keon Hacker; Garret Hoffman and Paul Thiel are juniors; Austin, Piccirilli, Mister Ham, Hayden Scarmack, Angelo Fromm and Javon Brodie are sophomores, and Douglas, Schenker, Lex Dobosh and Kasean Perez are freshmen.
Cliche-ish, perhaps, but growing pains have been part of the process.
“In games, there’s times when we’re very competitive,” said 7th-season Sharon skipper Sarver (104-64, 62%). “Then, I think we can attribute some of it to (in)experience and youth tak(ing) over for spurts in a game, and that’s been part of our problem. But we can’t get the guys to get any older in a couple weeks; they’re just going to progress the best they can – and they’re doing that.
“And,” Sarver continued, “hopefully they’re learning how much physically stronger you have to be to play this game. So you can attribute some of it to youth, and some of it is in the physicality of the game wearing you down as you go through the course of our season and the schedule that’s in front of us.
“So the kids have to understand that, you can not get stronger and expect to be competitive.”
The 4-year period from 2017-20 was the winningest in Sharon program history (82), according to research by Matt Vannoy. In addition to the pair of D-10 titles there was a PIAA championship game berth. With 4 PIAA playoff appearances Sarver stands second to A.W. Dickerson, who directed Tigers teams to 4 consecutive district titles (1927-30). Through the years the proud program has won 15 district crowns, ended as runners-up on a handful of occasions, and advanced to the PIAA playoffs 25 times (winning state championships in 1930 and 1957).
Sarver said, “I don’t know if I’ve become a ‘worse’ coach because we’re not winning as many games. We always talk about ‘maxing out’ the potential and the capabilities of your team and your season. Using an analogy, in the classroom if you’re capable of getting A’s and B’s and you’re getting C’s and D’s, you’re not ‘maxing that out.’ But if you’re a ‘C’ student and that’s the best you can do, you better gets C’s; you better not get D’s or F’s.
“We’ve always tried to be playing our best basketball at the end of the season, build toward that. Again, reaching our potential,” Sarver continued. “We’ve had teams that were more talented than the one we have this year. But we’ve been able to ‘max out’ their talent. And I feel we’ve done that. This is now my seventh year, and I think we’ve done that just about every year. We’ve ‘maxed out’ the talents of our teams.
“With this group, we still have a ways to go to reach that goal, and that’s something I have to do and our assistant coaches (Louis Brown, Terry Shernisky, Nick Cannone) have to get our kids in situations to do that. They’re learning in practice, they’re doing what they’re told; we’re teaching them in games. You try and find out different ways of doing things to be competitive. ... With more talented teams your goals and expectations are different. But that doesn’t change the fact that you’re still coaching to improve your players, to ‘max out’ where they’re at.
“I don’t think I’m a better coach now,” Sarver admitted, “but you try and ‘max out’ what you’re capable of, get the most out of your kids so they have the best possible experience and the best possible season that they can have.”
Saturday, the Tigers take on state-ranked Franklin, then host Hickory next Tuesday to start the season’s 2nd half. The Hornets have harvested a District 10 Class 4A 3-peat, including their own state title tilt appearance last spring.
“We had good success against Hickory early on since I’ve been at Sharon; the last couple years, obviously, they’ve gotten the best of us,” Sarver said. “They’ve had some very talented teams, and they’re very well coached. You put those two things together and it’ll be a tough-out every time. Especially the last several years their guard play – which is so important in high school basketball – has been very, very good.
“The game means a lot to our kids, it means a lot to our community. Any time we play (Hickory) in any sport, it means a lot,” Sarver continued. “That’s something – I don’t’ know we’ve necessarily lost sight of over the last several years ... Chris (Mele) and I’ve talked about that a lot – if he thought, early on in his tenure at Hickory, that they didn’t appreciate it as much. But now that’s definitely changed. You’ve seen that and I’ve seen that – being on the other end. It’s time for our kids to step up and push that back.
“Since I’ve been at Sharon I think it’s been a very healthy rivalry with Hickory. We had some really, really good battles the first several years of my tenure. Those were back-and-forth games. We split some years, and some years we didn’t. They’ve had the upper hand the last several years. There’s no way around that, other than the fact we have to perform better when we go out on the floor against them.”
Summarizing, Sarver said, “About four years ago, right around this time (of the season) I told our kids, ‘We have a really good chance to do something special.’ And we went ahead and did that. ... That team ultimately finished that season in Hershey.
“We have no illusions of that happening this year, but you have to share with them: ‘Hey, where do you want your season to end?’ We finally broke into the win column, but where are we gonna ‘max out’ at? Where are we gonna be to finish the next twelve games? Where do we want to finish? What’s realistic? And what’s that one (goal) that’s maybe just a little bit further than realistic, but that we want to try and get to? How many wins? Or set some goals from game to game. Where can we get this team to go and ‘max out’? That’s all we can ask for this group.
“I enjoy going to practice every day. They’re a very coachable group,” Sarver concluded. “We’re tryin’ to get the ‘green’ out of them – the youth – the best we can. I think we’re doing a nice job with that. We’ve talked all year about the ups and downs ... what to expect ... the margin of error in wins and losses, and attention to the small details that they’ve learned, which will serve them well this year, and us down the road, as well.”