If the PIAA graded teams based solely on talent and potential and who should win, the quarterfinal game Saturday between Gateway and North Allegheny would have been canceled.
The PIAA simply would have advanced Gateway into the semifinals and let everyone enjoy the nice, spring day.
But games are won at practice, in the film room and on the court where coach Dave DeGregorio’s North Allegheny Tigers worked as hard as I have seen any team work while upsetting Gateway, 64-52, at Chartiers Valley.
DeGregorio, one of the WPIAL’s top coaches, had his team ready for a bigger, stronger, quicker opponent. He kept the defensive pressure on Gateway’s players, who looked surprised by the pesky slaps at the ball by the North Allegheny defense. He continually gestured to his team, working up a sweat by changing defenses, calling plays and encouraging. (By the way, if the guy ever forgets how to whistle, North Allegheny is in trouble. Dave, just a suggestion: Keep those lips moist and never lose that water bottle.)
It wasn’t the first time North Allegheny surprised a team that had more talent. Three days before the Gateway game, North Allegheny beat WPIAL champion Mt. Lebanon, giving the Blue Devils their only loss in Western Pennsylvania this season. The Tigers also eliminated District 10 champion Erie Strong Vincent.
Which brings us to another topic: What’s up with the WPIAL champions?
Of the eight teams that took home gold medals from the Palumbo Center earlier this month, only four earned berths in the PIAA semifinals. In fact, three (the Mt. Lebanon boys and Jeannette and New Castle girls) never made it out of the second round. The North Catholic boys reached the quarterfinals Saturday, but they were thoroughly outplayed by South Fayette, the WPIAL’s No. 3 seed, 59-35.
North Catholic coach Dave Long thinks he knows what happened to his team, which was 2-1 against South Fayette before Saturday’s game, including a 57-41 Trojans victory against the Lions in the WPIAL semifinals.
“You can’t say enough great things about South Fayette,” coach Dave Long said. “They were truly on a mission. I think the third game lit their fire. I kind of thought of that old Pearl Harbor movie where the admiral said, ‘We might have awakened a sleeping giant.’ I think that’s just what occurred.
“We kind of awakened a giant today, and they took it to us.”
Long makes a good point. The WPIAL was loaded with good teams, but no great or dominant ones. So, it’s no surprise that North Catholic and South Fayette played four times this season, and each team won twice. If they played a fifth time, North Catholic might win.
Statewide, 15 of the 32 teams in the semifinals did not win their districts. None of the 11 No. 1 seeds in the Class AAA girls bracket are in the semifinals.
The PIAA revealed the sites for the semifinals Sunday, and there will be a boys doubleheader Tuesday night at the Palumbo Center featuring rematches of the WPIAL Class AAA and A championship games, won by Chartiers Valley over Hampton and Sewickley Academy over Lincoln Park. Class A is the first tipoff at 6 p.m. The only other WPIAL site is Plum where the Indiana and Chartiers Valley girls will meet in Class AAA at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
The other games:
Tuesday — Class AAAA girls, WPIAL champion Mt. Lebanon vs. District 3 top seed Central Dauphin at 7 p.m. at Hollidaysburg; Class AA girls, WPIAL fourth seed Avonworth vs. District 10 champion Villa Maria at 7 p.m. at Meadvillle.
Wednesday — Class AAAA boys, WPIAL No. 4 North Allegheny vs. District 1 runnerup Plymouth -Whitemarsh at 7 p.m. at Chambersburg; Class AA boys, South Fayette vs. District 10 champion Mercyhurst Prep at 7 p.m. at Meadville; Class A girls, WPIAL champion Vincentian vs. District 6 champion Bishop Guilfoyle at 7 p.m. at IUP.