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Faiella gets win in varsity coaching debut, leads Frontier in season opener

Frontier boys basketball coach DJ Faiella celebrated a bit of an anniversary Wednesday, and he and the Titans did so in style.

Exactly one year and one day after accepting the head coaching position at Frontier — Faiella’s first at the varsity level — the Titans rolled to a 66-38 victory over a Bakersfield High squad, which is waiting for reinforcements from a handful of it’s players still playing football.

“For us it’s about establishing a rhythm as best we can, obviously,” Faiella said. “Wins or losses, especially with the short season, is going to be tough preparing for a playoffs if there’s going to be. And then obviously we want to build toward next year and the year after that. Establishing a culture is one day at a time. So for us, we’re going to continue working.”

Senior Mekhi Pitts, equal parts power and finesse, scored a game-high 22 points and junior guard Ty Silva added 18 to lead Frontier, which fell behind 3-0 and never trailed thereafter.

The Titans exploited a height advantage by working the ball inside and consistently scored inside off backyard cuts with Faiella’s version of the Princeton offense.

“We’re running a lot of Princeton stuff,” said Faiella of his offense, which focuses on constant motion and back-door cuts to the basket. “That’s how you have to teach otherwise they won’t do it. If you let them go over the top, they’re going to go over the top all night. So for us it’s about starting with our culture and building that out defensively. But the Princeton offense is really coming along, but it’s not as good as we want it to be.”

If the way you have to teach it or they will go over the top all night,” Faiella said. “For us it’s about building a culture

A close game throughout much of the first half, the Titans closed the first half with an 8-2 run to build a 33-24 advantage. BHS closed the gap with a run of its own, but made just 1 of 6 free throws in the quarter and ran off 18 of 20 points to end the quarter and put the game out of reach.

Much of the damage was by Pitts and Silva, who combined for 12 points during the run that resulted in a 53-32 lead heading into the final quarter.

Drillers senior guard Quinton Matthews kept his team close early. He opened the game’s scoring with a 3-pointer and made three straight from beyond the arc during a three-minute stretch to cut the Titans’ lead to 25-22. Matthews made another 3 in the second half — giving him five for the game — and finished with a team-high 17 points, nearly half of his team’s total.

Frontier followed with a transition basket by Zack Kuhnert off a nice pass from Cooper Sherill, Pitts scored off a dish from Silva and Collin Kitts followed with a short jumper to built the lead back to 31-22 with 30 seconds left until intermission. Kuhnert and Kitts finished with 10 and nine points, respectively.

Arnold Ochoa scored nine points for the Drillers, who will play at Frontier at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday. The girls game between Frontier and Bakersfield, which was scheduled to precede the boys game both nights, was cancelled due to COVID-19 safety protocols. The Titans girls will instead host Shafter for a 5:30 p.m. game on Thursday.

“It’s really nice getting that first win and it’s nice to be back on the bench again after 13 months of us doing pretty much nothing basketball related,” Faiella said. “So being back out here was awesome.”