A-K Valley girls teams hoping for long postseason runs

Monday, February 12, 2018 | 11:15 PM

The Leechburg girls basketball team missed the WPIAL playoffs in 2015, but that year, a group of freshmen began to form what would be the core of a resurgence that continues.

Now seniors, that group is set to embark on what it hopes is a deep run in the Class 2A postseason.

“There is an excitement around the team right now,” coach Joel Ceraso said. “These kids want to finish writing this great story they started a couple of years ago.”

Leechburg lost in the first round of the playoffs two years ago but made the WPIAL quarterfinals and PIAA second round last year.

The Blue Devils and six other A-K Valley girls basketball teams — Riverview, Plum, Freeport, Deer Lakes, Apollo-Ridge and St. Joseph — will find out their WPIAL playoff foes Tuesday evening.

Leechburg finished second in Section 2-2A with a 12-2 record. They are 18-4 overall after a close 49-47 victory Monday against Class A No. 1 Winchester Thurston.

“Until we find out (Tuesday), we want them to enjoy the moment and process,” Ceraso said. “Regardless of who we will play, we need to be at our best.”

Freeport also hopes to take that next step this year after making the WPIAL quarterfinals and PIAA playoffs in 2017.

The Yellowjackets went 10-2 in Section 1-4A with their only two losses coming against champion Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic. Their 13-8 overall record includes a one-point loss to Section 4-5A co-champion Hampton (18-4).

The WPIAL girls basketball playoffs begin Friday. The top four teams in Class A through 4A will receive first-round byes. In Class 6A, only three teams will have byes as a fourth-place tie in Section 1 put 13 teams into the field.

Class 5A has four sections, so 16 teams will enter the tournament with no byes.

St. Joseph knows what it's like to enjoy success in the postseason. It happened last year as the Spartans won two games in the Class A tournament before losing in the semifinals. They also earned a trip to states.

St. Joseph, 13-9 overall, didn't shy away from testing themselves throughout the season. Signature wins included one over Section 3-2A co-champ Serra Catholic and another over Section 1-A champ Quigley.

“We're playing pretty well right now, and, hopefully, we can carry it over into the playoffs,” Spartans coach Sally Ackerman said. “We won the games in section we needed to get what we hope is a good seed. It's just such a fun time of the year. It's great to see the girls really engaged about the playoffs.”

Deer Lakes coach Dave Petruska said his players are ready for the “new season.”

“It's a new beginning for the girls,” said Petruska, whose Lancers went 9-13 overall and earn the No. 4 spot in Section 1-4A with a 6-6 record.

Deer Lakes is the only playoff team in Class 4A with a losing record.

“It's a new opportunity to make some noise and show what we can do,” Petruska said. “We played a pretty tough schedule in and out of section.”

Apollo-Ridge went 6-6 in Section 3-3A, a four-game improvement over last year (2-10).

A four-game section winning streak from Jan. 19 to 29 helped the Vikings, 10-12 overall, withstand losses to Steel Valley and section champ Bishop Canevin to close section play.

“It's nice to be in the playoffs with this young team,” Apollo-Ridge coach Jim Callipare said. “We've improved throughout the season, but I don't think we've played our best basketball yet.”

A young Riverview squad with only one senior started Section 2-2A play 3-6, and a playoff spot was in doubt. But the Raiders won four of their final five section games to take fourth.

“We might very well be the No. 12 seed (out of 12), but the girls are happy to have this opportunity and are ready for any challenge,” said coach Keith Stitt, whose team finished the regular season 11-10 overall after a loss Monday against Burrell.

Youth also was served with Plum, a team that consists entirely of underclassmen.

It came down to a winner-take-all scenario with Franklin Regional last Thursday for the fourth and final playoff spot in Section 4-5A. The Mustangs prevailed 46-36 to wrap up a postseason berth for the second year in a row.

Plum, 6-16 overall, has the fewest wins of any girls playoff team in the six classifications. But coach Steve Elsier said the playoff trip is a positive step forward.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.

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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