“Mr. High School Sports” – WPIAL Basketball Playoff Highlights – Semifinals, Day 1
By Matt Popchock
Forget North Catholic. Heck, not even the entire Pittsburgh Archdiocese was going to stop Chaquille Pratt Tuesday night.
The senior swingman threw up a prayer that was answered, as he connected on a fadeaway three-pointer from the right corner with two defenders squarely in his face as time expired to give No. 3 seed Lincoln Park an incredible 55-53 win over the second-seeded Trojans (18-7) in Boys’ Class A Semifinal action at North Hills.
His shot came mere seconds–and one timeout–after sophomore guard Brandt Gribbin buried a gutsy three from the top of the arc to give North Catholic a 53-52 edge.
Gribbin led North Catholic with 21 points and eight rebounds, while Pratt powered the Leopards (17-6) with a game-high 25 points to go along with his seven boards.
Senior guard Sharron Moreland-Jones added 11 points and tied a game-high with eight rebounds for Lincoln Park, which denied North Catholic a third straight WPIAL Final appearance. Now, it’s the Leopards’ turn for back-to-back championship berths, as they prepare to face Vincentian Academy.
Meanwhile, the Bethel Park girls, at least for the time being, will be haunted by the phrase “if only.”
As in, if only Candace Martino hadn’t missed Tuesday’s game with a leg injury, perhaps a South Hills rivalry would have been renewed at the Palumbo Center this weekend.
At any rate, the third-seeded Lady Hawks (20-5) fought bravely without their leading scorer, but ultimately fell short of a shot at the WPIAL crown, as No. 2 seed Shaler erased an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter and held on for a 47-45 victory in its Girls’ Class AAAA Semifinal contest at North Hills.
For the Titans (23-2) it marks their first trip to the girls’ Quad-A title game in 30 years, though they must dethrone two-time WPIAL champion Mount Lebanon to capture the crown.
Martino was out, but Shaler’s own power forward, senior swingman Val McQuade, showed up on quite a few possessions. She jump-started Shaler’s offense after a rough start and eventually led all scorers with 22 points. However, senior forward Shannon Powell, who added 12 points and a team-high five rebounds, delivered the putback that gave Shaler the lead for good at 44-43 with 1:20 left in the game.
The Hawks would not go quietly. With just seconds remaining and Bethel down 46-45, senior guard Kara Rayburn, who finished with eight points, missed the front end of a one-and-one that would have tied the game. Junior forward Justine Carroll led the team with 18 points.
Here’s a quick look back at what else happened on Semifinal Tuesday:
BOYS’ CLASS A SEMIFINALS:
Vincentian Academy 69, Clairton 54 (@ West Allegheny) – The Bears (10-11) turned a lot of heads with their upset of top seed Rochester, but they’d have to settle for raining on that team’s parade in a different sport, because the fourth-seeded Royals (23-1) did a fine job expecting the unexpected and handling Clairton’s athleticism. John Bray led the way with 31 points and helped his teammates trap it up on defense to put Vincentian back in a familiar spot: the Palumbo Center.
BOYS’ CLASS AAA SEMIFINALS:
South Fayette 56, New Castle 42 (@ Chartiers Valley) – If one of the best outside-shooting teams in Class AAA can’t keep up with the top-seeded Lions (22-1), it’s hard to imagine Montour doing so this weekend. Defending state champion South Fayette took advantage of bad execution early on by the Red Hurricane (18-7) and coasted into its first-ever WPIAL Finals, behind 22 points and 14 boards from Mike Lamberti.
Montour 49, Blackhawk 44 (@ North Allegheny) – The football team at Montour fell just shy of erasing a title drought, but can the boys’ basketball team, several of whom are also football players, finish the job? The seventh-seeded Spartans (18-7) are bound for their first-ever WPIAL Final after overcoming a 10-point deficit in the third quarter against the Cougars (17-8). Devin Wilson led all scorers with 21 points, as Montour’s defense eventually outclassed one of the toughest units in Class AAA.
GIRLS’ CLASS AAAA SEMIFINALS:
Mount Lebanon 64, Oakland Catholic 43 (@ West Allegheny) – Ho-hum, Lebo wins again, Lebo goes to the WPIAL Finals again. The top-seeded Blue Devils (20-5) earned the right to go for a three-peat with a decisive victory over the fourth-seeded Eagles (16-9) that didn’t have the early indications of a decisive victory. Mount Lebanon got off to a lousy start on offense, but didn’t allow OC’s savvy defense to get into a rhythm, and Madison Cable eventually racked up a game-high 25 points and 12 rebounds for the champs.
GIRLS’ CLASS AA SEMIFINALS:
Jeannette 63, Beaver Falls 52 (@ North Allegheny) – A return trip to the Palumbo Center for Seton-LaSalle, whom Jeannette edged for the Class AA crown last year, looked anti-climactic at first, but the Jayhawks (15-8) overcame a 10-point second-half deficit to set up a grudge match with the Rebels this weekend. It was a familiar face, Ciara Gregory, bringing them back from the doldrums with 23 points to help knock off the tenth-seeded Tigers (19-7).
Seton-LaSalle 61, Bishop Canevin 38 (@ Chartiers Valley) – As long as we’re chalking up three straight title game appearances for the Mount Lebanon girls, put LaSalle down for three in a row as well. The Crusaders (20-5) made things a little more exciting this time around, but once again, the top-seeded Rebels (23-2) used their defense to put a stranglehold on Canevin in the fourth quarter, containing Erin Waskowiak. Freshman Naje Gibson continued her incredible year with a 27-point effort.
For continuing coverage of the WPIAL Boys’ and Girls’ Basketball Playoffs, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports this weekend!