By Matt Popchock

Seton-LaSalle girls warm up at Palumbo CenterFRIDAY, 4:40 PM – Mr. High School Sports is ready for some roundball!  Right now the Seton-LaSalle and Jeannette girls are warming up for the first contest of the weekend, a rematch of last year’s WPIAL Class AA Final.

4:55 PM – Time to honor America…and introduce the starting lineups…

5:17 PM – End of first quarter.  Seton-LaSalle leads Jeannette 15-8.  Defensively the Jayhawks are keeping up, but LaSalle is turning up the heat on defense themselves.  Rebels’ transition game is starting to come around.  Four points, three boards for Dominique Hall (Jeannette), same–plus two fouls–for Naje Gibson (Seton-LaSalle).  Six different scorers for Rebels in first period.

5:22 PM – 6-0 run by LaSalle.  All points–four off turnovers–scored by Jordan Dwyer.  Timeout Jeannette.

5:26 PM – 4:28 left, first half.  Jeannette in the bonus.

5:31 PM – Hall hits a free throw, and another, to end a 16-0 Rebels run.

5:36 PM – Halftime.  Seton-LaSalle leads Jeannette 37-14.  Dwyer leads all with ten points off the bench (all in the second quarter) and three rebounds.  She was the seventh different scorer for the Rebels tonight.  Hall with six points, three boards for Jeannette.  Ciara Gregory with five and two, which is a feather in the cap of LaSalle’s defense.  The way LaSalle runs the floor is impressive.  The Rebels are out-rebounding the Jayhawks 21-8, and a lot of their points have come off fast breaks.  If Gregory and her fellow guards can’t make some shots early in the second half, this thing is probably over.

5:52 PM – Full timeout, Jeannette.  45-19 Seton-LaSalle.  Same old story, points off turnovers for the Rebels.

5:53 PM – Funny chant from Jeannette student section: “Let’s-play-foot-ball…*clap-clap-clap-clap-clap*”

5:56 PM – LaSalle continues to run away.  Hard to believe Jeannette was once up 7-4.

6:05 PM – End of third quarter.  Seton-LaSalle 62, Jeannette 25.  Gregory with eight points and two boards, the lone bright spot for the Jayhawks.  Four in double figures for the Rebels, including Emily Marecic with 11 points, Dwyer with 13, and Angela Heintz with a game-high 14 points, seven rebounds.

6:10 PM – Naje Gibson becomes the fifth LaSalle player in double figures.

Seton-LaSalle vs. Jeannette

The Rebels' Angela Heintz hits a fadeaway jumper.

6:13 PM – Running clock per PIAA mercy rule…which is uncommon for a championship game.  Seton-LaSalle counting down moments till first WPIAL title in over a decade.

6:19 PM – Gregory continues to hustle despite the game being well out of hand, give her credit.

6:22 PM – Revenge complete…Seton-LaSalle routs defending champ Jeannette 74-29 to become the new WPIAL Girls’ Class AA champion.  Congrats to the Rebels on their first district title since 2000 and second all-time!  They end the WPIAL portion of their schedule at 24-2 overall.  Hats off the Jayhawks, who had a great run with a much younger team and a brand new coaching staff led by Luann Mills.  Better days are likely ahead for her and her team, which enters the state playoffs with an overall record of 15-9.  But LaSalle was–and is–a deep team that is solid in every phase of the game, and they proved it today.

6:27 PM – Seton-LaSalle accepts their gold medals after Jeannette is presented with their silvers.  State playoffs for both teams begins next Friday.  Opponent, site, time TBD.  More on that later.

6:35 PM – After falling short last year, there is a definite sense of relief coming from the Seton-LaSalle girls.  Talked to head coach Dennis Squeglia…post-game quotes to come later.

6:40 PM – Not to pull a Paul Alexander Name-drop on you, but in a pleasant twist of fate, I just bumped into an old friend, classmate, and North Hills cross-country teammate: Dan Yokitis.  Dan’s father, George Yokitis, is Vincentian Academy’s head coach, and Dan assists him.

6:45 PM – Speaking of Vincentian, the Royals and last year’s runners-up, the Lincoln Park Leopards, will be getting underway in the Boys’ Class A Final shortly…

6:59 PM – Starting lineups for both teams announced.  Still can’t get over how tall Devontae Watson (Lincoln Park center) is…

7:06 PM – Early first quarter.  Slow start for Leopards, who are trying to avenge last year’s title game loss to Sewickley Academy.

7:17 PM – End of first quarter…Vincentian 16, Lincoln Park 9.  Vincentian is playing fearless defense, especially along the baseline, which is causing problems for the Leopards’ big men.  Watson already has a handful of blocks.  Lincoln Park is very athletic, but once again, their occasional clumsiness seems to be their Achilles’ heel.  Adam Dian with six points, four boards for VA.  Watson leads LP with five.

7:20 PM – Lincoln Park’s top gun, Chaquille Pratt, is finally on the board.

7:24 PM – Timeout, Leopards.  30 seconds.  Lincoln Park down 5, still having trouble finishing plays.

7:29 PM – Fouls–and perhaps frustration–starting to mount for Lincoln Park, as Vincentian, one away from the double-bonus, goes to the line.

7:35 PM – Timeout Vincentian, after its fourth consecutive turnover.  Suddenly the problems finishing plays have become contagious.  The foul situation is evening out, and the Leopards are on a 7-0 run to cut the margin to 25-22.

7:39 PM – The timeout by Coach Yokitis proved to be a smart one.  Vincentian settled down, got its transition game going, and scored the last six points of the half…Royals lead 31-22.  There has been someone in Watson’s face at almost all times, which has led to key turnovers and wasted possessions.  Pratt got going in the second quarter, but is still probably too quiet for LP’s comfort.  He leads the Leopards with seven points, four rebounds.  John Bray of Vincentian leads all with a game-high 13 and six, picking up right where he left off against Clairton.  The difference has been the Royals out-executing Lincoln Park down low, and controlling the defensive glass.  Having said that, rebounds are pretty even; a slight 21-18 edge for Vincentian.  Leopards need to start taking advantage of some of the looks they’re getting…and hang onto the ball.

7:46 PM – Non-sequitor time…some final numbers from the girls’ AA game between Seton-LaSalle and Jeannette, which I didn’t get around to earlier…Naje Gibson: 16 points, 7 rebounds.  Amy O’Keefe: 10 points, 5 rebounds.  Emily Marecic: 11 points, 5 rebounds.  Jordan Dwyer: 13 points, 5 rebounds.  Angela Heintz: 14 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists.  All in all, a great night for the Rebels’ offense.  Meanwhile, for the runners-up…Ciara Gregory: 8 points, 2 rebounds to lead Jeannette.  LaSalle’s defense held them to eight field goals the entire game (three by Gregory).

7:52 PM – Second half underway between Lincoln Park and Vincentian…

7:57 PM – The pace is starting to pick up at both ends…Watson now with 13 points.  He’s slowly beginning to take over for the Leopards, who are off to a red-hot start in this quarter.

8:00 PM – Timeout…41-33 Vincentian, 2:54 left, 3rd quarter.  Royals have answered back with a trifecta and some good work inside.  Lincoln Park has plenty of fight in them, but needs some stops.

8:06 PM – End of 3rd quarter…47-38 Vincentian.  Lincoln Park isn’t going away, but the Royals have answered every time they’ve had to.  Once again, the Leopards need to show more poise on defense–and get the ball in Pratt/Watson’s hands–in order to stay in the game.  Watson with 15 points…Tony DiNardo and Chris Koryak each with nine for Vincentian…Bray without a second-half field goal (interesting…).  Pratt with 11 for LP.

Vincentian Academy vs. Lincoln Park

The Leopards look for an open Devontae Watson.

8:13 PM – The turnover bug continues to bite Lincoln Park.  The Leopards have started another quarter strong offensively, but a couple nice shots by John Bray have buoyed the Royals.

8:20 PM – Keith Hutchins of Lincoln Park, who did not score, becomes the first player of championship weekend to foul out of his or her game.

8:22 PM – Timeout Lincoln Park…Leopards down by nine, just over three minutes left in regulation.  Vincentian has out-executed LP this period.  Pratt needs to start shooting some threes, perhaps…

8:25 PM – FT’s for the Royals.  Adam Dian and Devontae Watson now each have double-doubles for their respective teams.

8:30 PM – Barring a late push, it appears Lincoln Park may have to wear the WPIAL Class A bridesmaid’s dress once again.  Vincentian still up nine with 1:10 to go.  Lincoln Park at the line, where its struggles continue.  Sharron Moreland-Jones fouls out for LP as well; Royals in the double-bonus.

Vincentian Academy

The Vincentian boys celebrate their victory.

8:39 PM – After many deliberate fouls by LP, the game finally ends…Vincentian Academy hangs on to defeat Lincoln Park 67-61.  Congratulations to the Royals on their first-ever WPIAL Boys’ Class A crown!  Lincoln Park still has not won a district title since ’79, when they were still known as Midland (in Class AA).  The Leopards never quit, but Vincentian showed impressive balance and teamwork on offense, and they had too many answers.  One might argue LP got too far away from its own game; the Leopards did not make a single three-pointer…nor did they attempt as many as they normally seem to.

8:40 PM – Silver medal presentation taking place for Lincoln Park, gold medal presentation follows for Vincentian.  Both teams now get ready for state playoffs next Friday.  Sites, times, opponents TBD.  Royals end district play an amazing 24-1, and another great district season for Lincoln Park ends at 17-7 going into the PIAA tourney.

8:45 PM – Lincoln Park players, to their credit, sounded positive and humble in defeat, not getting down on selves, looking forward to states.

9:03 PM – I had so much fun talking to victorious coach George Yokitis I almost missed the start of the Boys’ Class AAA Final between top seed South Fayette and Section 5 rival Montour.  Both are going for their first WPIAL titles ever, though the Lions won the PIAA Class AA title last year.

9:06 PM – Huge turnout for this one.  Looks like both schools are very well represented.

(By the way, be sure to check back later for post-game sound from Coach Yokitis, and final numbers from the Boys’ Class A contest.)

9:20 PM – End of 1st quarter…South Fayette up 11-7.  Montour is not shy about playing the up-tempo game the Lions typically prefer, but the Spartans aren’t hitting shots.  A balanced effort for SF so far with five different scorers.  South Fayette also cleaning the glass nicely, out-rebounding Montour 10-4.

9:28 PM – Kevin Scuilli hits Montour’s first three, but shortly thereafter, head coach Adam Kaufman calls timeout for Montour when SF’s Pat Zedreck answers with the first trifecta of the night for the Lions.  18-12 South Fayette, 3:10 left, 2nd quarter.

9:30 PM – Two more threes for Montour on consecutive possessions and we’re tied at 18.  Good ball movement by the Spartans.

9:34 PM – Three triples for the Spartans’ Kevin Sciulli in the second quarter!  The last one, a buzzer beater, gives Montour a 21-18 lead over South Fayette at the half.  He is the Spartans’ leading scorer; Dillon Buechel has five and three boards for Montour.  Pat Zedreck led a balanced Lions attack with seven points, and Mike Lamberti was held to just one field goal and three rebounds…a major win for Montour.  The Spartans have been playing a steadfast man-to-man, and it has SF a little off its game right now…

9:39 PM – While I wait for half number two to commence, some final numbers from Vincentian-Lincoln Park…Devontae Watson an incredible 22 points, 19 rebounds, 9 blocks in a losing effort for the Leopards.  Chaquille Pratt: 19 points, 6 rebounds.  Sharron Moreland-Jones also added 13 points, 6 boards for LP.  For the triumphant Royals: John Bray leads the way again, this time with 22 points, 6 boards.  Adam Dian: 13 points, 11 rebounds.  Mike Molnar: 8 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, and a great defensive game for VA.  Chris Koryak and Tony DiNardo each added nine to cap off a great team effort by the Royals.

9:48 PM – The second half doesn’t start well for the Lions.  Christian Brumbaugh picks up a questionable foul, and head coach Rich Bonnaure gets a bench warning.

9:50 PM – Timeout Lions; their offense has yet to get its motor going in the early stages of the second half.

9:57 PM – Spartans up by seven in the final moments of the third quarter.  Of this much I’m certain: this is the best defensive effort South Fayette has seen from anyone in a long time.  They’re not accustomed to working this much for offense…and not many shots are falling for them.

10:00 PM – A quiet third quarter for both teams comes to an end…29-24 Montour leads South Fayette.  Sciulli’s nine in the 2nd still lead the Spartans; Zedreck has countered with nine for the Lions.  Lamberti still strangely quiet with just six points, four boards, and one three-pointer, which came late in the quarter.

10:05 PM – Four fouls on Zedreck…SF none too happy with the officiating…

10:08 PM – You know it’s not a typical South Fayette game when Lamberti misses three consecutive free throws in a big spot…

10:10 PM – Timeout Montour, with the Spartans ahead 31-25, 4:24 left in regulation.  Both teams still struggling offensively, Montour trying to shorten the game a bit.

10:17 PM – Another Montour timeout with the Spartans still in front 33-27, 2:24 left in the game.  Neither team has hit a field goal in this quarter, and missed opportunities continue to plague South Fayette.  It’s been a defensive clinic, but also, in some ways, a sloppy finish.

10:21 PM – South Fayette’s Christian Brumbaugh fouls out.  Could that be the final nail in the Lions’ coffin?

10:23 PM – An impressive falling three-pointer by Lamberti, who continues to fight.  Great leadership from a player known for leading by example.

Montour vs. South Fayette

The Spartans salted this one away at the foul line.

10:27 PM – The Spartans are moments away from tasting gold and pulling off a significant upset over their section rivals, as Zedreck fouls out.  Every Montour point this quarter has come at the foul line.

10:30 PM – Would you believe it…the Montour Spartans are truly Bound for Glory!  Despite losing twice to eventual section champion South Fayette, the Spartans upset the almost-undefeated Lions for their first-ever WPIAL Boys’ Class AAA championship!  South Fayette ends a nevertheless remarkable district season at 22-2 overall, while the scrappy Spartans enter the PIAA tournament at 19-7 overall.  I really have to give Coach Kaufman and his kids a ton of credit for their team defense tonight; South Fayette never entirely got its motor going, and even that might be an understatement.  Having said that, the Lions will be a very difficult–and very motivated–out in the state playoffs.

Montour celebration

The players, cheerleaders, and fans celebrate a big upset!

10:35 PM – Silver medal presentation for South Fayette, then a raucous gold medal presentation for Montour.  Both teams begin the state playoffs next Friday…sites, times, opponents TBD.  Again, more on that next week.

10:55 PM – Just talked to Coach Kaufman.  Time to pack up here at the Palumbo Center, but more to come later!

(Better late than never…here are some final numbers from the Boys’ Class AAA game…frankly, the biggest number of the game was one, as in, the number of points awarded for a free throw.  That’s how Montour got all 16 of its points in the final period…weird.  Dillon Buechel: 8 points, six at the line, for the Spartans, to go with four assists.  Austin Heter with a team-high 11 and five boards.  Aaron McGee with a game-high eight rebounds to go with his six points.  But Kevin Scuilli’s nine were the ones that, in hindsight, changed the game.  Mike Lamberti was off his game tonight, but hit a couple late buckets to earn a game-high 13 points.  He also had five boards.  Once again, nine for Zedreck.  The Spartans hung on down the stretch despite being out-rebounded 24-20.)

North Catholic vs. Fort Cherry

The Trojanettes were able to run the floor against the Rangers.

SATURDAY, 12:20 PM – After a mandatory shift at the radio station, arrived back at the Palumbo Center a short while ago to catch the end of the Girls’ Class A title game between North Catholic and first-timer Fort Cherry…and it’s a weird one.  Trojanettes were way ahead, packed it in and tried to run out the clock with their reserves.  Rangers, to their credit, kept playing hard, and have whittled it down to a two-possession game…forcing NC to put all its starters back in!  A chorus of boos coming from the Fort Cherry faithful, but can’t blame head coach Molly Rottman for doing so.

North Catholic celebration

One of the winningest programs in WPIAL history celebrates another title.

12:25 PM – Silver medal ceremonies taking place for Fort Cherry, and gold medals being awarded to North Catholic.  Congratulations to the Trojanettes on their 49-43 victory, which gives them an amazing 16th WPIAL championship in program history!  Give the Rangers credit for fighting back late, as they enter the state playoffs at 22-4, while NC finishes district play at 19-7.  The unfinished business has been finished by North Catholic after last year’s loss and, in the bigger picture, this game looked closer than it really was.  NC’s athleticism and execution at both ends of the floor dug FC too big a hole.  Still, the Rangers have a lot of heart, and should be an interesting team to watch in the PIAA tourney.

12:38 PM – Just talked to Coach Rottman.  Liked the business-like approach of her team and the leadership of her seniors (Kendall Hoffman and Erin DiSanti), wants to see better decision-making with the ball moving forward.  Post-game quotes to come.

12:40 PM – The Monessen boys have taken the floor, and the Greensburg Central Catholic boys did so moments later.  WPIAL Boys’ Class AA title game to tip off at 1:00.  Neither has ever won a Class AA title; Monessen’s last Class A district title came in 2002.

12:43 PM – A few final numbers from the Girls’ Class A game…Kendall Hoffman with 15 to lead North Catholic.  Erin DiSanti and Angela Nowacki each with ten.  Once again, most of the damage was done early by the Trojanettes, who took the air out of the ball in the second half.  Another great game for Beka Bellhy of Fort Cherry; team-high 13.  Jessie Merckle, also coming off a strong semifinal performance, with nine points.  Bellhy, who led her team to this game hours after her grandfather’s funeral, is definitely a player to watch in states, as is Hoffman.

1:17 PM – A fast-paced first quarter in the Boys’ Class AA affair has come to a close…Monessen up 15-8 over GCC.  Greyhounds are definitely the aggressor, though Centurions have been aided by several offensive fouls and are starting to defend a little better.  Monessen owning the glass, up 9-3 in rebounds.  Earl Pinkney with three points, game-high five boards thus far.  Five different scorers for Monessen.  Jesse Reed has all of GCC’s points.

1:20 PM – Officials noticing the physicality of this game too; 12 total fouls already.  Monessen already in the bonus.

1:22 PM – Cam Johnson of Monessen completes an and-one play at the line to register his first three points of the day.  The balance of the Greyhounds is impressive.  On paper, it looks like they’re trying to make Reed beat them by himself.

1:26 PM – Speak of the devil…Johnson, who now leads Monessen with six points, just picked up his third foul, 3:35 left, 1st half.

1:34 PM – Halftime here at the Palumbo Center…Monessen’s lead now stands at 31-25.  GCC has outplayed the Greyhounds since Monessen’s 10-1 run that started the game, but Monessen has played a solid team game and has had answers.  Jalen Madison with nine points, two rebounds, two assists to lead that team.  For the Centurions, Reed is pacing them, as usual, with 15…Romulus Marino with five off the bench.  The last time I saw GCC was its section title-clinching win at Jeannette, when they were able to get a lot done inside the paint.  That hasn’t been the case at all thus far.  The Greyhounds are playing a good positional game in their own zone, and GCC has had to earn every basket every time it gets a lane.  Greensburg Central’s secondary scoring needs to pick up, and Monessen needs to keep moving the ball well.

1:48 PM – Thunderous dunk by Cam Johnson!  And one half of the gym loves it.  8-0 run for the ‘Hounds to start the half.  Timeout GCC.  If the first few minutes of the second half really are the most important minutes of the game, as some coaches believe, then GCC is in trouble.  They’ve come out really flat.

1:52 PM – I don’t know what was discussed during that timeout, but once again, GCC still isn’t being aggressive enough inside.  No one following his shots.  Cam Johnson hits an and-one layup off a turnover, as Monessen continues to dictate the tempo…Greyhounds by 12.

1:57 PM – Still a spirited game after three quarters…Monessen leads Greensburg Central Catholic 41-33.  Refs letting them play a little bit more; only three total fouls in the half.  Greyhounds still dominating inside, out-rebounding GCC 24-12…and you’d better believe that’s a factor here.  GCC was finally able to slow Monessen’s offense down, but still needs to go to work on offense.  Johnson with ten and seven for the ‘Hounds.  Madison with 11.  Reed of GCC with 17 to lead all.  Romulus Marino with nine off the bench for Centurions.

2:02 PM – Ben Klimchock just got his first points of the day on a three-pointer.  He’s usually an important role player for Greensburg Central, but has been all but invisible till now.

2:05 PM – Full timeout by the Greyhounds, up 48-38, 5:37 left in the game.  More efficient ball movement by Monessen, and a nice finish by Pinkney moments ago…just when GCC was starting to deny underneath the basket.

2:08 PM – Another Monessen timeout, and they’ve extended their cushion to 12.  The Greyhounds have scored on their first five shots of the fourth quarter, and as was the case earlier, they’re driving baseline practically at will.

2:11 PM – It’s an offensive clinic by Monessen; Nick Bolias of the Greyhounds picks up his seventh assist on another crowd-pleasing dunk by Cam Johnson.  Monessen up 19…18 team points in the final period thus far.  Six different scorers in the frame.  Looks like the Centurions will settle for silver.

2:14 PM – Johnson fouls out, but not before an impressive 12-point effort to go with eight boards.

Monessen celebration

The Greyhounds hoist their first WPIAL trophy in nearly a decade.

2:20 PM – The nine-year drought is over…congratulations to the Monessen Greyhounds, who win their sixth WPIAL championship in program history, first since ’02, and first as a member of Class AA with a 63-43 rout of Greensburg Central Catholic!  A great district season comes to a disappointing end for GCC, which enters the state playoffs 23-3.  Monessen enters the state playoffs–which begin for District 7 boys and girls next Friday–with an overall mark of 23-2.

Monessen seniors

Four of Monessen's starting five show off their gold medals.

2:25 PM – Final thoughts from veteran head coach Joe Salvino: this title was a particularly sweet one for his team, and he and he kids sort of played the no-respect card; Monessen, being a smaller school playing up one classification, doesn’t get hyped as much as a school like GCC.  Credits team defense for the win.  More thoughts from Salvino–and all the other winning coaches this weekend–to come later…

2:48 PM – Final thoughts from me: I picked Monessen to win it all when the playoffs started because of their depth, and because of how well they’ve risen to the level of their competition–competition that was, in some instances, two classifications higher.  You don’t go all year without a single loss in your own classification by being lucky.  You do it by playing as a team, and in spite of GCC’s talent and the leadership of a great player like Reed, the Greyhounds played a far superior team game.  They deserved to win this one.

2:50 PM – In addition to Johnson’s 12 and 8, I have some more final numbers for Monessen…double-double for Pinkney, 11 points and 11 rebounds.  11 for Jeff Francia.  Jalen Madison: team-high 13 points for the ‘Hounds.  Nick Bolias: 6 points, 8 assists.  Reed, as you might guess, led all with 18 points.  Romulus Marino: 9 off the bench for GCC.  The rest of the Centurions: 12 points (big man P.J. McLaughlin held to 4 points, 5 boards).  Hey, like Coach Salvino said…

3:00 PM – We’re about to begin one of the most intriguing–and unexpected–matchups of the entire weekend: Blackhawk vs. Ambridge for the Girls’ Class AAA title.  Both also-rans from Section 2, both under-the-radar teams, though the Bridgers have definitely been more of an underdog since the playoffs began.

3:12 PM – Bridgers on a 10-0 run after conceding an early three-pointer.  Blackhawk is having trouble figuring out Ambridge’s 2-3 zone…and their perimeter shots aren’t falling.

3:15 PM – Three fouls already on Katie Fischer, a key factor in Ambridge’s playoff run.  Cougars clawing their way back at the line.

3:20 PM – Neither team has a foul to give…and we’re only through one quarter.  Ambridge leads Blackhawk 13-11, as both teams are trying to outdo each other down low.  Hayward has gotten a lot of looks outside, but only has one field goal.  Blackhawk is starting to get some penetration.  Halle Denman leads the Cougars with four points off the bench on free throws, and Erin Smith, the hero of Ambridge’s Semifinal upset of New Castle, is off to a nice start with six.

3:30 PM – Ambridge playing with a little more discipline…Bridgers have been stuck on six fouls for a while now.  Hayward finally nails a three, but the Cougars still are turning the ball over.

3:32 PM – Midway through 2nd quarter…Blackhawk ties it at 18 on a nice midrange jumper by Alexis Graham.  (If not for Hayward, she’d be the Cougars’ most talked-about player these days.)  Timeout Ambridge.

3:40 PM – Halftime…Blackhawk has pulled ahead of Ambridge 26-22 in Girls’ Class AAA action.  Both teams have really had to work for their offense…Cougars have a modest 15-9 edge in rebounds, but Ambridge continues to man up and force turnovers, not to mention tough shots.  Big plus for Blackhawk: Alexis Hayward finally got going, and leads all with ten points to go with three rebounds.  Sam Santiago, daughter of head coach Nikki Santiago, has tried to put the Bridgers on her back with nine points–eight in the 2nd–and two boards.  Smith with seven for Ambridge.  Graham with four and three for Blackhawk.  Cougars have missed some opportunities and could pull away if they can execute better in the second half.

4:00 PM – Full timeout, Blackhawk…Cougars up 37-32.  They keep turning the ball over, otherwise the lead might be bigger.  The action is a little more fast-paced right now.  Santiago with five in the quarter for Ambridge, and Hayward with a nice three-ball for Blackhawk.  The Cougars are looking for her…and Ambridge knows it.

4:05 PM – Hayward is heating up…Cougars by 12, their biggest bulge of the day.  Five three-pointers for Blackhawk’s top regular-season scorer, three in this quarter alone…19 points thus far.  Two minutes left in the 3rd.

4:10 PM – The disease spreads…now it’s Ambridge having ball-control problems.  Blackhawk up 45-36 after three quarters.  Once again, Hayward’s 19 lead all.  Graham with seven and three rebounds.  Game-high eight boards for Blackhawk’s Jeseca Muslin, who also has four points.  Still, thanks to Sam Santiago, the Bridgers have a pulse; nine of her 18 points came in the 3rd.

4:17 PM – Katie Fischer fouls out with six points.  Tough loss there for Ambridge.  Both teams in the bonus.

4:25 PM – Wow…Alexa Hayward fouls out.  Leads all with 21.  Double bonus for Bridgers, down nine, 3:30 left.

4:33 PM – Cougars by 11 with just over a minute left in regulation, despite going roughly six minutes between field goals.  Ambridge might need a miracle–or a ton of missed free throws–at this point.  Santiago fouls out for Ambridge…18 points but scoreless in 4th quarter.

Blackhawk celebration

One of the most successful programs in Class AAA tasted gold at last.

4:38 PM – Congratulations to the Blackhawk Cougars on their 63-49 win over the Ambridge Bridgers…the Cougars are WPIAL Class AAA champions for the fifth time in program history, and the first time since 2000!  Give credit to the Bridgers for putting up a heck of a fight in this year’s district playoffs; they enter the state tournament with a 20-7 overall record.  Blackhawk goes in at 21-5 overall.  Both teams had opportunities to change the complexion of this game in the second half, but ultimately the hole Hayward and Blackhawk dug the Bridgers in the 3rd quarter proved to be too steep for the Bridgers to climb out of.

WPIAL Basketball gold medal

Ever wonder what a gold medal looks like up close? (Thanks for the photo op, Alexa!)

5:15 PM – Just got back from talking with victorious head coach Steve Lodovicko, a WPIAL champion both as a player and coach.  Talked about Alexa Hayward’s leadership.  Said they’d rather not play a section team, because familiarity can sometimes make for a mildly sloppy game, but felt the team was well prepared despite slow start.  Speaking of that, Alexa Hayward said they need to start games better in the state playoffs in order to go far.  She has a lot of faith in her teammates, and told Alexis Graham to “take over” when she fouled out.  More to come from both later…

5:30 PM – Final numbers from the Girls’ Class AAA game…Hayward, once again, had a game-high 21, and grabbed five rebounds.  Alexis Graham: 12 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists.  Halle Denman (freshman): 11 points (9 FT’s), 3 boards, 4 helpers.  Game-high ten boards for Blackhawk’s Muslin.  Blackhawk made 12 free throws in the 4th quarter; 23 for the game, as compared to Ambridge’s 12.  Just to refresh your memory…Santiago led the Bridgers with 18.  Erin Smith: 13 points, 6 boards.

Speaking of Class AAA, if you go back up top to my Montour-South Fayette wrap-up, you can now see some final numbers from that game as well, which I didn’t get around to last night (my bad!).

Break time.  Quad-A girls game between Lebo and Shaler tipping at 7:00.

More to come!

6:50 PM – We’re just a few minutes away from the penultimate game of the weekend–and it looks like a good one–the WPIAL Girls’ Class AAAA Final between the top two seeds, two-time champ Mount Lebanon and Shaler.  Lebo is the only defending champion, boys’ or girls’, still with a shot to repeat.  Shaler has never won WPIAL gold in girls’ hoops as a member of Quad-A, adding the Titans to a list of unfamiliar faces who have appeared at the Palumbo Center this year.  I have legitimate reasons to believe this will be a hard-fought matchup, yet I can’t fight my gut feeling that the Blue Devils might jump on them…

6:57 PM – Shout-out to the old alma mater…North Hills student Stephanie Higgins sings the National Anthem.  Starting lineups introduced…ironic that the Shaler student section is all dressed in green, because Lebo’s top player, Madison Cable, is a Notre Dame Fighting Irish recruit.  Presumably, though, it’s in honor of Shaler’s top gun, Val McQuade.

7:08 PM – Madison Cable gets on the board with two free throws.  Slow start for Lebo’s offense, but getting chances off turnovers.  Val McQuade also on the board for the Titans.

7:12 PM – First timeout of the game taken by Eric Mozzetti, Shaler head coach.  Cable with a nice putback in transition.

7:15 PM – End of the 1st quarter…Lebo leads Shaler 10-4.  Cable with six points, three boards to lead all.  Another slow start for the Titans, which, at least on the couple occasions I’ve seen them, has been par for the course.  But against this caliber opponent, can they afford another one?

7:30 PM – Shaler can’t get out of its own way…a 14-2 run for Lebo, but it could be a lot more.  Both teams struggling offensively.

7:33 PM – Timeout Lebo after an and-one play by the Blue Devils’ Jordan Holmes, who finally scored after recording eight rebounds and getting good looks throughout the quarter.

Mount Lebanon layup

Jordan Holmes of Mount Lebanon waits for a shot to fall.

7:35 PM – Despite going most of the 2nd quarter without a field goal, Lebo’s defense is keeping its opponent at arm’s length as usual, and the Blue Devils lead Shaler 18-9 at halftime.  Cable with a game-high eight points to go with six rebounds.  Val McQuade and Hillary Sauer each with a pair for the Titans; McQuade has five rebounds to Sauer’s four.  Shaler tends to be a strong second-half team in these kinds of games, so Lebo really needs to execute better on offense.  It could be, and to a certain extent, probably should be more lopsided right now.  Having said that, the Titans are doing a good job getting traffic under their own bucket at all times.  They’ll pretty much have to if they want to win.

7:50 PM – I’ve seen this movie before.  9-2 run by Shaler to start the half.

7:53 PM – Haley Sauer is a woman possessed…six points in the quarter, including a driving layup to give Shaler a 24-22 lead.  Timeout Lebo, only two left for the Blue Devils.  3:40 left in the 3rd.

8:05 PM – If you look up the phrase “bend, but don’t break,” there should be a picture of this Shaler squad.  Titans outscored Mount Lebanon 21-7 in the 3rd, they lead the Blue Devils 30-25 after three quarters.  Haley and Hillary are giving Shaler some “Sauer Power”…19 combined points, and 12 combined rebounds.  Cable was held without a field goal in that period.  Hillary is the overall leader with 11 and 9.

8:08 PM – Four fouls on Hillary early in the 4th quarter.

8:15 PM – Timeout Shaler, with Lebo in the bonus.  Blue Devils sitting on four fouls.  They may need to win this game at the line, because they can’t buy a bucket.  Lebo caught a break with Hillary Sauer fouling out (5:08 left).

8:20 PM – Shaler still getting the bounces, but Lebo has tied the game 32-32 on an and-one play by an impassioned Cable.

8:25 PM – Shaler takes a 37-32 lead on a made free throw, a missed free throw rebound, and a second-chance bucket.

8:29 PM – Titans timeout, and they need it to discuss strategy…Cate Potter and Shannon Powell have also fouled out.

Shaler celebration

The Shaler girls celebrate an impressive takedown of Mount Lebanon.

8:37 PM – Hear ye, hear ye, the Queen is dead!  (Remember what I said before the game?  Shows you what the heck I know.)  The Shaler Titans have won their first ever WPIAL Girls’ Basketball Championship as a member of Quad-A (last title of any kind was 1981) with a 41-35 victory over Mount Lebanon; congratulations to Eric Mozetti and his Titans!  Not a major upset, but a significant upset, as the two-time district and state champions go down.  Your heart goes out to Madison Cable, who is visibly upset, but your hat goes off to Shaler.  Once again, they started poorly, but didn’t come completely unraveled in the long run.  They played hard, and they out-executed Lebo.  That’s all there is to it.  Lebo will be dangerous in the state playoffs, but tonight, they just didn’t finish plays at all, and on a couple occasions, Shaler caught the breaks that even a championship team occasionally needs.  In hindsight, the turning point was not when Shaler went on its big run in the 3rd quarter, but when the Blue Devils didn’t put the game away in the 2nd.  Lebo enters the PIAA tournament 20-6, Shaler goes in at 24-2.

8:56 PM – Talked to Coach Mozzetti.  Interesting…they’re a No. 2 seed, yet he really tried to get it into his team’s head that they’re underdogs, and get them to embrace that role.  (“The only ones who believed we would win this game were the ones in that damn locker room, and that’s why I’m so proud of them.”)  More from Coach Mozzetti later…

8:58 PM – This has truly been a year of change in WPIAL basketball, from noteworthy teams (a couple of them last year’s champions) switching classifications, to getting all new 2011 champions across the board.  The last new champion–either Chartiers Valley or Gateway–will be crowned soon.  Boys’ Class AAAA Final close to tip-off.

9:19 PM – A feverish and quick-moving 1st quarter ends…Gateway up 13-8 over Chartiers Valley.  Both teams controlling the defensive glass well.  Not a lot of room for error out there.  Tyler Scott and D.J. Boyce with four each for Gateway, Capers with two…Spencer Casson with three boards.

9:27 PM – This game is moving by quickly…a little too quickly for Char’ Valley, which has fallen behind 25-13.  Gateway shooting lights out and showing good range.  Isn’t it ironic that, not long after I questioned the Gators’ discipline, they have been the more disciplined team this half?

9:30 PM – One minute left in the half…and Gateway has just picked up its first foul.  Colts only have two.

(By the way, I’ll final numbers from this game, as well as final numbers from the Girls’ Class AAAA game later tonight, because of the quick start time for the Quad-A boys.)

9:33 PM – The Gators are making me eat crow…or should I say Colt?  Char’ Valley has made an impressive run, but Tim McConnell’s team is trailing 29-19 at the half, and Gateway is 16 basketball minutes away from its first ever WPIAL championship.  Tyler Scott with 11 points, three rebounds, two assists to lead Gateway.  Gateway leads in rebounds 10-7 (feels like it should be a lot higher, though).  Matt Noszka with 10 and two for Char’ Valley; without him, this game might be over.  Colts need to run the floor more and start getting physical with Barnett Harris, who is having a good defensive outing for the Gators.  Gateway needs to keep shooting and keep its poise, not falling into old habits.  The Colts are very capable of going on a big run, so this one isn’t over yet…

9:50 PM – 39-25 Gateway…biggest lead of the night.  Char’ Valley can’t get anything going inside, and the Gators continue to shoot exceptionally well.  Colts need some stops, but just can’t get any.  Gateway is running all over them.

9:56 PM – A funny thing happened on the way back to the bus…the Colts went on an 11-2 run!  Char’ Valley student section the loudest they’ve been all night.  Turnover by Gateway.  Timeout Char’ Valley, down 41-37, 12 seconds left in 3rd.

9:58 PM – End of 3rd…Gateway’s lead over Chartiers Valley stands at 41-37.  Get your popcorn ready, we’ve got a ballgame!

10:08 PM – Gateway is slowly putting this game away at the foul line.  48-39 Gators, as their coach, Mitch Adams, calls timeout.  I’m the first to admit, I didn’t foresee Char’ Valley being so inconsistent on offense, but Gateway is playing a good positional game, using its size to create mismatches.  Furthermore, the Colts have been outrun.

10:15 PM – Timeout by the Colts, but not before Barnett Harris of Gateway punctuates an apparent victory with a dunk that gets the Gateway student section going.

Gateway celebration

The Gators, one of this year's most talked-about Quad-A teams, celebrate victory. (Credit: Rebecca Droke/Post-Gazette)

10:20 PM – The winds of change continue to blow through the WPIAL…Gateway has rolled over Chartiers Valley 58-43 for its first-ever crown…congratulations to Mitch Adams and the Gators!  Based on what I had seen in previous rounds, I thought Gateway might beat itself to a certain degree, allowing the Colts to capitalize, but that never happened.  Char’ Valley didn’t shoot nearly as efficiently as it has in the past.  Having said that, Tim McConnell has done a fine job, as always, keeping that team competitive, smoothing the transition from WPIAL Class AAA champions up to Quad-A and holding their own in a tough section.  But sometimes it’s not just about talent, and it’s not just about your resume…it’s about matchups.  And Gateway’s size proved too much to handle.  Colts enter the state playoffs next Saturday at 20-6, while the Gators go in at 23-4.

10:45 PM – Interesting chat with Wayne Capers, and with Mitch Adams.  Capers talked about “never wanting to feel like this again.” (Shades of the Sidney Crosby Reebok commercial from a couple years ago…) Adams was…quick to defend the character of his team, let’s just put it that way.  Says team defense will be key to a big run in states, and that this team is particularly hungry for a PIAA crown after falling short last year.  More to come from both men later…

10:52 PM – First, as previously promised, some belated final numbers from Lebo-Shaler…Hillary Sauer 11 points and 9 rebounds for Shaler.  McQuade 8 and 11.  8 and 11 also for Shannon Powell.  Haley Sauer 9 and 5.  Meanwhile, for Lebo…Cable: 10 points, 9 boards.  Lauren Pellicano 9 and 5.  Shaler out-rebounded Lebo 42-32 (unofficially).  Only one field goal for Lebo in the 4th.

10:55 PM – Time to hit the road.  Final numbers from CV-Gateway to come soon…scout’s honor!

(One thing I neglected to mention…the Shaler girls did win a WPIAL title in 1981, but this *is* their first-ever title as a member of Quad-A.  Thanks to “Mighty Titan” for the catch on my typo…which has been corrected!)

These are long overdue, but anyway…final numbers from Gateway’s win over Chartiers Valley…Matt Noszka led the Colts with 16 points, 6 rebounds.  As I said before, this thing might actually have gotten out of hand if not for him.  Christian Kuntz: 9 points, 2 boards.  Wayne Capers: 9 and 3, not to mention 2 assists.  Spencer Casson, who is usually a presence for this team, was held to 2 points, 4 rebounds…definitely a key factor here.  As for the victorious Gators, it’s easy to see what a different team they are with Tyler Scott, as opposed to without; he led Gateway with a game-high 20 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists.  Barnett Harris:  11 and 5 to go with 2 helpers.  Mike Corbett: 10 points.  Gateway only managed two field goals in the 4th, but they held Char’ Valley to two as well…and outscored the Colts 13-2 at the foul line in the final period.

Once again, congrats to the Gators, who join this weekend’s list of new and first-time champions, and to the rest of Friday and Saturday’s winners.  Four new ones in each classification this year…the last time this happened was ’08.  And congratulations to all the losing teams on fine seasons as well; looking back at all 16 of this weekend’s participants, District 7 will be well-represented in the PIAA Boys’ and Girls’ Playoffs yet again.  I see multiple WPIAL runners-up who are very capable of bigger and better things over the next couple weeks.

Thanks for reading!