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Roots of basketball team run deep

On eve of title game, Baldwin staff, students reflect on historic season
Kevin Hutchinson
Baldwin Superintendent Dr. Randal Lutz holds his Baldwin basketball jersey from 1985.

In 1985, the Baldwin boys basketball team went 25-0 in the regular season and early rounds of the playoffs, making it to the WPIAL Championship for the first time. Superintendent Dr. Randal Lutz played on that team, and 39 years later he still has bittersweet memories from that night.

“The championship game we played against Latrobe was rough. They shot about 27 foul shots, so we lost on the foul line,” Lutz said. “But the lights were so bright, and it was an incredible moment to be there.”

This year, after a highly successful regular season and playoff run, Baldwin has punched its ticket to the WPIAL Championship game. In Baldwin’s first trip back to the title game since 1985, the Highlanders will play Upper St. Clair at Petersen Events Center at 7 p.m. Saturday. 

Lutz has followed this year’s team and has high praise for the Highlanders.

“For many, many years, Baldwin was the doormat,” Lutz said. “But our guys weren’t just happy to be playing in these games this year. They came to win.”

Given the team’s success, Lutz is optimistic about the future of Baldwin athletics – and the school culture.

“Studies have shown, and common sense shows, that everyone wants to play for a winner. And when one team wins, it has a positive effect on the other sports within a school,” Lutz said. “At the game on Tuesday, I saw the entire football coaching staff there, to show that they were interested. It really just comes down to people wanting to win and to see their efforts rewarded.”

Leading the Highlanders is Coach Jeff Ackermann, who has won five WPIAL titles as a coach – three at Moon and two with Pine-Richland.

“He brings an energy. If you watch him on the sideline, he’s animated, he’s deliberate, and his players play hard for him,” Lutz said. “What I’m able to see is that he expects professionalism out of his coaches, he expects effort out of his players, and he shows that effort himself. He is as passionate about the game as his players are.”

It’s the greatest feeling in the world to be a proud dad and watch your kids succeed.”

— Anthony Cherico

Looking at this year’s team, Lutz sees the group’s balance and poise.

“In the games I’ve seen, I’ve seen balance. If one player is in trouble, the others rally around him. The energy and speed are incredible, and they don’t take off a single play,” Lutz said. 

Athletic Director Anthony Cherico also has a personal connection to Saturday’s game. His son, junior Caden Cherico, is a starting power forward for the Highlanders.

While there are plenty of tasks and responsibilities for the athletic director before an event like this, the game itself shifts his focus a bit.

“When it’s game time, I turn into a dad and not an athletic director. My favorite thing has always been to watch my sons play whatever sport,” said Cherico, whose son A.J. was a Class of 2023 athlete. “It is awesome to see (Caden) excel and do all the things that he’s doing on the court.”

He and Caden have bonded over basketball.

When there were the Lebo foul shots at the end and our student section was at full volume, it was just crazy how loud it was.”

— Shaun Tomaszewski

“I taught him how to play growing up,” Cherico said. “It’s the greatest feeling in the world to be a proud dad and watch your kids succeed.”

Cherico also has been impressed by Ackermann.

“He knows how to run a program – not just run a team,” Cherico said. “He demands a lot from the kids but he’s willing to put all the time in. He brings a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience, and the kids just really trust and believe in what he’s telling them. You can see it carry over onto the court.”

Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, the Highlanders already have secured a spot in the state playoffs. For Cherico, this is yet another sign of a quality team. 

Athletic Director Anthony Cherico’s son, Caden, is on the boys basketball team. Photo credit: Dom Brown

“They’re such an unselfish team,” he said. “Everyone kind of knows their role. Nobody needs to be the hero of a game, and I think when you have a team like that, you know that you just believe in each other and want to work hard for each other.”

Baldwin earned its spot in the WPIAL championship game on Tuesday by defeating Mt. Lebanon, a high school where Principal Shaun Tomaszewski once worked.

“As someone who taught at Mt. Lebanon, I was absolutely shocked that our student section totally blew theirs out of the water,” Tomaszewski said. “When there were the Lebo foul shots at the end and our student section was at full volume, it was just crazy how loud it was.”

Tomaszewski was even more impressed by the players themselves. 

“It was an outstanding effort from the team. To be able to maintain that level of talent and focus in such a high-pressure environment is so impressive to me,” he said. “I could never imagine being able to do that.”

The success of the boys basketball team can motivate more students to join Baldwin’s athletic programs, he said. 

“When other kids see winning teams, they want to be a part of that,” Tomaszewski said. 

This basketball season also can increase school spirit and help Baldwin to develop into a more winning culture, Tomaszewski said. 

Principal Shaun Tomaszewski used to work at Mt. Lebanon High School, a school Baldwin defeated on Tuesday. Photo credit: Evelyn Esek

“I think that success in athletics is linked to positive school spirit and culture, so I absolutely see the impact this win can have on that,” he said. When a team starts winning, “even students who do not typically get involved are excited about the games.”

The size and enthusiasm of the “Purple Pit” student section, meanwhile, has played a key role in this playoff run. 

Senior Mikey Fry helps organize the student section for Baldwin games. He said the student section had a lot of influence on the game’s outcome on Tuesday.

¨I think it affected it in a really positive way,”  Fry said. “Having all those people there to give the team momentum was really good.”

Senior Brady Lavelle, who also helps lead the student section, said he just knew Baldwin was going to defeat Lebo. 

“A big part of me thought that we were going to win,” Lavelle said. “I told a lot of people before the game that I think we’re a better team.”

Every year a senior gets chosen by their peers to advocate for the student section. This year’s advocate is Kurt Maiden. 

Maiden believes Tuesday’s win will give students more to look forward to when it comes to Baldwin athletics.

“This win honestly means everything to the students,” he said. “The people who have been consistently showing up to the games and supporting the boys for years finally have more to look forward to.”

While the student section was packed at Bethel on Tuesday for the semifinal against Lebo, Maiden thinks Baldwin should get even more students to support the boys on Saturday.

“The louder we are, the better. Having more students support our team will give us a better shot at winning,” he said. “We have to be really loud.”

Maiden, like so many in the Baldwin-Whitehall community, is really looking forward to Saturday.

“I was most definitely anticipating a win for Tuesday’s game,” he said. “And I know we can win this game on Saturday.” 

Lavelle also has high hopes.

“I like to think that we have a really good shot, but it all comes down to who wants it more. Ultimately, I think we will,” Lavelle said.

Staff Writers Kevin Hutchinson, Dom Brown, Connor Boros, Milana Varon, Olivia Page, and Josie Wysocki contributed to this report

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About the Contributors
Kevin Hutchinson
Kevin Hutchinson, Staff Writer
Senior Kevin Hutchinson is a third-year staff writer. He enjoys following politics, watching football, and spending time with his girlfriend. 
Dom Brown
Dom Brown, Multimedia Editor
Multimedia Editor Dom Brown is a junior and a first-year member of the Purbalite. He can be found playing sports, hanging out with friends, and watching Netflix.
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