A-K Valley H.S. notebook: Familiar territory for Highlands

Sunday, February 24, 2019 | 7:48 PM

Highlands goes into the WPIAL boys basketball semifinals Wednesday as an underdog against top-seeded New Castle, one of Western Pennsylvania’s perennial powers.

Sound familiar? It’s the same scenario the Golden Rams faced in the 2016 WPIAL Class AAA semifinals, one of their most thrilling games in recent memory: a 79-76 overtime victory that sent them to Petersen Events Center for the WPIAL championship game.

Eerily enough, the teams will play in the same gym as 2016, as Wednesday’s contest is at 8 p.m. at North Allegheny.

“The New Castle game was the most fun game of my career,” said Jamison Nee, a senior on that Highlands team and now an assistant for the Golden Rams. “Everyone else thought we were underdogs going into the game, but we as a team, through coach (Tyler Stoczynski and assistant Corey Dotchin’s) preparation, believed that we could beat New Castle.”

The 2016 victory over New Castle — Highlands was the first WPIAL team to beat the Red Hurricanes that season — required a second-half comeback from a 13-point deficit. Nee scored 16 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, Lavontae Martin had 22 points and 21 rebounds, including a massive one-handed rebound late in overtime to clinch the victory, and Mitch DeZort hit a tying 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter.

All those moments stick out to Nee, along with the size of the Highlands crowd that came to North Allegheny that night.

“Everyone knows that the New Castle fans come out in droves to support their team, but our support that game meant the world and helped us to pull off the comeback,” Nee said. “That game meant so much. I think it was a defining moment and helped Stosh and Dot to become recognized as elite coaches as well as helping to put Highlands back on the map as constant playoff contenders for years to come.

“For me personally, it meant giving the Highlands community and our following a belief in Coach Stosh and Dot as well as something to look forward to for not only that year but the future of the Highlands program.”

Ticket sale

Highlands will sell tickets to Wednesday’s game against New Castle from 6-8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday in the hallway outside the school’s athletic office.

Tickets cost $5 for students and $7 for adults. No student tickets will be sold at the door.

Mr. Smith goes to Duquesne

Nick Smith spent two years as Kiski Area’s starting goalkeeper, allowed to pick up the ball when teammates couldn’t, and he took his recruitment into his own hands as well.

Smith signed Tuesday with Duquesne, calling it “an honor” to join a Division I program.

“It just means a lot,” said Smith, who also considered Cal (Pa.) and Pitt-Johnstown. “It shows that my four years in high school paid off, and everything I’ve done over the years has been worth it.”

Duquesne’s academics and campus also helped sell Smith, who plans to become a teacher and high school coach one day.

But he also sold Duquesne on him, reaching out to the Dukes coaches as part of the high school recruitment process. They attended several of his games, including perhaps the best of his high school career: a WPIAL Class AAA first-round game against Belle Vernon in which Smith stopped a barrage of shots over 80 minutes of regulation and two 15-minute overtime periods, leading Kiski Area to a 1-0 shootout victory.

Smith, who also kicked for the football team, was named all-section and was a first-team Valley News Dispatch All-Star.

“I think in my two years, I really showed what I was able to do,” Smith said. “A lot of schools were kind of on the edge of whether or not to start communication, but I reached out to them and they liked what they saw. … It all worked out, so I’m thankful for that.”

Special delivery

Smith wasn’t the only Kiski Area specialist to make a college decision last week, as Cavaliers punter Jared Custer committed to Grove City.

Custer averaged 43.6 yards on his punts as a senior, with a long of 58, and landed nine of them inside the 20-yard line. He was named first-team all-conference in the Class 5A Big East.

Sharrow dynamic

Burrell’s Kaylen Sharrow, a standout in basketball and track and field, had an opportunity to pursue either sport in college. She went for the latter, signing last week with Clarion’s track and field program.

Sharrow, a top hurdler, placed third in the 300-meter hurdles and fourth in the 100 hurdles at the WPIAL championships as a junior, qualifying for the PIAA championship in both events. She also qualified for the PIAA meet in the 300 hurdles in 2017.

Sharrow also averaged 17.9 points this season for the basketball team.

New section mate

St. Joseph and Leechburg will have a new section opponent in boys basketball next season.

Aquinas Academy and Propel Montour are joining Section 3-A, where they’ll compete with Clairton, Greensburg Central Catholic, Imani Christian, Leechburg, Propel Andrew Street and St. Joseph next winter.

Trinity Christian was in that section last season but decided to no longer play WPIAL basketball.

The WPIAL board approved the 2019-20 basketball alignments this week. All other boys basketball sections remained unchanged from this season.

The WPIAL is in the middle of a two-year alignment cycle, so the section changes were only minor. The WPIAL will fully realign before the 2020-21 season. 

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