A-K Valley basketball teams use time off to prepare for PIAA tournament

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Thursday, March 7, 2019 | 9:19 PM


Five Alle-Kiski Valley basketball teams have played the waiting game for the PIAA tournament since their elimination from the WPIAL playoffs more than a week ago.

While the Highlands boys clinched a spot by making the WPIAL Class 4A semifinals, the Deer Lakes, Fox Chapel and Leechburg boys and Fox Chapel girls needed some help from other teams under the WPIAL’s follow-the-leader format for state-playoff qualification.

For that quintet of area teams, survival has turned to preparation, and preparation soon will turn to game time.

Highlands

The Golden Rams (17-8) lost to eventual WPIAL champion New Castle in the semifinals on Feb. 27. The Red Hurricanes’ title victory set Highlands as the No. 3 team from the WPIAL and on a course for Friday’s matchup against District 6 champion Huntingdon (24-0).

“We just kept things the same and wanted to keep our competition level high,” Golden Rams coach Tyler Stoczynski said about practices through the nine-day layoff. “This is the part where it becomes a long season. You have to keep players excited and into it.”

Highlands, which got to work for states soon after last Saturday’s WPIAL final, declined to schedule a scrimmage and opted to work on retooling a few things on their own before Friday’s contest.

“This is the first time we did that, but we felt it was the best thing for us,” Stoczynski said.

Fox Chapel boys

A watch party of Fox Chapel faithful developed to see if Mt. Lebanon could topple Butler in the WPIAL Class 6A title game March 2. The No. 3 Blue Devils, who stopped the Foxes (16-8) in the quarterfinals the week prior, did capture the championship and propelled Fox Chapel into the PIAA tournament.

“We gave the guys a break and then brought them in to shoot around a little bit,” Foxes coach Zach Skrinjar said. “We did some light scrimmaging to stay together and stay in shape with the chance we would still be playing. Obviously, it worked out in our favor.”

Now, the task for Fox Chapel, which scrimmaged Penn Hills and Allderdice this week, is the state’s No. 1 team in Kennedy Catholic (22-3) on Saturday.

“It’s going to be a great challenge for the guys, but it’s also a fantastic opportunity,” Skrinjar said. “They have a lot of size with three or four guys over (6-foot-7) and two or three more over 6-5. They no doubt use their height to their benefit.”

Deer Lakes

Lancers coach Terence Parham is excited for his team’s new life after falling to North Catholic in the WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinals Feb. 21. When the Trojans qualified for the title game four days later, Deer Lakes was in the PIAA field.

“It was tough being in limbo there for those four days,” said Parham, who will guide the Lancers (16-7) against District 9 champion Brookville on Saturday at Clearfield.

“We were able to get some film work done. We just wanted to keep their shooting fresh and maintain their conditioning. When we found out it was Brookville, everything ramped up to a new level.”

Deer Lakes tested its mettle with a scrimmage last Friday against Shaler and again Tuesday against Leechburg. The Lancers are seeking their first PIAA victory in only their second state-playoff contest.

“The guys are ready to get back to playing,” Parham said.

Leechburg

The Blue Devils found themselves in the same situation as Deer Lakes. A quarterfinal loss to Vincentian on Feb. 21 turned into a postseason second chance a couple of days later when the Royals beat Monessen to punch their ticket to the Class A title game.

After a couple of days off following the quarterfinals, Leechburg (13-10) returned to the gym to ready itself for the state tournament.

“I had faith in Vincentian to get into the finals,” coach Corey Smith said. “We wanted to beat them first, but then we were rooting for them.”

Vincentian’s WPIAL runner-up finish set Leechburg as the WPIAL’s No. 6 team and slotted it against District 9 champion Elk County Catholic (25-0) on Friday. It’s a more than two-hour drive for the Blue Devils to St. Marys High School.

“The focus is the game,” Smith said. “It’s a long haul, but the guys are ready to handle their business and play well. They are happy for the opportunity.”

Fox Chapel girls

The Foxes will have played just once in 25 days by the time Friday’s matchup with District 3 champion Cumberland Valley (22-4) arrives.

Fox Chapel suffered a loss to Peters Township on Feb. 22 in the WPIAL Class 6A quarterfinals and waited a week to find out their PIAA fate. The Indians survived North Allegheny in overtime in the WPIAL title game, and that sent the Foxes to states.

“We didn’t want our season to end,” Fox Chapel coach Jennifer O’Shea said. “We gave them a few days off after the Peters game and then brought them back into the gym. It’s such a long season. The time off was good for them. We went down to Trinity (Tuesday) and had a really good scrimmage.”

Fox Chapel (15-8) then scrimmaged Brentwood and Shady Side Academy on Wednesday.

“At this point in the year, they just want to compete,” O’Shea said.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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