“Mr. High School Sports” – WPIAL Shootaround
By Matt Popchock
It’s the best of the best–take two–this week and Mr. High School Sports means that in more ways than one. On both the boys’ and girls’ side of the high school hoops canvas, some of the top teams in the area will be meeting one another for the second time during the 2010-11 regular campaign. In addition, two of the most prolific (male) scorers in western Pennsylvania get another opportunity to put on a show up north. So without further ado, here’s what’s coming to a court near you:
BOYS’ CLASS AAAA, SECTION 4
Chartiers Valley (5-2, 10-3) @ Mount Lebanon (7-1, 14-2) (7:30)
Fancy meeting you here…over a month has passed since the Blue Devils eked out a win over the Quad-A newcomers in enemy territory, and they remain the top teams in Section 4. The Colts, who, like Lebo, suffered a loss to Upper St. Clair last week, will try to move within one game of the hosts for the top spot when two of the Post-Gazette’s top five hook up once more. Meanwhile, Mount Lebanon is going for its third straight win and 13th in 14 tries overall. The Blue Devils are coming off what must be a tremendous ego-boosting win over Norwin, one of the top offensive teams in Quad-A, in which Evan Eaton pumped in 28 points. Eaton had 14 in the last meeting between these schools, a game that saw the Colts’ Steve Burda register a team-high 22. Burda averages over 17 a game for Char’ Valley, which is led by Matt Noszka, who had 15 that night and averages over 20 per game.
GIRLS’ CLASS AAAA, SECTION 3
Shaler (7-1, 14-2) @ Oakland Catholic (7-0, 10-5) (7:30)
All year long the Post-Gazette’s No. 1 girls’ Quad-A team has played the role of giant killer. Can the Eagles play it again when they host the Post-Gazette’s No. 2 team at Donahue Pavilion with the Section 3 lead on the line in this possible WPIAL Championship preview? Oakland Catholic doesn’t do it with style, but with consistency and execution, especially on the defense side. The Eagles allow just 44.6 points per game, putting them sixth out 28 in the classification, though with Shaler sharpshooter Val McQuade climbing the charts at 16.2 points per game, they may be facing their biggest challenge in some time. Meanwhile, the Titans’ defense, not to be outdone, yields just 41.9 per contest, putting them one spot ahead of the Eagles in that category; however, it faltered a bit in the second half of a 54-51 home-court loss to Oakland Catholic Jan. 3. McQuade had 20 that day, but the always-dependable Bobbi Baker poured in 22 to lead the Eagles, who scored 42 points over quarters three and four. If the rematch at Donahue Pavilion is to follow a different script, Shaler needs to get in her face and not turn the ball over to Corey Taglianetti, an athletic forward who keys their transition game. Check back with Mr. High School Sports at 937thefan.com later for extended coverage of this game.
BOYS’ CLASS AAA, SECTION 1
Kittanning (3-4, 6-7) @ Highlands (7-1, 9-6) (7:30)
The Golden Rams have put themselves in a nice position, whereas the sands of the regular season are falling through Kittanning’s hourglass while the Wildcats scratch and claw for their postseason lives. On paper this matchup looks one-sided, but Mr. High School Sports believes any game featuring two of the top individuals in the WPIAL is nonetheless worthy of our attention. Entering this past weekend the Rams’ Micah Mason led not only the Section 1 front-runners but the entire WPIAL with a 34.3 points-per-game average. Right behind him in the Class AAA scoring race, and at No. 6 in the district was Kittanning’s Nathan Stolitza, who averaged 27.5 points per game as we turned the page on another week of regular season hoops. Speaking of which, the first regular season meeting between these two resulted in a 76-59 Highlands win Jan. 4, and the Wildcats have won three straight and four of six since. In sharp contrast, the Rams just recently snapped a seven-game skid by beating Deer Lakes. Mason had a game-high 25 points in the Jan. 4 contest, nipping Stolitza’s 23. Kittanning’s defense needs to shadow Andrae Boone as well; he gave Mason plenty of help that night with a 22-point effort.
BOYS’ CLASS AA, SECTION 3
Wilkinsburg (4-1, 8-3) @ Monessen (5-0, 11-2) (7:30)
Winners of four in a row and five of six, the Tigers head to the Mon Valley for a rematch with the Section 3 leaders and the only team to beat them in section play, which happened in an 85-73 contest Jan. 4. Post-Gazette No. 3 Monessen earned that victory behind 21 points from Cam Johnson, though Wilkinsburg’s Elisah Hill did match Johnson with 21 of his own. The x-factor for the Greyhounds, which has been the story for them all season, was balance, as Hill was one of three Monessen players with at least 15 points. The Greyhounds are coming off an impressive win over Class AAAA Hempfield in which Jaison Irwin strapped the team to his back with 29 points, accounting for nearly half their offense. Davon Washington led the charge with 16 points in the Tigers’ most recent win, a defensive-minded triumph over Brentwood. Monessen owns the No. 4 offense in Class AA, but can Wilkinsburg’s defense, ranked third in Class AA, learn from its past failure and throw a monkey wrench into this scoring machine?
BOYS’ CLASS A, SECTION 1
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (2-3, 9-6) @ Rochester (4-0, 12-3) (7:00)
Okay, we saw on Monday that the Rams know how to finish, but do they know how to start? OLSH may not look like it has the horses to keep up with Paul Long’s gifted group of athletes, but the Chargers are playing some decent basketball these days, and after a jaw-dropping, emotional comeback against Lincoln Park, a team that manhandled Rochester for the better part of three quarters, games likes this have “trap” written all over them. Bottom line, the Post-Gazette’s No. 3 squad needs to start stronger, and a big key to that is team leader E.J. Blackwell, who entered the week averaging almost 20 points per game and led the Rams with 25 in Monday’s road triumph and forced several turnovers. OLSH is in the midst of a three-game skid, but the Chargers gave Rochester a game in their last meeting, a 73-68 loss Jan. 7. Jon Lach led them with 17 points that night, one of four starters in double figures. Keep your eye on Rochester’s Giovanni Ellis, whose strong defensive play down the stretch allowed them to win that one…and Monday’s monumental test at Midland, for that matter.
For continuing coverage of WPIAL basketball, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports throughout the 2010-11 season!