By Matt Popchock
It’s no surprise that No. 6 seed Chartiers Valley has advanced, but it came as a bit of a surprise to head coach Tim McConnell that his team was able to play a physical game to do it.
“If you think we were physical, I’ll take that as a compliment,” he said with a smile when asked about his team’s play in the first half, “because I always worry that we’re a little soft.”
Nevertheless, the Colts (18-5) outworked Norwin inside the paint at first, then later relied on clutch play from their guards for a 70-58 triumph over the 11th-seeded Knights (13-10) in Boys’ Class AAAA First Round action at Baldwin High School Saturday afternoon.
Senior forward Matt Noszka led Char’ Valley with a game-high 22 points and also grabbed eight rebounds, and sophomore center Spencer Casson added 12 first-half points to help push the Colts to a ten-point halftime advantage and a 12-point lead in the third quarter. But even the great teams need a little luck every now and then, and perhaps they got some after Norwin responded with a 9-0 run to cut its deficit to 43-40.
Andy Carter was fouled beyond the arc, but with a chance to tie the game, the senior guard missed all three free throws–an uncommon occurrence for one of Quad-A’s deadliest shooters. In fact, the Knights went on to miss seven consecutive free throw attempts, whereas the Colts made all but one of their second-half foul shots.
Carter still finished with 14 points and a game-high nine rebounds, while fellow senior guard and scoring machine Matt Palo led Norwin with 15 points to go with eight boards. Three of Palo’s 15 came on a third-quarter buzzer-beater that pulled his team within one at 49-48, but Char’ Valley responed with four threes in the final period, including three in a row at one point, that essentially clinched the win.
“I thought we showed a lot of poise in the way we responded when they cut into our lead,” McConnell said. “Guys weren’t afraid to take the next shot, and when Zach Wallace hit his three to make it 55-50, I thought that was the breaking point in the game.”
Senior guard Steve Burda, who finished with 12 points, drained two of them, and junior swingman Wallace, who finished with 14, also hit a pair. Meanwhile, teammate Wayne Capers, having made a remarkable return from a devastating preseason knee injury, only managed one field goal, but moved the ball effectively in critical moments and ended with a game-high four assists.
“That’s a phenomenal athlete you’re looking at right there. Last year he missed the whole season but came back for the playoffs,” McConnell said, reminiscing about Capers and the team’s ’09-’10 WPIAL Class AAA title win. “We just hope it’s a similar result, because he was an integral part of our run last year…now he has another week to get even stronger.”
Chartiers Valley will face No. 3 seed North Allegheny in Quarterfinal action on Saturday at a site and time to be determined.
In other Boys’ Class AAAA First Round action, the Saturday tripleheader at Baldwin High School tipped off with an impressive showing by Upper St. Clair (16-7). The No. 5 seed, after a fast-paced first quarter, settled things down in the second quarter and went on an 11-2 run en route to an easy 70-54 victory over No. 12 seed Franklin Regional (10-13).
Senior guard Steve Limberiou led USC–which outscored Franklin Regional 19-4 in that period–with 18 points, ten rebounds, and five assists. He hit four of his team’s eight first-half three-pointers, and Upper St. Clair went on to drain 11 of them for the day.
Dakota Conwell contributed 13 points and seven boards to the victory, while senior forward Sam Ayasso, in his Franklin Regional farewell, led the team with six rebounds and racked up 15 of his game-high 19 points in the second half.
Upper St. Clair’s reward is a Quarterfinal meeting with Gateway this Saturday at a site and time to be determined.
In girls’ playoff competition, “The Ashley Stoner Show” was on the playbill at Baldwin High School Saturday afternoon. Thomas Jefferson blanked Valley 23-0 in the first quarter en route to a running-clock victory, 67-22, in a Class AAA Preliminary Round contest, and the senior center netted 16 of her game-high 29 points in that period alone.
The Jaguars’ (15-8) defense forced turnovers on Valley’s first five possessions and 31 in all, holding team scoring leader Lashay Madison to five points.
Reserve guard Alexis Yanief added ten points and five rebounds for TJ, which faces No. 5 seed Blackhawk in the First Round at North Hills Thursday night, while senior forward Mariah Hudzick led the Vikings (8-15) with nine points and three boards.
Here’s a glimpse at what else happened in the high school basketball playoffs Saturday afternoon:
BOYS’ CLASS AAAA FIRST ROUND:
Gateway 52, Penn-Trafford 34 (@ Plum) – No one can say the fourth-seeded Gators (19-4) aren’t a balanced team…that’s one way of putting it, anyway. In one of the strangest statistical happenings of the day, they scored 13 points in each quarter, and their defense cemented a decisive win over the Warriors (13-9) to earn their matchup with USC. With leading scorer Tyler Scott still on the shelf for academic reasons, Devon Cottrell picked up the slack with 18 points.
North Allegheny 84, Woodland Hills 36 (@ North Hills) – The Wolverines (10-12) tried to make a game of it early, but No. 3 seed NA outscored them 51-15 over the second and third quarters for the right to take on Chartiers Valley in the Quarterfinals. The Tigers’ (20-3) Anthony Dallier was his usual dominant self with 23 points, and Woody High still hasn’t won a boys’ playoff game since ’95.
BOYS’ CLASS AAAA PRELIMINARY ROUND:
Plum 53, Latrobe 51 (@ Gateway) – Hey, someone has to play Shaler, and that someone will be the Mustangs (10-12). Plum advanced from the play-in game to a First Round contest against the top-seeded Titans thanks to a 29-point outing by Nolan Cressler. The Wildcats (12-10), who won last year’s playoff meeting with Plum, fell short despite a 22-point fourth quarter.
BOYS’ CLASS AA PRELIMINARY ROUND:
Carlynton 57, Riverside 55 (@ West Allegheny) – We have our first official buzzer-beater of this year’s playoffs, and it came from Shane Conley, whose half-court three gave the Cougars (13-9) a last-second win. With a team-high 14 points, Jake Howard was one of three in double figures for Carlynton, which now faces a tall order in top-seeded Greensburg C.C. Jake Thellman led the Panthers (12-11) with a game-high 22 points.
Summit Academy 59, Charleroi 46 (@ Gateway) – The Cougars (7-15) have not enjoyed any postseason success as of late, and unfortunately for them it was the same story against the Knights (15-8), also a team that isn’t used to winning playoff games. Summit jumped out to a comfortable lead at halftime, and Ronald Smith, who had 15 points, made sure in the second half that the lead held up.
Shady Side Academy 62, Burgettstown 51 (@ North Allegheny) – The team that awaits Summit for a First Round meeting will be the Indians (15-6), who got a double-double from Evan Lutins. His 20 points and 10 boards keyed their victory over the Blue Devils (11-11), though Tyler Pavan was impressive in defeat with a game-high 25 points.
Bishop Canevin 60, Ford City 42 (@ Fox Chapel) – The Crusaders (13-10) earned the right to face Quaker Valley in the First Round by using a 22-point first quarter and a balanced attack to easily dispose of the Sabers (14-9). Team scoring leader Geno Palmosina once again paced Canevin with 18 points, while Mike Bolla put forth a commendable 16-point effort.
Steel Valley 52, Northgate 43 (@ North Hills) – It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the Ironmen (9-14) pulled away from the Flames (10-13) in this battle of attrition to advance to a First Round date with No. 5 seed Sto-Rox. Chris Dixon led Steel Valley with 19 points, including 11 in the second frame.
California 65, Fort Cherry 59 (@ Keystone Oaks) – The Rangers (11-12) will not be moving on, but it certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying by one of the best boys’ players in the WPIAL. Nate Bellhy led all with 30 points, but John Taylor turned it on with 26, while backcourt buddy Tanner Huffman contributed 19 to put the Trojans (15-8) in the First Round against Sheldon Jeter and Beaver Falls.
Neshannock 59, Brownsville 52 (@ West Allegheny) – Brandon Marinelli netted a game-high 19 points to lead the Lancers (17-5) past the Falcons (11-12) and into the First Round against Wilkinsburg. Nevertheless, this season remains a significant step forward for the Brownsville program, which only won three games in each of the last two campaigns.
Ellwood City 51, Springdale 32 (@ North Allegheny) – It’s been a memorable year for scholastic sports at Ellwood City, and now the Wolverines (12-10) have won a boys’ basketball playoff game for the first time since the turn of the century. A 17-point outing from Ryan Horgan helped knock off the Dynamos (11-12) and earn his team a most difficult meeting with Monessen.
Aliquippa 53, Riverview 49 (@ Chartiers Valley) – It’s been an unusually rough year for the Aliquippa program given the fallout from their offseason coaching change, but the Quips (10-13) live to fight another day. Davion Hall’s game-high 16 points were the key in putting down the Raiders (10-11), who haven’t won a playoff game in 15 years, and earning a First Round matchup with Jeannette.
GIRLS’ CLASS AAA PRELIMINARY ROUND:
West Allegheny 48, Hampton 37 (@ North Allegheny) – Alexis Johns led all with 18 points to lift the Indians (10-13) over the Talbots (9-13) and into the First Round, where West A will have its work cut out for them against top-seeded Indiana. In fact, West A hadn’t won a playoff game since 2008, a year in which Indiana beat them in their last postseason meeting.
Uniontown 57, Ringgold 38 (@ Yough) – In order to earn a First Round matchup with No. 8 seed Kittanning, Uniontown had to give the Rams (7-15) a bad case of deja vu. The Ringgold girls, like the Ringgold boys, had a third-quarter lead in their playoff opener, only to see this one also slip away, as the Red Raiders (18-4) went on a 28-8 run through the fourth. Lydya Dennis led Uniontown with a game-high 14 points.
Mount Pleasant 51, Belle Vernon 33 (@ Yough) – A difficult First Round test awaits the Vikings (17-5) in Chartiers Valley, though a 13-1 tear through the third quarter gave them a nice ego-boosting win over the Leopards (7-14). The girls avenged a tough loss by the boys, as Nicole Malara scored 19 points to lead Mount Pleasant, and Taylor Nitkiewicz supplied 15.
Laurel Highlands 46, Mars 39 (@ Gateway) – The Lady Mustangs (14-9) outscored the Planets (14-9) in the first quarter by a 10-4 count, which made a world of difference in this tightly-played contest. Caitlin Wontroba had a strong second half and led Laurel Highlands with 16 points to set up a meeting with No. 2 seed New Castle in the First Round.
South Fayette 62, Highlands 35 (@ Fox Chapel) – All the talk in South Fayette has been about the boys, but the girls are enjoying a respectable year too, and it continued with a decisive victory over the Golden Rams (5-15). Erika Ford and Lizzy King each had 17 for the Lions (15-6), who will hook up with No. 7 seed West Mifflin on Wednesday.
Hopewell 65, Knoch 35 (@ Fox Chapel) – One of the top girls’ players in the area flexed her muscles once again, as Shatori Walker-Kimbrough drained a game-high 20 points in the Vikings’ (13-10) easy victory over the Knights (5-18). She was one of four in double figures for the WPIAL silver medalists, who move on to meet upstart South Park in the First Round.
Ambridge 65, Elizabeth Forward 29 (@ West Allegheny) – The Bridgers (17-6) jumped out to a 25-6 lead after the opening period, and that alone put them on the path to a blowout of the Warriors (7-16). Sam Santiago’s double-double of 13 points and 11 assists made her one of four Ambridge players in double digits, as she and her teammates must now suck it up for a tough game against Montour.
GIRLS’ CLASS A FIRST ROUND:
Fort Cherry 61, Geibel 22 (@ Keystone Oaks) – Nate Bellhy wasn’t the only one in that family who delivered a great performance on the court last weekend. His sisters, Beka and Rachel, combined for 34 points to help the Rangers (20-3) put away the Gators (9-14) almost as quickly as they took the floor. Fort Cherry earned a fascinating meeting with No. 5 seed Serra Catholic in the Class A Quarterfinals Saturday.
Serra Catholic 40, Avella 38 (@ Chartiers Valley) – This battle of the Eagles turned out to be just as exciting as envisioned, as WPIAL scoring champion Amanda Temple’s game-high 21 points weren’t quite enough to keep Avella’s (14-9) season alive. Jaime Tedesco and Lauren Mrazik each chipped in 13 to put Serra (17-6) into the Quarterfinals.
Monessen 67, Carmichaels 36 (@ Yough) – Clearly, with all the talk about section rivals Vincentian and North Catholic, the still-perfect Greyhounds (23-0) wanted to serve notice they’re a legitimate Class A title threat as well, and this was a good start. Monessen spread the wealth on this day, with Geena Shrader and Chelsea Szakal each scoring 17 points, and two others reaching double figures, as the Mighty Mikes (13-10) were held to single digits in three of four quarters.
St. Joseph 51, Quigley 43 (@ Plum) – Down by as many as 12 in the second half, St. Joseph (15-7) rallied past Quigley (14-7) with a big run in the third quarter, followed by an 18-7 blitz in the fourth. Shayna Panchik keyed that rally with 20 of her game-high 22 points in the second half, but the Spartans can ill afford another rocky start against No. 2 seed Monessen in the Quarterfinals this weekend.
North Catholic 62, Sewickley Academy 20 (@ North Hills) – Last year’s Class A runners-up got their revenge tour off to a rousing start with a solid effort on both ends of the floor. The Trojanettes’ (16-7) defense held the Panthers (7-13) to single digits in every quarter, and Kendall Hoffman, who once again led the charge with a game-high 16 points, helped North Catholic storm out to an ominous 22-3 lead.
Aliquippa 67, Chartiers-Houston 54 (@ Chartiers Valley) – In a battle of two squads that haven’t had a ton of playoff experience, the resurgent Quips (21-2), who have lost just once within Class A this season, shook out the early cobwebs and won a postseason game for the first time in a while. The Buccaneers (15-8) had four in double figures, but Nakira Emerson turned in one of the weekend’s best individual efforts with 25 points to put No. 6 seed Aliquippa into the Quarterfinals against No. 3 seed North Catholic.
GIRLS’ CLASS A PRELIMINARY ROUND:
Cornell 60, California 34 (@ Keystone Oaks) – The Raiders (9-14) started fast and finished strong, and now they must worry about facing WPIAL title favorite and No. 1 seed Vincentian Academy in the First Round this week. Karissa Lee and Marcena Shepherd carried the load together, each contributing 15 points against the Trojans (11-11).
For continuing coverage of the WPIAL Boys’ and Girls’ Basketball Playoffs, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports throughout the week!