John Paul Kromka-Dave Morris

Pitt-Johnstown’s John Paul Kromka, left, snags a rebound in front of Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Dave Morris during a PSAC game in Johnstown, PA., Wednesday, Jan.22, 2020.

His volleyball background has helped John Paul Kromka emerge as one of the top shot-blockers in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference and NCAA Division II men’s basketball.

Pitt-Johnstown’s 6-foot-7 sophomore had seven more blocks to complement his 12 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and two steals in the Mountain Cats’ 98-73 victory over Edinboro University at the Sports Center on Saturday night.

“Honestly, I think it comes a lot from playing volleyball,” said Kromka, who has 74 blocks this season for 19-5 Pitt-Johnstown. “You always have to have your hands up right at the net and get ready for the ball to come over. I think playing volleyball has really translated over – get off the feet really quick.

“I’m glad I played volleyball because I always have the hands ready,” added Kromka, who played four years at Gateway High School in Monroeville. “It’s something I take pride in. Not even blocking shots all the time. If you alter the shot, it’s as good as a block.”

Kromka was only one standout on a night the Mountain Cats had nine players score points and five double-digit scorers.

Senior Josh Wise had 23 points, six rebounds and five steals. Sophomore guard Joe Batt had 20 points and six assists.

“I was just attacking the basket and looked to be aggressive in there,” Batt said. “Anybody could do it on any given night with us. It just happened to be mine tonight.”

Fred Mulbah had 15 points, six assists, six rebounds and three steals. The 5-foot-9 sophomore point guard took an alley-oop pass from Batt to slam home a dunk for an 81-68 lead with 8:01 left.

Redshirt sophomore Drew Magestro had 11 points for the Mountain Cats.

“This is the most depth we’ve ever had and I had to learn how to coach it,” Pitt-Johnstown coach Bob Rukavina said. “You’ve got to try to keep guys happy but these guys are so good with supporting each other.

“Someone’s having a great game, they’re fine with it. There is someone different every night and that makes it fun for everyone.”

Edinboro (5-15, 2-14) built a 10-point advantage on Jaryn Simpson’s jumper to set a 25-15 score with 8:13 left in the opening half.

UPJ tied the game at 42-all on a Wise 3-pointer at 3:41. A Wise steal and layup put the Cats back in front and UPJ eventually led 52-49 at halftime.

“Kromka is third in the country in blocked shots and leading the PSAC for the second straight year,” Rukavina said. “But we didn’t want to get him in foul trouble on the big kid (Trey Staunch). So, he didn’t have any fouls at halftime. We put him on (Staunch) in the second half and he just totally shut him down.”

Edinboro’s 6-foot-4, 285-pound graduate student Trey Staunch had 15 of his 18 points in the opening half. He also had six of his seven rebounds in the first 20 minutes.

The Fighting Scots’ Anthony Coleman scored 16 points, and Simpson had 13.

“It was almost like a shootout in the first half,” Batt said. “We knew we could play defense a lot better than that half. We knew the scoring will come for us. The second half we just wanted to come out and stop them.”

The win pleased a large group of UPJ men’s hoops alumni in attendance.

“We had 27 guys play in the alumni game in the afternoon and had 55 or 60 at the game,” Rukavina said. “It was great for them to be here and support this program.” 

Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.

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