Basketball coaches play guessing game in advance of WPIAL pairings meeting

Monday, February 12, 2018 | 11:33 PM

One game may not make or break a season, but it can have an impact on a team's postseason fate.

So after Freeport gutted out an overtime victory at Deer Lakes last week, the Yellowjackets (15-6, 9-3) talked of the importance not just of securing a victory over their rival, but also a second-place tie with Valley (13-4, 9-3) in Section 1-4A boys basketball.

A loss would have meant splitting third place with Deer Lakes (12-9, 7-5).

“It helps out in the playoff seeding,” junior guard Jalen Brown said. “With the loss tonight, we could be an 11 or 12 seed. But (winning) tonight, we're towards the middle, and it helps us.”

Freeport coach Mike Beale said he thought the team could get anywhere from a No. 7 to a No. 11 seed based on the result of the game.

“It's February, and this is where you want to play your best basketball,” Beale said. “Deer Lakes is playing their best basketball, too. We're both going to the playoffs, and we're both going to try to make the A-K Valley proud.”

Playoff-bound WPIAL basketball teams will find out their postseason fate Tuesday evening at the annual WPIAL pairings meeting.

The mystery of the brackets will be revealed, although some coaches admit to doing their own version of ESPN's “Bracketology,” trying to determine where the WPIAL will slot their team.

“That's half the fun of it,” Fox Chapel coach Zach Skrinjar said. “When you get to be this point and you have that week or two weeks or however long you've qualified, I think everyone takes a look at where you get, or what they might do, or size your team up against everyone else.

“In the end, it's going to be what it is, so really probably it is a fool's errand. But it's still a fun one to do with coaches or your staff, family members or people who have supported your team all year. Everyone's trying to figure out where you're going to go.”

Uncertainty about what the WPIAL values most makes predicting a seeding or a bracket difficult. Does it come down to good wins? Bad losses? Difficult schedules? Section titles? The hottest/coldest teams during the stretch run?

Or, more likely, is it some combination of all of it?

“I think we could be anywhere from a two to a six (seed),” Highlands coach Tyler Stoczynski said. “It just depends on what they see as being important. All these things play small factors, and you never know what the WPIAL group is going to deem most important at that time.”

A few A-K Valley boys basketball teams have strong arguments for good seeds. Burrell and Highlands won section titles. Freeport had won 13 of its 14 previous games before Monday's 67-48 loss to Highlands in the regular-season finale. The Golden Rams, meanwhile, have won 15 of 16. Valley has won 13 of 15.

Fox Chapel swept the second half of Section 3-6A play, part of a nine-game winning streak, before losing to Central Catholic on Monday in the regular-season finale.

“We just talked about taking care of business, controlling what we could control in the second half of the year,” Skrinjar said. “I think going through the second half of a tough section undefeated, that body of work, I think speaks for itself about how we're playing.”

Leechburg's resume includes an upset over Jeannette, the Jayhawks' only loss in Section 2-2A. Springdale struggled some down the stretch but secured a playoff spot with a win over Riverview.

Deer Lakes snapped a two-game losing streak with a victory over Burrell in its regular-season finale Monday, and the losses came by a combined seven points to Valley and Freeport.

“They're playing hard, we've just got to find a way to limit mistakes late to come in here and celebrate as opposed to coming in here and talking about what we need to do to get better,” Deer Lakes coach Terence Parham said. “We'll do that.”

With the playoffs up in the air, Stoczynski said Highlands focused its Sunday practice on getting sharp.

“It's about tweaking the little things to make sure you're ready for these win-or-go-home games,” he said.

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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