By Matt Popchock
And then there was one.
New Castle (6-0, 15-0), the front-runner in AAA-Sec. 2, is the only remaining undefeated team in WPIAL boys’ basketball.
The Red Hurricane handed WPIAL champion Montour its first loss of the season with a 68-58 victory in Saturday’s Coaches vs. Cancer Clash of the Titans at Geneva College behind 14 second-half points from senior Shawn Anderson, who finished with a game-high 18.
Fellow guard Corey Eggleston fired in 17, and Anthony Richards contributed 12 of his 14 on four three-pointers.
New Castle showed no sign of slowing down Monday night when it defeated visiting George Jr. Republic, a school in Grove City that plays in Region 8 of District 10, by an impressive 107-66 margin. Eggleston and Anderson combined for 40 points and 12 assists for New Castle, which is now ranked No. 6 overall in the state by MaxPreps.
Montour (6-0, 9-1) bounced back quite nicely by upsetting previously unbeaten Chartiers Valley 61-49 at Robert Morris in the annual Pittsburgh Basketball Classic Sunday evening. The Colts (8-0, 14-1) are probably the best team in boys’ Quad-A; they maintain a No. 3 state-wide ranking by MaxPreps.
Meanwhile, several Class AA teams turned heads at these weekend exhibitions too. Sheldon Jeter had to sit out the first quarter on account of tardiness, but his appearance was worth the wait.
The combo guard who has averaged a double-double this season collected another, leading Beaver Falls (6-0, 13-1) with 20 points in a 64-31 blowout of Farrell, a former WPIAL member now playing in Region 6 of District 10, in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. It was the Tigers’ 13th straight win.
In addition, Greensburg Central Catholic (5-0, 10-4) outlasted Class AAA West Mifflin 56-54 in the PBC in a game that saw forward P.J. McLaughlin join the 1,000-career-point club, and Sto-Rox edged WPIAL Class AAA silver medalist South Fayette, 55-51. Lamonte Harrison led the Vikings (5-0, 12-1) with 19 points.
So what did we learn over the weekend?
First of all, the Red Hurricane are very capable of running the table. That team will be fun to watch in the WPIAL playoffs, and maybe even more fun to watch in the state playoffs.
When we spoke to head coach Ralph Blundo at the Metheny Fieldhouse this weekend, he said the biggest thing they take from beating the Spartans is proving they could handle adversity–a necessary component of championship teams, for sure. Montour led by five in the second quarter before New Castle recovered for a 33-28 halftime lead it did not surrender.
Saturday’s game provided the narrowest margin of victory for New Castle this season. Its next opponent is West Allegheny Wednesday night, which hung around in their early meeting before eventually losing, 78-67, Dec. 16. Eggleston scored 25 points and hit the 1,000 career mark in that game.
After that, New Castle’s remaining schedule reads as follows: Beaver, Central Valley, Hopewell, Blackhawk, Ambridge, then a non-district meeting with Sharon, which plays in Region 6 of District 10.
The Red Hurricane have played each of those section opponents already. They have defeated them all by an average margin of victory of 29.8 points.
Anyone see a loss on that schedule? Didn’t think so.
Second of all, we learned what a presence Dillon Buechel is in Montour’s lineup. The 6’4″ senior guard missed Saturday’s game for an unsuccessful football recruiting trip to the University of New Hampshire that, reportedly, now has him leaning toward Duquesne for that sport.
But he was a difference-maker Sunday, leading the field with 22 points in the upset of Char’ Valley, and anytime you hold that team to 49 points, you’ve done something right defensively as well.
The Spartans are allowing just 46.1 points per game, which is tied for the second-fewest in Class AAA. The only team in that classification to put up a better number is South Fayette, the team Montour beat in last year’s WPIAL final, and again on the road a week ago.
So if something catastrophic happens to New Castle in the postseason, I think Montour has an excellent shot to repeat. If those two teams meet, which also seems like a real possibility, I think it could be the most exciting playoff game of the year, regardless of classification.
Now that an intriguing weekend is behind us, what are this week’s biggest games?
*Talk about “no rest for the wicked”…Chartiers Valley hosts Mount Lebanon tonight at 7:30. The Blue Devils have won seven in a row, and coming off a good showing at the Planet Athlete Pittsburgh National Showcase at Shaler High School, they trail the Colts by just one game for the AAAA-Sec. 4 lead. Chartiers Valley nipped Mount Lebanon, 55-53, back on Dec. 20, their first meeting since Chartiers Valley beat them in the WPIAL Semifinals. Luke Hagy had 17 points against the REDA School of Ontario Saturday, and Wayne Capers averages 17 a game for the Colts.
*Mars visits Hampton tonight at 7:30 with an opportunity to move within one game of the lead in AAA-Sec. 1. The Talbots look sharp as a tack, ranking among the top five teams both offensively and defensively in the classification. The Planets have won eight of their last nine, and will try to avenge a 60-52 loss to Hampton Dec. 20 in which Mark Pilarski scored a game-high 21 for the Talbots.
*Central Catholic travels to Shaler Friday night at 7:30 for a game that features two of the most gifted guards in the WPIAL. Penn State recruit Geno Thorpe leads the hosts with over 23 points per game, ranking among the top ten scorers in the district. Lincoln Davis leads the Vikings, who are one game out of a playoff spot in AAAA-Sec. 3, and lost the last meeting, 72-63, back on Jan. 3. Interest is picking up in him, and he received his first offer from another in-state school, Robert Morris.
*West Mifflin hosts Keystone Oaks Friday night in AAA-Sec. 4 competition. The Titans have had a tough time managing all the roster turnover from last year, but defensively, they’re still a very strong team, allowing just 46.1 points per contest. That’s an important factor against the Golden Eagles, the second-highest scoring team in the classification at 76.5 points a game. If West Mifflin can contain Rocco Constristano, one of the WPIAL’s top five scorers at nearly 24 points per game, it has a shot to close the gap between section leader KO to a single game.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)