By Matt Popchock
Eleven boys' basketball teams and eight girls' basketball teams from the WPIAL have passed the second sign post on the road to Happy Valley, and they're all getting ready to tip off the PIAA Basketball Quarterfinals this weekend. "March Madness" may be over for Penn State, but more of it lies ahead for a lucky few who will be heading in that direction soon.
Before we look ahead to the PIAA Quarterfinals, here's a quick summary of the Second Round action that has already taken place:
In Class AAAA, Butler continued to prove it isn't a fluke by knocking off City League champion Allderdice, which had previously whipped WPIAL runner-up Chartiers Valley. Mount Lebanon used suffocating defense to shut down WPIAL champion Gateway and become the second local Quad-A team to advance.
In Class AAA, South Fayette once again shrugged off the offensive woes it experienced at the Palumbo Center with a convincing win over Johnstown. Montour used some of the same great defense that helped the Spartans stun South Fayette in the WPIAL Class AAA Final to get past New Castle.
In Class AA, Monessen's relentless attack was too much for North Star. Greensburg Central Catholic, the WPIAL runner-up, redeemed itself for an earlier WPIAL Playoff scare by beating Summit Academy once again. In another "Battle of the Tigers," Beaver Falls enjoyed the last laugh by rolling past Wilkinsburg, which had beaten them just a few weeks earlier. An athletic Jeannette squad gave Sto-Rox a lot to handle, but the Vikings hung on to advance.
In Class A, WPIAL champion Vincentian Academy and Clairton both survived difficult tests against Southern Fulton and Dubois Central Catholic, respectively. Two-time WPIAL silver medalist Lincoln Park had a much easier time with Elk County Catholic.
In Class AAAA, WPIAL champion Shaler proved it has Oakland Catholic's number by beating the Eagles for a second time this year in another well-played contest. Meanwhile, WPIAL runner-up Mount Lebanon continues to play with a purpose, having dominated arch-rival Bethel Park in round two.
In Class AAA, Indiana, the top-seeded team entering the WPIAL tournament, hit another bump in the road and bowed to Mercyhurst, but New Castle, the No. 2 seed in the WPIAL tournament, fared better. The Red Hurricane got revenge on section rival and WPIAL champion Blackhawk in overtime.
In Class AA, WPIAL champion Seton-LaSalle continued to impress by blasting Ligonier Valley, while the Rebels' section rival, Bishop Canevin, had a much tougher time with Marion Center but did advance. Greensburg Central Catholic joined them by narrowly holding off Sharon.
In Class A, Monessen's terrific season finally came to a close with a loss to Bishop Guilfoyle, but another Washington County team, Fort Cherry, continues to look like a possible sleeper in this bracket by rolling over Coudersport. The WPIAL champions, like the WPIAL runners-up, also moved on, as North Catholic spanked Southern Fulton.
Now let's look ahead to the Quarterfinal matchups involving local boys' and girls' squads this weekend:
BOYS' CLASS AAAA:
Mount Lebanon (27-3) vs. Butler (19-10) @ North Allegheny - Saturday, 3:00 PM
The first few minutes of the second half might very well decide who wins this game. The Golden Tornado have gotten into the good habit of finishing games strong, and for the Blue Devils, the key will be how many stops they can get with a good man-to-man defense. I like Butler if they can contain Paul Lang, but if Mount Lebanon's guards shoot efficiently, and they can score off turnovers, it could be a long night for Matt Clement's team.
BOYS' CLASS AAA:
South Fayette (24-2) vs. Eastern York (26-4) @ Hollidaysburg - Friday, 7:00 PM
Although the Lions' fast-paced offense tends to throw teams off-balance, they're still prone to a repeat of the WPIAL championship game. The Golden Knights have the kind of defense that can pose problems for South Fayette, so the District 7 runners-up need to make good decisions with the ball, establish their inside game, and hope their guards make shots sooner rather than later.
Montour (21-7) vs. Perry (23-4) @ North Allegheny - Friday, 7:30 PM
The Spartans' defense is what has carried them through to this point, though the Commodores move the ball quickly and efficiently, and, if they hit their mid-range and outside shots, Montour could be in trouble. One area Montour has improved is the charity stripe, and Perry isn't bad there either, so both teams really need to stay out of foul trouble.
BOYS' CLASS AA:
Monessen (25-2) vs. Sto-Rox (23-4) @ North Allegheny - Saturday, 1:30 PM
The Vikings like to put the pall in Rob Baltimore's hands and let him set up Shawn Smith inside, so don't be surprised if the Greyhounds press a lot on defense. Offensively Monessen needs to rebound well and take what it can get inside.
Beaver Falls (22-7) vs. Greensburg C.C. (25-3) @ North Allegheny - Saturday, 1:30 PM
This is a showcase of two of the most talented shooters in WPIAL Class AA, the Tigers' Sheldon Jeter and the Centurions' Jesse Reed. In fact, this game may boil down to a heavyweight bout between those two, with the edge going to whichever player's supporting cast can outscore the other.
BOYS' CLASS A:
Vincentian Academy (26-1) vs. Rocky Grove (20-7) @ Sharon - Friday, 7:30 PM
The Royals are as much a PIAA championship contender as any WPIAL representative in the tournament, and they simply need to be patient and play their game in order to advance. The Orioles have what it takes on defense to slow down Vincentian's attack early on, but the WPIAL champs seem to play too hard and play too well as a team to be denied a Semifinal berth.
Lincoln Park (19-7) vs. Clairton (12-11) @ Chartiers Valley - Friday, 7:30 PM
Here's an intriguing matchup of two of the WPIAL's most athletic teams in this particular classification. The potential exists for the Leopards' Chaquille Pratt and the Bears' Desimon Green to effectively cancel each other out, though I like Lincoln Park's chances if they, especially Devontae Watson, can rebound better off the offensive glass than Clairton.
GIRLS' CLASS AAAA:
Shaler (26-2) vs. Mount Lebanon (22-6) @ North Allegheny - Friday, 6:00 PM
Much to their delight, I'm sure, the WPIAL runners-up and two-time state champions will get the shot at revenge they want against the Titans, who recently ended their two-year run as district champs. The Blue Devils have been flexing their defensive muscles once again in the state tournament, and one could argue they carried the play for significant stretches of their WPIAL title clash with Shaler, but just didn't get the bounces. With Shaler's inside presence giving Lebo a hard time, I can make no promises, except this one: if we don't get an extremely hungry Blue Devils squad that comes out like a house on fire, I will be grossly disappointed...and Dori Oldaker will be too, I'm sure.
GIRLS' CLASS AAA:
New Castle (26-4) vs. Mercyhurst (25-2) @ Edinboro University - Saturday, 2:00 PM
Although the Lakers probably aren't as battle-tested as New Castle, from a standpoint of team defense, they present one of the stiffest challenges of any girls' Class AAA team in the state. The Red Hurricane need another big effort at both ends from LaShauna Brothers, and they need to continue shooting the ball with the utmost efficiency, or they're going home.
GIRLS' CLASS AA:
Seton-LaSalle (26-2) vs. Greensburg C.C. (20-7) @ Chartiers Valley - Friday, 6:00 PM
Few teams in PIAA Girls' Class AAA shoot, score in transition, and run the floor the way the Rebels can. This could be a very long night for the Centurions, who have already been mahandled by Seton-LaSalle in the WPIAL Playoffs, unless GCC defends much more effectively inside the paint and can do a better job containing freshman forward Naje Gibson.
Bishop Canevin (22-5) vs. Villa Maria Academy (25-2) @ Sharon - Friday, 6:00 PM
Last year the Victors summarily dismissed the Canevin girls from the state tournament with top-notch defense, and this year's Villa Maria squad is just as difficult to score against. The Crusaders need to avoid turnovers, avoid falling into an early hole, and hope that Erin Waskowiak, one of the premier forwards in western Pennsylvania, can get some good looks.
GIRLS' CLASS A:
North Catholic (21-7) vs. Homer-Center (21-6) @ Hempfield - Saturday, 1:00 PM
The senior class provided great leadership for the Trojanettes in the WPIAL tournament, and they continue to do so in the PIAA Playoffs, punctuated by very consistent play on the back end. Homer-Center will keep its eye on North Catholic's Kendall Hoffman, who may be matched up against Katelyn Skinner, the Wildcats' leading scorer. Skinner will need some help against this defense if Homer-Center is to advance.
Bishop Guilfoyle (27-1) vs. Fort Cherry (24-4) @ Hempfield - Saturday, 2:30 PM
The Marauders boast a great defense and one of the better swingmen in the state in Halee Adams, who seems capable of shooting from pretty much anywhere. The Rangers' grinding style may be enough to slow her down initially, but I suspect Fort Cherry will need to shoot much better as a team than it did in the later rounds of the WPIAL tournament in order to keep its state playoff run going.
For continuing coverage of the PIAA Basketball Playoffs, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports later next week!
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