Sharing the honor

Butler's Clement, North Catholic's DeGregorio are co-coaches of year

April 10, 2020 Cranberry Local Sports

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Butler Golden Tornado head coach Matt Clement contemplates a missed foul shot during fourth quarter action of the WPIAL 6A Championship game vs Mount Lebanon at the Peterson Event Center on March 2, 2019.

The PIAA Tournament is finished business.

Butler's Matt Clement and North Catholic's Dave DeGregorio took care of some unfinished business this season — both winning WPIAL championships — and have been named Butler County Boys Basketball Coaches of the Year by the Butler Eagle sports staff.

Both coaches had their respective teams riding lengthy winning streaks before the PIAA officially canceled the remainder of the tournament Thursday.

Butler was 22-4 and had won 17 consecutive games, including the WPIAL Class 6A championship.

North Catholic was 26-2 and had won 20 straight games, including the WPIAL Class 3A title.

Both coaches guided their teams to 21-6 records in 2018-19, losing in the WPIAL finals. Mt. Lebanon defeated Butler, 62-57, while Lincoln Park hung a 62-50 loss on North Catholic.

“We learned in mid-November we weren't going to have Luke (senior forward Patten),” Clement said. “He was our second-best player and that obviously hurt, but I felt even worse for the kid.

“We had younger kids step up into bigger roles. We split our coaches up to teach and run different drills with the kids. This really was a team effort involving our players and coaches.”

Minus Patten, the Golden Tornado's starting lineup featured two seniors, a junior and a pair of sophomores. Top players off the bench down the stretch and in the postseason were sophomore Raine Gratzmiller and freshman Madden Clement.

“Luke did so many different things for us,” Clement said. “Watching so many guys contribute toward filling that void was pretty gratifying.

“We had guys see a lot of playing time as sophomores and freshmen during our run last year. That experience definitely played a factor this year.”

North Catholic returned three starters from a year ago — point guard Isaac DeGregorio, Jackson Paschall and Ryan Feczko — but had little varsity experience returning behind them.

Coach DeGregorio turned the Trojans into the highest scoring team in the WPIAL — joining Our Lady of Sacred Heart at 77 points per game — by playing an up-tempo offense and high-pressure defense.

“That's my style of play, that's our system,” DeGregorio said. “We train and condition our kids to play that way and they love it.”

North Catholic outscored its opponents by an average margin of 22 points per game this season.

“I can't say I'm surprised by our success ... maybe by how well it's gone,” DeGregorio said. “Some of our players developed quickly. Jake Tomer (6-foot-5 senior) and Andrew Ammerman (6-7 junior) really came on for us.”

Playing a fast-paced style, North Catholic used a deep bench to maintain that pace. DeGregorio said so many players getting meaningful minutes on the floor creates a trickle-down effect.

“With so many players knowing they will be called upon to make an impact, everybody works harder in practice and is enthused about practice,” he said.

“This is the style of basketball kids want to play. They're more than willing to build endurance and stamina to play at a fast pace.”

DeGregorio believes the Trojans' program will maintain its recent high level of success.

“When younger kids see the end result, they're motivated to be part of it,” he said.

Graduating Butler senior point guard Ethan Morton was motivated to help Clement bring a WPIAL title to his school. The Tornado lost in the district finals in 2017 and 2019.

“He wanted to win it for the community, I wanted to win it for him,” Morton said of his coach. “For some reason, a lot of people in town choose to critiicize him.

“All the work he puts in, his commitment to and love for his players .... Butler should cherish him. What he's done for this program can't be put into words.”

Neither Butler nor North Catholic's basketball programs figure to fade anytime soon.

Both of North Catholic's losses were to teams outside of the Pittsburgh region. One of those defeats was in overtime.

“We've worked hard to get to the top. The next step is to sustain it,” DeGregorio said.

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John Enrietto

John Enrietto

I graduated with a Journalism degree from Ohio University in 1979. I started at the Eagle on August 24, 1997. My awards include 2nd place in feature writing from Ohio Associated Press (while working for the Steubenville Herald-Star), media award from Lernerville Speedway and 3rd place in a Pennsylvania AP contest for story feature.