Is Beaver for real?
The question was being tossed around after the Bobcats won their first five games of the season.
A few weeks later, we know the answer, and it’s printed on T-shirts the team has been selling.
That’s right, these Beaver Bobcats are for real and have been one of the biggest surprises in the WPIAL this season. After finishing with a losing record each of the past eight seasons and qualifying for the playoffs just once during that time, the Bobcats have clawed their way to an 8-1 start, their best this century. They have already matched last season’s win total (they went 8-13) and appear to be a major player in the race for a WPIAL Class 4A championship. The Bobcats have never won a WPIAL title.
“I saw it in the kids last year,” said second-year coach Casey Kaiser, who took over a team that had gone 2-17 the season before he arrived. “Beaver has not had a track record of winning. We’ve been getting these kids to believe in themselves and have confidence in themselves. In the offseason, they bought in. I couldn’t keep them out of the gym.”
Sophomore Brady Mayo added, “It’s been cool because Beaver has had a lot of good football teams, but it’s been a while since we’ve had a good basketball team.”
Kaiser’s day job is being the director of information technology for the Moon Area School District. Well, at Beaver, this IT guy has become a “W” guy. Beaver’s biggest wins came last week when it defeated Class 6A foes Norwin and Upper St. Clair. Norwin entered that game 6-0, and the win against Upper St. Clair came on the Panthers’ home court.
Ironically, Beaver’s lone loss might have been the biggest eye-opener as to how talented this group is. Beaver hit the road for its section opener and lost to perennial power Lincoln Park, 78-76. Brandin Cummings sank two free throws with 1.7 seconds left to give Lincoln Park the win. No team has played the unbeaten Leopards closer this season.
“We knew we had a solid group, but I’m surprised we jumped the hump as soon as we did,” said Kaiser, an assistant at Baldwin before taking the Beaver job last season. “I knew we’d get there, but after the Lincoln Park game, I think we opened some eyes.”
Beaver has made significant jumps both offensively and defensively from last season. Its scoring average has gone up from 58.6 to 70.2 points per game, while its scoring defense has improved from 61.5 to 43.1 a game. Lincoln Park has been the only team to touch the Bobcats for more than 53 points.
“We’re just all more together this year,” said Mayo. “We’re all pushing toward one goal. Last year we were, too, but this year even more.”
Teams typically have to play catch-up when they face Beaver, which is hard to do when you don’t hold the Mayo. A 6-foot guard, Mayo is having an excellent sophomore season, leading the team in scoring with 15.2 points a game. Mayo netted a season-high 29 against Lincoln Park and followed that up by scoring 21 points against Hopewell. He’s shooting 45% from the field and 40% from 3-point range.
“He’s been great,” Kaiser said. “We knew what we had in him. Last year was more of a maturing process and understanding where he needed to be. This year I let him know he can have his moments, but if it’s not a great day, he has four other guys who can score.”
Mayo is one of four Beaver players scoring in double figures. The others are sophomore Ty Butler (14.2) and seniors Sawyer Butler (12.4) and Aiden Townsend (12.4). Senior Alex Tomalski also starts, and senior Gerrell Leeper is one of the first players off the bench. Leeper had not played since his freshman year.
The Butlers are brothers. Sawyer leads the team with 5.1 assists a game, and Ty paces them with 2.8 steals a game. The brothers are two grades apart and, according to Kaiser, polar opposites, too.
“The older one, Sawyer, he has a very high basketball IQ,” said Kaiser. “He knows where to be and makes a lot of great passes. He can shoot the ball from all levels. His brother is just raw athleticism and talent. He was dunking as a freshman and has a couple already this season.”
Beaver plays in a challenging section that includes Lincoln Park (7-0), Blackhawk (6-3) and North Catholic (4-4). The Bobcats last won a section title in 2013, the same year they claimed their last postseason win.
The surprising Bobcats are for real, and their players have not been taking the success for granted.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Mayo said. “I’m enjoying every moment.”