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Head coach ready to lead boys basketball into WPIAL Championship game

Boys Basketball Coach Jeff Ackermann has been coaching the team since 2020.
Nico Macurak
Boys Basketball Coach Jeff Ackermann has been coaching the team since 2020.

Before Baldwin boys basketball Head Coach Jeff Ackermann started coaching the Highlanders, he was already one of the most decorated coaches in WPIAL history.

Ackermann started at Moon in 2002 and won his first three WPIAL titles in a row from 2004 to 2006. He went to coach at Pine-Richland in 2014, and he turned the Rams into back-to-back WPIAL champions in 2015 and 2016. 

In 2020 he took the job at Baldwin, and now the Highlanders have reached the WPIAL Championship for the first time since 1985. Ahead of the biggest game in recent Baldwin basketball history, Ackermann talked with The Purbalite about his coaching style, the Baldwin student section, and what it will take to defeat Upper St. Clair on Saturday night at Petersen Events Center.

Question: What have you learned over the years about basketball and leadership to help you be so successful in the WPIAL? Regardless of the school, what are some characteristics of a team coached by Jeff Ackermann? 

Answer: I like to play a tight-man defense with ball pressure. I also like playing fast and making the other team feel uncomfortable with how aggressive and quickly we play.

You grew up in Brentwood and being back near there played a part in your decision to take the Baldwin coaching job. What else is so special about Baldwin that you decided to coach here four years ago?

Coming back to the South Hills was a great feeling. I knew so many people from Brentwood growing up who are now here at Baldwin.

One goal you were seeking this year was winning the section title. After falling short, how did you get the team motivated heading into playoffs? 

I always preached that I wanted to win a WPIAL Championship here and knowing how close we were these last two years was tough. I told my guys after we didn’t win the section that it would be okay and that we would show them what we were about in the championship.

After the big win against North Allegheny in the first playoff game, you welcomed the fans into the locker room to celebrate with the team. Why is that? 

I wanted the players to be able to celebrate with their friends after the game. When I first thought of it, I knew it would not only give my players more confidence, but it also would get the team some attention in the community. Kids would watch videos and say they want to be a part of it, so they would be at future games.

Baldwin basketball had not defeated Mt. Lebanon in at least two years. How did it feel to finally get over the hump against them in the second round of the playoffs? 

They were the team that won the section over us and the guys wanted to get them back. Beating them was the exact thing this community needed to see. Our guys played a great brand of basketball. In the early games, we did not play at our best and our shots weren’t falling, so this game was the perfect time for us to bounce back.

How did it feel seeing the huge Baldwin student section traveling to Bethel Park for the Lebo game? 

In all my years of coaching, I can only think of one other student section that compared to the one at Bethel. The only time a student section compared to the ones here in the playoffs were my days at Moon. Kids would do a “red out” and have someone dress as Moses and “part the Red Sea.” When teams have fans like that, it is a great boost. 

The Baldwin students fuel us in the big games and they are a big part of the reason we are at where we are today. Over the last few games of the season, it has seemed like the student section has been doubling each game. We are grateful for the fans and can only hope for another outcome like we had against Lebo. 

Do you see this team’s successes as setting a new standard for Baldwin boys basketball? 

We are at a point now where we can compete every year. We now have the confidence and the ability to take down anyone in my opinion. This is the first year where I have been with a group of guys who have come through my coaching system and it shows. We play more as a team and all the guys buy into the cause. 

I have had coaches from other schools reach out to me and tell me about how our student section is one of the best they have ever seen and how I should be proud of what I have built. I have had Baldwin alumni from out of state or years past reach out and tell me how proud they are of watching where the team is at and that they will be cheering us on.

I have had coaches from other schools reach out to me and tell me about how our student section is one of the best they have ever seen and how I should be proud of what I have built.

— Jeff Ackermann

What does it mean to you to lead Baldwin to the WPIAL Championship for the first time since 1985? 

Seeing how the community shows out to these big games makes these moments so special. I can see that the fans have been waiting for moments like these and bringing it to them is very rewarding.

What can you say about the team this year and some of the players who have had big steps forward? 

Watching some of the juniors this year, like Matt Schenk and Caden Cherico, be huge parts of the rotation have been rewarding. Everyone is very committed to the team and are willing to give everything they have in the championship.

Baldwin faces Upper St. Clair on Saturday for the championship. What makes them a strong team? 

They are a big team. They have two guys taller than 6’ 5’’. We need to be ready for them to use it against us and play aggressively.

You guys have split the regular season series with Upper St. Clair. What will Baldwin need to do to get the win? 

We need to box out and play defense. I think the offense will come – we have scorers in our rotation. Our guys have to be willing to give it their all on defense and they will be rewarded in the biggest way.

We haven’t earned anything yet and until those four quarters are over, nothing is being celebrated.

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About the Contributors
Jacob Staley
Jacob Staley, Sports Editor
Sports Editor Jacob Staley is a fourth-year writer and a senior. He can be found playing or watching basketball or football with his friends, or listening to music.
Nico Macurak
Nico Macurak, Sports Editor
Sophomore Sports Editor Nico Macurak is in his second year on the Purbalite. He can be found playing three sports, listening to music, or playing video games. 
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