By Matt Popchock
Head coach Reuben Coleman knew his team had to prove to itself that it belonged on the same floor as the Beaver Falls Tigers, considered a serious challenger for the WPIAL Boys’ Class AA title. Last weekend, they proved it to everyone else.
“I was like, ‘Fellas, you’ve got to believe now,’” Coleman said of his halftime address to his team. “The main thing was keeping their composure, which we weren’t able to do early in the season, but they kept it this time…against a really good team.”
Coleman’s tenth-seeded Wilkinsburg Tigers (17-5) shocked the classification’s No. 2 seed with a pulse-pounding finish to a 73-68 victory in Class AA Quarterfinal action at Aliquippa High School last Saturday.
Predictably, Sheldon Jeter brought his A-game for the Section 6 champs, and he stoked Beaver Falls to a narrow halftime lead with 17 first in the first two quarters. Despite Wilkinsburg’s in-your-face defense, Jeter still rung up a game-high 31 points, adding seven rebounds.
However, two hot-shooting junior guards, as BF found out, are better than one. Elisah Hill and twin brother Elijah combined for 19 points and three three-pointers amidst a 14-3 run that gave Wilkinsburg a 46-35 third-quarter lead. Elisah would lead Wilkinsburg with 24 points, ten of them coming at the foul line, while Elijah ended with 13.
Jeter helped rally his team, as did senior forward Devin Cook, who ultimately contributed 14 points, four rebounds, and four assists, and Beaver Falls whittled the lead down to one late in the game. But Jeter fouled out with 2:35 left in regulation, and even after Beaver Falls tried to extend the game at the free-throw line, the big play they needed remained just out of reach.
Senior forward Robert Taylor started the third-quarter outburst and had a huge day himself with 18 points for a Wilkinsburg team that, finally, crept out of section champion Monessen’s shadow…just in time to meet Monessen in the semifinals.
“I love flying under the radar,” Coleman said, recalling his team’s second-place finish behind the Greyhounds. “It’s kept us hungry all year.”
In the previous Boys’ Class AA Quarterfinal matchup at Aliquippa High School, Sto-Rox got a win that had been a long time coming…in more ways than one.
The fifth-seeded Vikings (21-3) traded blows in the paint and on the scoreboard, via free throws, throughout the fourth quarter with No. 4 seed Quaker Valley, a period that took almost half an hour of real time to finish. However, Sto-Rox’s up-tempo offense put QV in a 33-13 halftime hole it could not climb out of, as it rolled to a 78-62 victory over the Quakers (20-4).
“I’m just happy for them, because they’ve lost to Quaker Valley the last eight years,” head coach Bill Minear said. “I’m proud of all of them, and I’m happy we were able to prepare for that team in one day, because you never know what the weather’s going to be like this time of year.”
Brothers Shawn Smith and Rob Baltimore were once again almost unstoppable in extending their team’s overall winning streak to 18 games. Shooting guard Smith led all with 25 points, and power forward Baltimore was one of two to finish with a double-double–13 points and ten rebounds. Junior forward Dontezz Ford also contributed ten boards to go with his 17 points.
At the very least, the Quakers, who were held to just one field goal in the second quarter, went out in style. Like Sto-Rox, they had four starters in double-figures, led by junior forward Augie Luptak, who ended with seven rebounds and scored seven of his team-high 13 points on fourth-quarter free throws.
Sto-Rox’s reward was a semifinal date with top seed Greensburg Central Catholic.
In a battle of Section 2 rivals and tournament underdogs that got the day started at Aliquippa High School, No. 11 seed Ambridge shook off a rough start and frustrated Shatori-Walker Kimbrough and No. 14 seed Hopewell, 43-38, in their Girls’ Class AAA Quarterfinal affair.
After playing hero against South Park, the sophomore guard tried to carry the Vikings (14-11) again with game-highs in points (16) and rebounds (five), but unlike that First Round upset, she was held to one field goal in the final period this time.
Another sophomore guard, Katie Fischer, who also led her team to a surprising First Round win, paced the Bridgers (19-6) with 11 points. She helped Ambridge pull out to a late fourth-quarter lead that grew to 42-31 as her team outscored Hopewell 9-1 at the foul line down the stretch.
Here’s a look back at what else happened on the penultimate Friday and Saturday of the 2011 WPIAL Boys’ and Girls’ Basketball Playoffs:
BOYS’ CLASS AA QUARTERFINALS:
Greensburg C.C. 64, Summit Academy 62 (@ Norwin) – Unfortunately for the Knights (16-9), Summit reached its summit and couldn’t prevent a last-second layup by Jesse Reed that helped the top-seeded Centurions (22-2) avoid the upset. Reed finished with a game-high 25 points and ten rebounds.
Monessen 61, Jeannette 60 (@ McKeesport) – Meanwhile, another last-minute bucket, this time by Monessen’s Nick Bolias, helped the third-seeded Greyhounds (21-2) upend the sixth-seeded Jayhawks (15-7). Bolias ended the night with ten points, and Cam Johnson paced Monessen with a game-high 19.
BOYS’ CLASS AAAA QUARTERFINALS:
Butler 51, Shaler 50 (OT) (@ North Allegheny) – The Golden Tornado (14-9) proved their victory over Moon was no accident when a late three-pointer by Zach Slater sunk the top-seeded Titans (22-2). Bobby Swartwout scored a game-high 18 points for No. 9 seed Butler to put them into the semifinals against Gateway.
Gateway 65, Upper St. Clair 61 (OT) (@ North Hills) – Perhaps the Panthers (16-8) will look back at this one as the one that got away, and the Gators (20-4) will look back and say the basketball gods smiled upon them. Anyway, Devin Cottrell scored 16 for No. 4 seed Gateway, which erased a late nine-point deficit, and Barnett Harris added 16 off the bench.
Mount Lebanon 52, Connellsville 40 (@ Canon-McMillan) – Evan Eaton isn’t sneaking up on anyone anymore, though he certainly snuck up on the Falcons (22-2). He led all with 17 points and helped the second-seeded Blue Devils (20-3) break a halftime tie to reach its fifth semifinal in the past seven years and keep its title defense alive.
Chartiers Valley 51, North Allegheny 43 (@ Ambridge) – Defensively No. 6 seed Chartiers Valley stole the spotlight from the Tigers’ (20-4) talented guards, but the bigger headline continued to be the sensational comeback of left-for-dead Wayne Capers. The junior forward scored 11 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter to put the Colts (19-5) in the semifinals against Lebo.
BOYS’ CLASS AAA QUARTERFINALS:
South Fayette 87, Uniontown 58 (@ Canon-McMillan) – The turning point of this game proved to be the instant Mike Lamberti took the floor. His dominant 30-point performance propelled the former Class AA champs and currently top-seeded Lions (21-1) past the Red Raiders (16-5), who fell behind 24 points at the half.
New Castle 47, Central Valley 42 (@ North Allegheny) – The first season in Warriors (14-9) history finally came to a halt with a great defensive stand by the section rival Red Hurricane (18-6) that spanned the third quarter. That, combined with 13 points from Shawn Anderson, turned the game around, despite a nice 18 points and six steals from Central Valley’s Nick Delisio.
Montour 45, West Mifflin 31 (@ Baldwin) – With C.J. Hester out after re-aggravating a concussion the sledding was much tougher for the second-seeded Titans (21-3), who bowed to No. 7 seed Montour. Tyler Haas had 11 for the Spartans (17-7), who used a balanced attack to set up a semifinal date with Blackhawk.
Blackhawk 51, Hampton 35 (@ Ambridge) – There would be no third consecutive trip to the Palumbo Center for the Talbots (15-8), who couldn’t hang onto their halftime lead against the Cougars’ (17-7) trademark defense. Nick Martin led all with 16, including a big fourth quarter, to put No. 3 seed Blackhawk into the semifinals.
BOYS’ CLASS A QUARTERFINALS:
Clairton 56, Rochester 55 (@ West Allegheny) – Is it just me, or could Rochester be getting just a little sick and tired of teams from Clairton ruining their postseason fun? The ninth-seeded Bears (10-10) stunned the top-seeded Rams (19-4) on a last second shot from Byron Clifford, who led Clairton with 13 points. Giovanni Ellis looked sharp once again for Rochester, netting a game-high 21.
Vincentian Academy 67, Serra Catholic 47 (@ Ambridge) – The fourth-seeded Royals (22-1) earned the enviable(?) prize of meeting red-hot Clairton in the semifinals by dispatching of the fifth-seeded Eagles (15-8) with a 22-4 run to close the game. Adam Dian helped Vincentian avenge last year’s playoff loss to Serra by scoring 15 of his game-high 25 points in the second half.
North Catholic 66, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart 54 (@ North Hills) – Although the Trojans (19-6) toyed with the Chargers (15-8) late in this contest, they finished strong to set up what would prove to be an unforgettable semifinal meeting with Lincoln Park. Dan Savulchak led all with 25 points, as No. 2 seed North Catholic once again used its inside game to get the job done.
Lincoln Park 71, St. Joseph 66 (@ Fox Chapel) – A battle of two talented offensive squads lived up to its billing, and in the end it was the Leopards (16-6) who outlasted the Spartans (20-4), moving one step closer to finishing last season’s unfinished business. Chaquille Pratt scored 19, while Devontae Watson added 13 points, 20 boards, and ten blocks, though St. Joseph’s Nick Gigled did manage an impressive 21 points in the loss.
GIRLS’ CLASS AAAA QUARTERFINALS:
Mount Lebanon 70, Gateway 41 (@ North Hills) – As has been the case in big games for the top-seeded Blue Devils (19-5) the past couple years, they handled their business at both ends of the court against the fourth-seeded Gators (15-9). Madison Cable led the offensive charge with a game-high 22 points, while Kelly Johnson contributed ten steals.
Oakland Catholic 39, Baldwin 28 (@ North Allegheny) – Defense was once again the name of the game in a rematch of one of Quad-A’s more intriguing regular-season contests, and once again the Eagles (16-8) enjoyed the last laugh over the fifth-seeded Highlanders (17-6). Bobbi Baker netted 12 points in the second half, and Mara Fitzgerald also finished with 12 to put OC in the semifinals against the two-time state champs from Mount Lebanon.
Shaler 60, Penn-Trafford 47 (@ Gateway) – You might say that upended No. 7 seed Penn-Trafford turned out to be a “tall” task for the second-seeded Titans (21-2), who used their size who physically harass the Warriors (19-3) all night. Hillary Sauer’s game-high 19 points put Shaler into the semifinals against Bethel Park.
Bethel Park 58, North Allegheny 46 (@ Baldwin) – Someone had to step up in the absence of hobbled superstar Candace Martino, so freshman Megan Marecic turned in a career performance to help the Lady Hawks (20-4) outclass the sixth-seeded Tigers (20-4). Her impressive 24-point effort, combined with stifling team defense, put Bethel, sans Martino, into the semifinals with a chance to earn a rematch with arch-nemesis Mount Lebanon at the Palumbo Center.
GIRLS’ CLASS AAA QUARTERFINALS:
Indiana 49, Uniontown 28 (@ Norwin)
Blackhawk 64, Mount Pleasant 37 (@ Canon-McMillan)
New Castle 58, West Mifflin 45 (@ North Allegheny)
GIRLS’ CLASS AA QUARTERFINALS:
Seton-LaSalle 73, Greensburg C.C. 41 (@ Canon-McMillan) – How dominant is the No. 1 seed and returning WPIAL runner-up? The Rebels (22-2) held a No. 9 seed, the Centurions (18-7), without a field goal for a majority of the second half, and Angela Heintz and freshman phenom Naje Gibson each pumped in 20 points after a slow start to put LaSalle into the semifinals.
Bishop Canevin 53, Avonworth 31 (@ West Allegheny) – Not only did the fourth-seeded Crusaders (20-4) get sweet revenge on No. 5 seed Avonworth, but Canevin beat the Lady ‘Lopes (20-4) at their own game: defense, defense, defense. Erin Waskowiak led all with 19 points and was part of a team effort that produced over 30 turnovers and led to a rematch with section rival LaSalle, which had already beaten Canevin twice.
Beaver Falls 38, Riverside 34 (@ Ambridge) – Speaking of getting the last laugh, the Tigers (19-6), after bowing to No. 2 seed Riverside in a game that decided the section championship, bounced back from that night with this big upset. Freshman Kiana Law led BF with 13 points and 20 rebounds, though none bigger than her seven points in the final period, to knock off the Panthers (20-4) set up a date with defending WPIAL champion Jeannette.
Jeannette 50, Deer Lakes 48 (OT) (@ Fox Chapel) – New coach Luann Mills continued to author a feel-good story at the helm of the District 7 champs, who outlasted one of the WPIAL’s top defensive teams in the extra session. Ciana Gregory scored a game-high 23 points to help the fifth-seeded Jayhawks (14-8) squeak by the Lancers (21-3).
GIRLS’ CLASS A QUARTERFINALS:
Rochester 48, Vincentian Academy 36 (@ North Hills) – A team known for grinding down opponents with bend-but-don’t-break defense, No. 8 seed Rochester frustrated WPIAL champion and top seed Vincentian off its game and out of the tournament. Ivorie Law scored a game-high 17 points to help the surprising Rams (17-6) deny the Royals (21-2) a fifth consecutive WPIAL Semifinal appearance.
Fort Cherry 45, Serra Catholic 34 (@ North Allegheny) – Although the Rangers (21-3) did not start the second half the way they wanted, they finished it the way they wanted by finishing off the fifth-seeded Eagles (17-7) with a game-ending 9-0 run. Carolena Gasbarra led Fort Cherry into the semis against Rochester with 13 points, while freshman Megan Sieg scored a game-high 18 in the loss.
Monessen 64, St. Joseph 34 (@ McKeesport) – One of the WPIAL’s most impressive players had another big performance on a big stage, as the second-seeded Greyhounds (24-0) buried the seventh-seeded Spartans (15-8) to move to the proverbial doorstep of the Palumbo Center. Geena Shraded led Monessen–and everyone else–with 27 points and passed the 1,000-career-point plateau.
North Catholic 61, Aliquippa 44 (@ Ambridge) – The Quips (21-3) enjoyed a remarkable run in 2010-11, but at last their postseason inexperience was exploited by a team eager to turn its silver medals into gold this year. Kendall Hoffman had six steals–North Catholic had 22 as a team–and led all with 17 points in the Trojanettes’ (17-7) rout, which left undefeated Monessen in their sights.
For continuing coverage of the WPIAL Boys’ and Girls’ Basketball Playoffs, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports this weekend!