Peckinpaugh has his Cardinal men trending upward

WHEELING — The Cardinals are starting to take flight.

It hasn’t been the best of seasons for Wheeling Jesuit University men’s basketball. That comes as no surprise.

Highly successful head coach Dan Sancomb was bizarrely dismissed last spring. His termination remains a head-scratcher to this day.

Sancomb’s large shoes were filled by John Peckinpaugh. He was an assistant at NCAA D-I Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne a year ago. Prior to that, Peckinpaugh spent three seasons as the head coach at NAIA Division II Indiana Tech.

If replacing one of the premier coaches in NCAA D-II basketball in a stormy situation wasn’t tough enough, the Muncie, Ind. native had to restock a nearly depleted roster.

Graduation claimed All-American Haywood Highsmith, who has seen time with the Philadelphia 76ers this season. Several other Cardinals opted to transfer, including star guard Preston Boswell of Magnolia.

A rocky start ensued. Jesuit dropped its first 10 starts to open the season.

Peckinpaugh, however, never lost faith in his players or himself. As a result, the Cardinals are a much tougher bird as the post-season nears.

“This has been one of the funniest years of coaching I?ve been a part of in my short career,” Peckinpaugh noted. “We started building a team in late July when I was hired and really hit some home runs and got it right with these guys.

“They are great kids who want to learn and get better each day,” he added. “Guys like Zach Duffy, Miguel Rodriquez, Zach Collins and Jeremiah Brooks have been great buying into how we are trying to do things.”

Peckinpaugh’s patience has yielded positive results. Jesuit has won four of its last five games, heading into tonight’s contest against Glenville at the McDonough Center.

“Our guys have done a great job all year of sticking to the process of trying to get better each day. We have to continue to grow each day with this group of guys,” Peckinpaugh offered. “I am not surprised with our turnaround. This group has a high ceiling. We are extremely young and have a ton of room for improvement.

“We have two seniors — Zach Duffy and Miguel Rodriguez — who both have been a huge part of our recent success. Zach is ultimate team guy who won?t show up in any box score, but in my book he gets a ton of credit for how we are playing of late,” he continued. “Miggy has really done a nice job giving us a spark off the bench and has really bought into what we need him to do for this team to be successful. Both guys will be tough to replace but we will try to add some depth with this next recruiting class.”

Jesuit’s recent surge has improved its Mountain East record to 5-13 while its overall mark stands at 6-18. While that pales in comparison to the success Sancomb and Jay DeFruscio enjoyed guiding the Cardinals, it is light years removed from an 0-10 start. It also helps to build a solid foundation for down the road.

“Bright,” is the response Peckinpaugh gave when asked about the future of his program. “We are extremely young and hungry. Guys want to get better and they want to do it the right way.”

After tonight’s game against the Pioneers, Jesuit pays a visit to West Virginia Wesleyan Saturday.

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