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High School

“Mr. High School Sports” – WPIAL Shootaround: Semifinal Edition

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Chaquille Pratt, Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park swingman Chaquille Pratt and the rest of the Leopards fell short in the 2010 WPIAL Finals. They’ll have unfinished business on their minds when they face North Catholic in Tuesday’s Class A Semifinals. (Courtesy of Matt Freed/Post-Gazette)

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By Matt Popchock

Playoff basketball rolls on fast and furious through western Pennsylvania, and all eight boys’ and girls’ tournaments have been pared down to the “Final Four.”  The WPIAL Boys’ and Girls’ Semifinals get underway tonight, and Mr. High School Sports would like to offer his quick thoughts on who he thinks will be dancing at the Palumbo Center this weekend.  So without further ado, here’s what’s coming to a court near you:

BOYS’ CLASS AAAA SEMIFINALS:

#9 Butler (14-9) vs. #4 Gateway (20-4) – Wednesday, 8:00 PM @ North Allegheny

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Bobby Swartwout, Butler (18 points in Quarterfinal upset over No. 1 seed Shaler); Devin Cottrell, Gateway (16 points, 7 rebounds, 7 blocks in Quarterfinal win over Upper St. Clair)

MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: If Butler can execute its offense the way it has in the previous two rounds, it can play with Gateway, a team that seems a little more ripe for the picking with scoring leader Tyler Scott off his game.  WINNER: BUTLER.

#2 Mount Lebanon (22-2) vs. #6 Chartiers Valley (19-5) – Wednesday, 8:00 PM @ Baldwin

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Luke Hagy, Mount Lebanon (15 points in Quarterfinal win over Connellsville); Matt Noszka, Chartiers Valley (18 points in Quarterfinal upset over No. 3 seed North Allegheny)

MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: This one figures to be just as tight as the regular season matchup I saw so long ago, as Char’ Valley can take Lebo off its rhythm with its inside game, but even with a healthy Wayne Capers, it’s hard to bet against Lebo’s defense, which always finds ways to win. WINNER: MOUNT LEBANON.

BOYS’ CLASS AAA SEMIFINALS:

#1 South Fayette (21-1) vs. #4 New Castle (16-5) – Tuesday, 8:00 PM @ Chartiers Valley

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Mike Lamberti, South Fayette (24 points in Quarterfinal win over Uniontown); Shawn Anderson, New Castle (13 points in Quarterfinal win over Central Valley)

MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: New Castle runs a dangerous halfcourt offense that goes through guards Anderson and Cory Eggleston, its top gun, but if those two don’t manage the ball almost flawlessly, South Fayette can leave the Red Hurricane in their dust with its transition game. WINNER: SOUTH FAYETTE.

#7 Montour (17-7) vs. #3 Blackhawk (17-7) – Tuesday, 8:00 PM @ North Allegheny

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Tyler Haas, Montour (11 points in Quarterfinal upset of No. 2 seed West Mifflin); Tyler Damazo, Blackhawk (13 points in Quarterfinal win over Hampton)

MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: Take nothing away from the Spartans, but they were aided by the fact C.J. Hester wasn’t healthy in the previous round.  Chandler Kincade is done for Blackhawk, but the Cougars still have enough balance to live to fight another day. WINNER: BLACKHAWK.

BOYS’ CLASS AA SEMIFINALS:

#1 Greensburg C.C. (22-2) vs. #5 Sto-Rox (21-3) – Wednesday, 8:00 PM @ Fox Chapel

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jesse Reed, Greensburg C.C. (25 points, 10 rebounds in Quarterfinal win over Summit Academy); Shawn Smith, Sto-Rox (25 points in Quarterfinal win over No. 4 seed Quaker Valley)

MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: The chemistry between Shawn Smith and Rob Baltimore is palpable, though they’d better be prepared to draw some offensive fouls and stand up to GCC’s front line, or pay the price on the scoreboard.  Still, although they didn’t show it last weekend, Sto-Rox can change the game with its defense. WINNER: STO-ROX.

#7 Wilkinsburg (17-5) vs. #3 Monessen (21-2) – Wednesday, 8:00 PM @ Canon-McMillan

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Elisah Hill, Wilkinsburg (24 points in Quarterfinal upset of No. 2 seed Beaver Falls); Cam Johnson, Monessen (19 points in Quarterfinal win over Jeannette)

MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: The Tigers are tough in transition, they get steady play from their twin guards, the Hill brothers, and they can exploit teams.  But it’s very tough to exploit the Greyhounds, a balanced team that always executes and always seems to have a different hero every night. WINNER: MONESSEN.

#9 Clairton (10-10) vs. #4 Vincentian Academy (22-1) – Tuesday, 8:00 PM @ West Allegheny

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Byron Clifford, Clairton (13 points in Quarterfinal upset over No. 1 seed Rochester); Adam Dian, Vincentian Academy (23 points in Quarterfinal win over Serra Catholic)

MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: Clairton, a very athletic team itself, showed me something by knocking off arguably the most athletic team in this bracket.  As long as the Bears don’t turn the ball over and don’t let the Royals’ offense go on any prolonged runs, I feel comfortable going out on a very big limb here. WINNER: CLAIRTON.

MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS:

#2 North Catholic (18-6) vs. #3 Lincoln Park (16-6) – Tuesday, 8:00 PM @ North Hills

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Dan Savulchuk, North Catholic (25 points, 11 rebounds in Quarterfinal win over Our Lady of the Sacred Heart); Chaquille Pratt, Lincoln Park (23 points in Quarterfinal win over St. Joseph)

MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: Typically the Trojans are a fearless bunch when it comes to pounding the ball inside, which should make for a compelling contest.  They’d better be, because being on the floor when exceptional athletes like Pratt and Devontae Watson step onto it is downright scary. WINNER: LINCOLN PARK.

GIRLS’ CLASS AAAA SEMIFINALS:

#1 Mount Lebanon (19-5) vs. #4 Oakland Catholic (16-8) – Tuesday, 6:00 PM @ West Allegheny

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Madison Cable, Mount Lebanon (22 points in Quarterfinal win over Gateway); Bobbi Baker, Oakland Catholic (12 points in Quarterfinal win over Baldwin)

MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: OC’s defense is very capable, and will keep the Eagles in this one.  But they don’t have as much up front, which is where Cable can really do some damage.  WINNER: MOUNT LEBANON.

#2 Shaler (22-2) vs. #3 Bethel Park (20-4) – Tuesday, 6:00 PM @ North Hills

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Hillary Sauer, Shaler (19 points, 8 steals in Quarterfinal win over Penn-Trafford); Megan Marecic, Bethel Park (24 points in Quarterfinal win over North Allegheny)

MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: The Hawks can lean on their defense to keep them in the hunt, but not having leading scorer Candace Martino is a damaging blow to a team that had the look of a finalist.  That makes life easier for Shaler’s own defense, not to mention its powerful forwards.  WINNER: SHALER.

GIRLS’ CLASS AAA SEMIFINALS:

#1 Indiana (23-1) vs. #5 Blackhawk (19-5) – Wednesday, 6:00 PM @ Fox Chapel

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Leslie Stapleton, Indiana (11 points in Quarterfinal win over Uniontown); Alexa Hayward, Blackhawk (15 points in Quarterfinal win over Mount Pleasant)

MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: The duo of Hayward and Alexis Graham will keep the Little Indians on their toes, but Stapleton isn’t alone in terms of finishing ability either, and Indiana has played relatively mistake-free basketball at both ends from December till now.  WINNER: INDIANA.

#2 New Castle (21-3) vs. #11 Ambridge (19-6) – Wednesday, 6:00 PM @ North Allegheny

PLAYERS TO WATCH: LaShauna Brothers, New Castle (27 points in Quarterfinal win over West Mifflin); Katie Fischer, Ambridge (11 points in Quarterfinal win over Hopewell)

MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: The Bridgers did a nice job defending against a Hopewell team that looked good in stunning South Park.  New Castle, unlike their previous opponents, has enough proven depth on offense that it won’t let them get away with another slow start, if that happens.  WINNER: NEW CASTLE.

GIRLS’ CLASS AA SEMIFINALS:

#1 Seton-LaSalle (22-2) vs. #4 Bishop Canevin (20-4) – Tuesday, 6:00 PM @ Chartiers Valley

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Naje Gibson, Seton-LaSalle (21 points in Quarterfinal win over Greensburg C.C.); Erin Waskowiak, Bishop Canevin (19 points in Quarterfinal win over Avonworth)

MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: The last time these two teams met, LaSalle outraced Canevin and suffocated them defensively.  After seeing the Rebels continue to shoot well in two postseason games, I see little reason to believe the third time will be the charm for the Crusaders, despite their own impressive efforts on defense.  WINNER: SETON-LaSALLE.

#10 Beaver Falls (19-6) vs. #6 Jeannette (14-8) – Tuesday, 6:00 PM @ North Allegheny

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Kiana Law, Beaver Falls (12 points, 17 rebounds in Quarterfinal upset over No. 2 seed Riverside); Ciara Gregory, Jeannette (23 points in Quarterfinal upset over No. 3 seed Deer Lakes)

MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: Whenever two apparent teams-of-destiny collide, it’s tough to get a feel for the outcome, especially after BF beat Riverside at its own game.  I’ll give a slight edge to the Jayhawks, simply because of their postseason experience and how well their guards have played against two teams that really tested them.  WINNER: JEANNETTE.

GIRLS’ CLASS A SEMIFINALS:

#8 Rochester (17-6) vs. #4 Fort Cherry (21-3) – Wednesday, 6:00 PM @ Baldwin

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Ivorie Law, Rochester (17 points in Quarterfinal upset over No. 1 seed Vincentian Academy); Carolena Gasbarra, Fort Cherry (13 points in Quarterfinal win over Serra Catholic)

MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: By defeating a perennial title favorite in Vincentian, the Rams reminded us what great two-way stars they have, and that they are not to be overlooked.  Even if the Rangers can contain Law, they still have to worry about Hayden Kimbrough, one of the toughest players they’ll face this year. WINNER: ROCHESTER.

#2 Monessen (24-0) vs. #3 North Catholic (17-7) – Wednesday, 6:00 PM @ Canon-McMillan

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Geena Shrader, Monessen (27 points in Quarterfinal win over St. Joseph); Kendall Hoffman, North Catholic (17 points in Quarterfinal win over Aliquippa)

MR. HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS SAYS: I have every reason to believe that as long as the Trojanettes keep their foot on the gas pedal, their experience will carry them through.  Having said that, superior guard play can allow the Greyhounds to squeak by; neither their girls nor boys have lost within their classification this year, so why start now?  WINNER: MONESSEN.

For continuing coverage of the WPIAL Boys’ and Girls’ Basketball Playoffs, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports later this week!

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