By Matt Popchock
The First Round of the 2011 WPIAL Boys’ and Girls’ Basketball Playoffs went by, for the most part, without any major surprises. Having said that, we may have only seen the early stages of “February Madness” in girls’ Class AAA, where a couple of under-the-radar teams, to quote the Eighties band Loverboy, will be workin’ for the weekend. Plenty of upsets may still be on the horizon, as a number of the top seeds face difficult tests Friday and Saturday, so the roundball gods may simply be delaying the true excitement. Hence, without further ado, a quick glance at a few of the must-see Quarterfinal games coming to a court near you:
BOYS’ CLASS AAAA QUARTERFINAL GAME TO WATCH:
#3 North Allegheny (20-3) vs. #6 Chartiers Valley (18-5) – Saturday, 2:30 PM @ Ambridge
Against Norwin the Colts proved they’re not afraid to play a physical game, but that was until the second half, when they backed off a bit and really leaned on their guards to get them past the upset-minded Knights. Speaking of guards, the Tigers have several of them who shoot exceptionally well, including Anthony Dallier. The No. 3 scorer in Quad-A averaged 25.1 points per game during the regular season, while Chartiers Valley is led by forward Matt Noszka, who averaged 20.6 and had 22 in a First Round victory. Char’ Valley needs to get back to what it did in that first half last weekend and dominate the paint while controlling the defensive glass, otherwise NA’s vaunted dribble-drive offense could cause them problems all day.
BOYS’ CLASS AAA QUARTERFINAL GAME TO WATCH:
#4 New Castle (17-6) vs. #12 Central Valley (14-8) – Friday, 8:00 PM, @ North Allegheny
The book on the novice program at Central Valley is really coming together, and the first page should read “battle-tested.” By shutting down WPIAL scoring champion Micah Mason and bouncing Highlands from the First Round for their first-ever playoff win, the Warriors proved playing in a difficult section benefited them. Now they face one of their Section 2 rivals, section co-champ New Castle, which has balance and used it to squeak past Trinity. Leading the Red Hurricane is guard Cory Eggleston, who averaged 18.9 per contest during the regular season and can take over a game, while Central Valley guard and scoring leader Nick Delisio also can shoot lights-out and proved it with a 26-point effort against Highlands. The Warriors’ diamond-and-one formation worked against Mason, so it’ll be interesting to see if they use it against Eggleston.
BOYS’ CLASS AA QUARTERFINAL GAME TO WATCH:
#4 Quaker Valley (20-3) vs. #5 Sto-Rox (20-3) – Saturday, 1:30 PM @ Aliquippa
What makes the Quakers a dangerous under-the-radar contender is that they don’t have a true superstar, but they play (hard) as a team, and they’re well coached. However, the Vikings are just as sound defensively, which makes them perhaps the toughest possible matchup QV could have encountered in this round. Furthermore, Sto-Rox has a lethal scoring tandem in guard Shawn Smith and swingman Rob Baltimore, each of whom averaged around 20 points a game during the regular season, though as the Vikings proved by beating Steel Valley for their 17th straight win, they’re more than a two-man team. Quaker Valley gets a lot of mileage out of forwards Jon West and Augie Luptak, who had 13 points against Bishop Canevin this week. If Sto-Rox can get up on the Quakers early–easier said than done–the Vikings would be in a position to really shake their confidence.
BOYS’ CLASS A QUARTERFINAL GAME TO WATCH:
#3 Lincoln Park (15-6) vs. #6 St. Joseph (20-3) – Friday, 8:00 PM @ Fox Chapel
When two of the most potent offenses in Class A meet, there’s no telling what the scoreboard will read when the dust settles, but as long as it reads in favor of the Leopards, that’ll suit their dynamic duo just fine. Swingman Chaquille Pratt, one of the top five scorers in the classification at 22.7 points per game during the regular season, and center Devontae Watson, who cleans the glass and chips in a healthy 16.4 per game, seem hungrier than ever after falling just short of gold last season. St. Joseph guard Brian Heinle was one of the WPIAL’s top ten in the regular campaign, averaging 24.8 per game, and he picked up right where he left off in the First Round against Avella. This should be a tight one considering what a solid halfcourt game St. Joe’s can play, though the size and athleticism of Pratt and Watson certainly makes them difficult to stop.
GIRLS’ CLASS AAAA QUARTERFINAL GAME TO WATCH:
#4 Oakland Catholic (15-8) vs. #5 Baldwin (17-5) – Friday, 6:30 PM @ North Allegheny
The Eagles already schooled the Highlanders in an early regular season matchup at Donahue Pavilion, but Baldwin is a little wiser from having played in one of the toughest sections in the WPIAL. The Highlanders are also a force to be reckoned with when they put the ball in the hands of swingman Belma Nurkic, Quad-A’s regular season scoring leader at 18.9 points per game, while guard Taylor Wentzel sets her up nicely and shoots well too. Oakland Catholic, however, is not an easy bunch to score against, and guard Cory Taglianetti, who is coming off a 15-point outing against Penn Hills, leads an offense that relies on perimeter shooting. The last time Oakland Catholic played an opponent of this caliber, the Eagles built a comfortable lead and then tried to shorten the game, but that plan blew up right in their faces when they didn’t manage the ball well. So whichever team wins the turnover battle likely wins what should be a fun game to watch.
GIRLS’ CLASS AAA QUARTERFINAL GAME TO WATCH:
#14 Hopewell (14-10) vs. #11 Ambridge (18-6) – Saturday, 12:00 PM @ Aliquippa
For a team as young as Hopewell, the Vikings displayed a lot of maturity in upsetting an equally young but very talented South Park squad in First Round action. Forward Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who led Class AAA in scoring and finished the regular season second in the WPIAL with 20.9 points per game, really personifies the team; she shoots effectively and plays fearlessly, and she’s good at exploiting mistakes. They’ve had to show a lot of patience and a lot of character after losing so much talent from a district finalist, whereas the Bridgers have just sort of quietly rolled along, handling their business. Ambridge’s upset of Montour was just as impressive, and the key for the Bridgers will be what guard Katie Fischer can do for an encore after winning that game at the foul line for her tenth and most crucial point of the season. Ambridge needs to protect the ball and hope it can goad the Vikings into putting players like Fischer at the stripe.
GIRLS’ CLASS AA QUARTERFINAL GAME TO WATCH:
#2 Riverside (20-3) vs. #10 Beaver Falls (18-6) – Friday, 6:30 PM @ Ambridge
The last time these two Beaver County squads met, which wasn’t very long ago, the Panthers outclassed the Tigers for the outright Section 4 championship, so it should be interesting to see if the result is remotely different when a very motivated Beaver Falls meets what should be a confident and expectant bunch from Riverside. Forward Sam Weir, who embarrassed BF that night, led the Panthers and most of Class AA during the regular campaign with 17.4 points per game, and she’d better make the most of her scoring chances. Beaver Falls freshman Kiana Law has posted 20 rebounds in her first two playoff outings, and she led the way with 13 points in a win over Charleroi. The key for the revenge-minded Tigers will be containing Weir–this time–and finding ways to manufacture points against one of the most stubborn defenses in the WPIAL.
GIRLS’ CLASS A QUARTERFINAL GAME TO WATCH:
#3 North Catholic (16-7) vs. #6 Aliquippa (21-2) – Saturday, 1:00 PM @ Ambridge
Perhaps the only reason a team with 20 or more wins is an underdog is because the Quips, who are treading on unfamiliar ground, are going up against a Trojanette squad that is one of the most seasoned playoff teams in the Class A bracket. Having said that, none of that experience will matter if North Catholic’s defense can’t slow down what has been one of the most prolific offenses in Class A this season. Swingman Nakira Emerson led Aliquippa with 25 points against Chartiers-Houston in the Preliminary Round, while the one to watch for the Trojanettes is senior guard Kendall Hoffman, who netted 16 in her playoff lid-lifter against Sewickley Academy. The Quips did not start smoothly last week against the Buccaneers, and against a more seasoned opponent, that’s something they probably can’t afford to let happen again, especially if Hoffman is on her game.
For continuing coverage of the WPIAL Boys’ and Girls’ Basketball Playoffs, be sure to keep checking back with Mr. High School Sports on 937thefan.com!