By Matt Popchock
It isn't every day Mr. High School Sports gets an opportunity to give some love to District 8, but with first place on the line in the City League this week, and he's running out of chances to do so with an impending WPIAL merger, he's going to make sure two schools in particular get it. Speaking of giving some love, let's give some to Lincoln Park for flexing its muscles last Friday. But can they do it again this Friday? The still-perfect Shaler Titans also have an opportunity to firmly establish themselves as the team to beat in their classification, as we take a look at some of the biggest games in all four in our weekly "WPIAL Shootaround." So without further ado, here's what's coming to a court near you:
BOYS' CLASS AA, SECTION 4
Jeannette (5-0, 8-3) @ Greensburg C.C. (5-0, 12-1) (7:30)
One of the few teams that might be able to beat the consensus No. 1 in Class AA heads into enemy territory to renew one of the biggest rivalries in Westmoreland County. This one could go a long way toward deciding the Section 4 crown, as the Jayhawks, who own the top-scoring defense in the section at 50.3 points allowed per game, put their six-game win streak on the line. They'll have their hands full with the Centurions' dynamic offense, which averages a Class AA-best 77.5 points per game and is led by Jesse Reed. He averages 16 points per game and scored 17 in a weekend win over Brownsville. That win extended GCC's streak to five, which began after a narrow loss to Quad-A Gateway and includes a win over Class A Rochester. All five games have been decided by at least 25 points. Defensively, Greensburg Central needs to counter-punch the one-two punch of Jordan Batts and Demetrius Cox, who combined for 30 in Jeannette's Friday night blowout of Charleroi. Each average over 17 a game.
GIRLS' CLASS A, SECTION 2
Vincentian Academy (4-0, 13-0) @ North Catholic (4-0, 10-2) (7:30)
Aliquippa is one of just two remaining unbeatens in girls' Class A, and it's no big secret why Vincentian is the other. The Royals have firepower at every position, and their defense also ranks among the top five in the classification, having allowed just 23 points to three of their last five victims. To North Catholic, the Post-Gazette No. 2 girls' Class A squad, this has likely been a mark-your-calendar game since the season began. The Trojanettes finally get to go to McKnight Road against the consensus No. 1 with a chance to prove the pounding Vincentian gave them in the WPIAL Championship was a fluke. Offensively, North Catholic seems to be hitting its stride, as it has scored at least 60 points in each contest during its five-game win streak. Kendall Hoffman, who scored 16 in a recent blowout of Trinity Christian, will be a major key for the Royals. Meanwhile, four ladies registered double figures in Vincentian's win over Ellis School last week, including Ashlee Darby with a game-high 20.
BOYS' CITY LEAGUE
Allderdice (6-0, 8-3) @ Perry (5-0, 7-2) (3:15)
Maybe the City League's best days are behind it, but that does not mean the pantry is bare when it comes to exceptional athletes. A handful of those will be on display when the 'Dice hit Route 19 to take on the Commodores in search of the outright lead. The Dragons might not have been able to keep pace with Perry on the football field, but on the basketball court they're not the current City League front-runner and winner of five straight for nothing. Allderdice is only yielding 50.5 points a game, which is tops in the League, and their offense, which averages 65.5 a game, ranks second. Having said that, Perry, which owns the League's most productive offense at over 73 points per contest, is probably the team that can best run with the Dragons. Team scoring leader and City League scoring leader Marcus Smith has quickly made his presence felt. He's averaging over 28 per game and pumped in 29 in Friday's win over Oliver, their third "W" in a row. The Dragons, like their upcoming opponents, spread the ball well, though Perry will make defending Justin Dobbs a priority, as he averages a team-best 16 and scored 21 for Allderdice against Oliver Friday. Check back with Mr. High School Sports on 937thefan.com later for a full recap of this game.
BOYS' CLASS AAA, SECTION 5
Washington (2-2, 7-4) @ Montour (4-0, 9-4) (7:30)
It's becoming clear that Section 5 is probably the best from top to bottom in Class AAA, with four teams in the recent MSA Sports Top Ten, including No. 6 Montour and No. 10 Washington. But right now, the pressure is on the Little Prexies to break up a tight playoff race and move into the number four spot. Thursday's game might be a golden opportunity if the Spartans return to their own floor out of gas after chasing South Fayette all over it Tuesday night. Montour has won three in a row and eight of its last nine after taking care of reeling Ringgold last Friday behind ten points from Devin Wilson. Another gridiron star making an impact for the Spartans is team scoring leader Dillon Buechel, who is putting in nearly 15 points a game. Consistency has been the name of the game for their offense, though the patience of both teams may be tested with Montour giving up just over 50 points per game and Washington allowing just under 50. Furthermore, the Prexies aren't quite as powerful, though Josh Wise, who averages 12.5 points, creates his share of chances inside. He led a narrow victory over McGuffey last Friday with 15.
BOYS' CLASS AAAA, SECTION 3
Shaler (5-0, 12-0) @ North Allegheny (3-1, 10-2) (8:00)
Folks in the North Hills will have to wait an extra half-hour to see this one tip off, though we suspect that wait will be worth it, as consensus No. 1 Shaler and consensus No. 2 North Allegheny battle potentially for the section lead, and likely for the right to be called the best in their classification. Yes, the classic expression that something's gotta give is true, but what will it be? Will Shaler's defense, ranked second in Quad-A with just 43.2 points allowed per game, play well in the half-court and shadow NA's talented guards? Or, will the Tigers' big-play offense, which stacks up third in Quad-A with 68 points per game, out-execute the Titans and kill them with their outside shooting? A telltale sign will be whether NA's Anthony Dallier, who is one of the top ten scorers in the WPIAL at 26.2 per game, but was held to 12 in the last meeting, gets a lot of good looks. At a 19-point average Geno Thorpe of the Titans has quietly emerged as one of the best all-around players in Quad-A. He ended with a game-high 22 in that Dec. 17 contest. NA has won nine straight since bowing to Shaler, which has won 15 straight regular season games dating back to last year.
BOYS' CLASS A, SECTION 1
Rochester (2-0, 10-3) @ Lincoln Park (2-0, 9-2) (7:30)
Last week some thought Post-Gazette No. 1 Lincoln Park might finally be tested against visiting Cornell in a battle of top-five heavyweights. However, the Leopards made the Raiders look like lightweights. In the immortal words of Pete Townsend, we won't be fooled again. However, MSA Sports No. 1 Rochester has a lot of raw athleticism like Lincoln Park, and should provide more compelling and intense competition when they travel to the historic Midland Gym with sole possession of first place likely on the line. In order to avoid getting embarrassed, which the Leopards have done to several opponents while winning five of their last six, the Rams will lean on E.J. Blackwell. He averages almost 20 points per game and contributed 17 to a mercy-rule win over Western Beaver Friday. Giovanni Ellis had a breakout game by leading all scorers with 25. But by now we're all well aware of the balance Lincoln Park brings too. While smoking Cornell that same night, Chaquille Pratt nearly outscored the Raiders himself with 33. He is one of the most prolific scorers in the district (26+ ppg), and he gets a lot of help from Devontae Watson, who is their big man in every sense of the term. Watson narrowly exceeded his average with 17 points Friday, and he is a lynch pin on both ends to a team whose average point differential of +19 is third-best in Class A.
For continuing coverage of WPIAL basketball, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports throughout the 2010-11 season!
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