By Josh Shreckengost
Armstrong senior guard Eli Wiles scores the first points of the game during the River Hawks' 52-21 win over Indiana on Wednesday night. Wiles led all scorers with a game-high 15 points as Armstrong picked up its first WPIAL 5A-Section 4 win of the year and evened its season record at 2-2.
Kittanning, Pa. -- It has been nearly impossible for the Armstrong boys varsity basketball team to get into any semblance of a routine this season, but the River Hawks rediscovered that winning feeling on Wednesday night when they handled the visiting Indiana Little Indians in a WPIAL 5A Section 4 showdown, 52-21.
The River Hawks hadn't won a game since January 12 when they posted a season-opening win over Burrell. A close loss to Shaler, a COVID-19 shutdown and a hard-fought loss to Highlands made the time between victories feel more like months than weeks.
Against Indiana, however, the River Hawks came out flying and consistently turned defense into transition offense in a game that was never close. Though the Little Indians entered the game winless at 0-7, Armstrong played a balanced team game and never lost sight of the ultimate goal, to secure a convincing victory over a foe they believed they should beat.
"I worried all day about how we would start and how we would play collectively because these games sometimes tend to turn into individualized play," Armstrong head coach Brian Kovalovsky said. "As a staff, every coach has his keys to win that they go over before the start of the game. Every one of mine focused on different forms of teamwork and selfless actions and I thought our kids did that really well for the most part. Right out of the gate, we got it to eight or ten to nothing and we didn't run an offensive set, everything was out of our defense. I was really proud of how we came out, we were really ready to play tonight."
Though Indiana won the opening tip, Armstrong senior guard Eli Wiles recorded a steal and finished a breakaway layup just seconds after the Little Indians crossed halfcourt. Fellow senior Adam Hudock did the same on Indiana's next possession. Those two possessions established the theme of the game and provided a glimpse of what Indiana would have to face all night long. It was 10-0 Armstrong before the Little Indians even recorded a shot and 12-0 before Indiana recorded its first point of the game, a free throw by Evan Brocious.
Armstrong outscored Indiana 18-5 in the first quarter and 31-12 in the first half and the outcome was never in doubt. Wiles had six points in the first half, freshman guard Jack Valasek had nine points including a couple of three-pointers and sophomore forward Cadin Olsen added six points in the first half to put Armstrong in front for good.
While Olsen only finished with six points, he was a terror on the glass and used his vision to find his teammates streaking down the court for open lay-ups. It was a nice rebound performance by a good, young player after Olsen struggled a bit with Highlands' Wakheem Roman, a 6-6, 280-pound load who recently committed to play football at Notre Dame College in the fall.
"He made a couple of really nice passes in that high post on the offense," Kovalovsky said. "Overall, I thought our kids played within themselves and played together."
Armstrong pushed its 19-point halftime advantage to a 32-point lead in the third quarter which triggered the PIAA's running clock rule. As the second half cruised along, the River Hawks stayed focused on the defensive end, even after Kovalovsky emptied the bench and substituted his second unit with 6:46 remaining in regulation. The River Hawks held the Little Indians to just nine points in the second half and picked up a much-needed victory. Wiles finished with a game-high 15 points, Valasek added 12 and Hudock was the other Armstrong player in double figures as he finished the game with 10.
"The kids really responded and again, it was one we just had to have," Kovalovsky said. "In a convincing way, for our own sake, not to disrespect Indiana in any way, shape or form. I was very proud."
Armstrong will be back in action on Friday night, again on its home court, as the River Hawks welcome Seton LaSalle, a WPIAL 3A team with a 5-4 overall record. The game will be broadcast live on www.hightopsportsnetwork.com.
To watch a complete re-broadcast of Armstrong's 52-21 win over Indiana, please click the link below: