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WPIAL playoffs: First-round primer

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The toughest question in WPIAL Class AAAA boys basketball might now have an answer.

Who can beat Mt. Lebanon?

It could be Gateway.

There’s no truth to the rumor that every boys basketball coach whose team still remains in the AAAA playoffs shuddered upon hearing of Gateway’s 91-73 win over Norwin in Saturday’s first round. But would you want to play the Gators right now?

It still isn’t certain if Gateway, the No. 6 seed, can sustain the high level of play it showcased on Saturday. The Gators, largely a young team, have been inconsistent this season. But if coach Mitch Adams can keep his team on this course, it certainly wouldn’t be difficult to imagine the Gators winning the AAAA title. At least, that’s what Norwin coach Lynn Washowich said Saturday. He compared Gateway to the Penn Hills team in 1998-99 with Drew Schifino and the 2006-07 Schenley team with DeJuan Blair and D.J. Kennedy. Penn Hills lost to North Allegheny by a point in the 1999 WPIAL semifinals. Schenley won the PIAA Class AAAA title in 2007.

Though Gateway is relatively inexperienced, there doesn’t seem to be any other AAAA squad that could match No. 1 seed Mt. Lebanon’s size and talent other than the Gators. With junior F Devon Cottrell (6-foot-6) returning to a lineup that already features sophomore G/F Tyler Scott (6-5), sophomore F Barnett Harris (6-9), senior F Mike Kromka (6-7) and guards Anthony Keel and Craig Banks, who combined to hang 44 points on Norwin, the Gators look like a harrowing match-up for Zach Barker (17.5 ppg) and quarterfinal opponent Kiski Area or, for that matter, the other two teams on their side of the bracket — No. 2 seed North Allegheny or Peters Township.

- Mt. Lebanon (21-1) plays Shaler (11-10) Tuesday at 8 p.m. at Chartiers Valley in one of the two remaining first-round AAAA boys games. That could be a better game than it appears in writing. Shaler looked pretty good in an 80-39 win over Fox Chapel in a preliminary round game on Saturday and has a solid core of players in junior PG J.T. Schwartz, sophomore F J.P. Holtz and senior G/F Jesse Della Valle. Remember Della Valle? He was one of the WPIAL’s top all-around football players and scored 14 points against Fox Chapel. Not calling the 16-seed over the 1-seed upset, but don’t be surprised if this game isn’t a blowout.

Hempfield (16-5) and Upper St. Clair (13-8) meet in Tuesday’s other AAAA boys first-round game at 8 p.m. at North Allegheny. Nate Perry, a Division-I prospect shooting guard, averages 22 points per game for Section 1 champion Hempfield. Meanwhile, watch out for Upper St. Clair’s 6-foot-6 senior Garret Del Re, who could pose a difficult match-up underneath the basket.

Some other boys games to watch on Tuesday and Wednesday:

Class AAA:

No. 6 Thomas Jefferson (17-5) vs. No. 11 West Mifflin (12-7), 8 p.m. Tues., at Baldwin — Look at the seeds and the records, and Thomas Jefferson, with Steven Licht (16.5 ppg) and Jim Giansante (17 ppg), seems like the favorite. But West Mifflin beat T.J. in the Steel Valley tournament in mid-December, 53-50, and West Mifflin’s 6-foot-4 junior C.J. Hester is one of the WPIAL’s top scorers at 24.5 points per game.

No. 7 Greensburg Salem (16-5) vs. No. 10 Montour (13-7), 8 p.m. Tues., at Plum – Jake Matthews, Salem’s 6-2 senior guard, averages 20 points a game and might be the best shooter in the area not named T.J. McConnell.

No. 5 Blackhawk (14-7) vs. No. 12 West Allegheny (13-8), 6:30 p.m. Tues., at Ambridge — A rematch of West A’s 16-point win in December. Sophomore G Cory Ostach (15 ppg) has emerged for Blackhawk, but will have to help Blackhawk contain West Allegheny seniors G John O’Donnell (20 ppg) and F Ben Simmen (6-4).

Class AA

No. 7 Rochester (20-2) vs. No. 10 Quaker Valley (20-3), 8 p.m. Wed., at North Allegheny — Perhaps the only first-round game between two teams thought to be possible championship contenders in their class. Good players all over the floor in this one: Rochester’s G/F E.J. Blackwell (19 ppg) and guards Trey Johnson and Jasson Adamson; Quaker Valley’s G/F Nigel Gibson (18 ppg) and G Casey Courneen (17 ppg).

No. 8 Washington (17-4) vs. No. 9 Freeport (16-2), 8 p.m. Wed., at Gateway — Section 1 champion Freeport has won 14 straight games, including a 65-48 drubbing of Summit Academy in the prelims on Saturday. But Marquis Brown (15 ppg) and Troy Wilson have Section 5 champion Washington on its own 14-game winning streak.

Class A

No. 8 Neshannock (15-7) vs. No. 9 St. Joseph (14-6), 8 p.m. Tues., at Moon — Four of St. Joseph’s six losses came in Section 4 to Clairton and Serra Catholic. Senior Bobby Nittinger (6-4) averages 20 points per game for Neshannock.

Girls games to watch:

Only two AAAA games on Tuesday, both first-round games featuring the top two seeds. No. 1 Mt. Lebanon (20-2) plays No. 16 Woodland Hills (7-13) at 6:30 at Chartiers Valley. No. 2 Butler (16-5) plays No. 15 Penn-Trafford (14-9) at 6:30 at North Allegheny. Butler was the No. 2 seed last year, but got upset in the first round by Gateway. Butler’s star Olivia Bresnahan, a Florida State recruit who averages 19 points per game, is a player worth watching.

Class AAA

No. 6 Thomas Jefferson (16-4) vs. No. 11 Uniontown (15-4), 8 p.m. Wed., at Yough — Could end up as a duel between Thomas Jefferson junior Ashley Stoner (15 ppg) and Uniontown senior Mallory Sanner (16 ppg).

Class AA

No. 8 Beth-Center (16-3) vs. No. 9 Bishop Canevin (16-5), 6:30 p.m. Tues., at Charleroi — Senior Megan Sowers leads Section 5 champion Beth-Center with 17.5 points per game. Will Sowers’ experience be enough to fend off Section 3 runner-up Bishop Canevin and star freshman Erin Waskowiak (17.5 ppg)?

No. 5 Sto-Rox (16-4) vs. No. 12 Washington (13-8), 6:30 p.m. Tues., at Canon-McMillan — Don’t forget about Dee Dee King and Sto-Rox, the defending WPIAL champions.

Updated playoff brackets, including dates, times and sites for all first-round games:

Boys

Class AAAA

Class AAA

Class AA

Class A

Girls

Class AAAA

Class AAA

Class AA

Class A

- By Pat Mitsch (pmitsch@gmail.com)

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