Breaking down the 2019 WPIAL boys basketball playoffs
By: Likitha Janga
Tuesday, February 12, 2019 | 9:00 PM
Here is a breakdown of the 2019 WPIAL boys basketball playoffs:
Favorite: Senior guards Dan Petcash (22.2 ppg) and Greg Shulkosky (16.1) lead a high-scoring Pine-Richland lineup that enters the playoffs on a 19-game winning streak. The Rams average 79.7 points per game, which leads the entire WPIAL. They’re seeking their fourth straight appearance in the WPIAL finals after winning titles in 2016 and ’17 and finishing as runners-up last year.
Challengers: Section 3 champion Latrobe has a pair of 20-point scorers in Reed Fenton (21.9) and Bryce Butler (21.0), but the Wildcats struggled on the road down the stretch with one- or two-point wins over the bottom three teams in the standings. Mt. Lebanon, which won Section 2 behind Jake Hoffman (19.5), Blaine Gartley (15.5) and a strong shooting lineup, seeks its first title since 2010. The Blue Devils had a 10-game winning streak before being tripped up by Upper St. Clair, 71-45, on Feb. 5. The only two teams that defeated Pine-Richland this season were Fox Chapel (68-59 on Dec. 8) and USC (51-48 on Dec. 11). Tanner Gensler is a 21-point scorer for USC. Arnold Vento averages 16 for Fox Chapel. Junior guard Ethan Morton (27.3), a major D1 recruit, makes Butler a tough matchup.
Don’t overlook: Peters Township finished fourth in Section 2, but the Indians own an early-season nonsection win over New Castle and came within four points of Mt. Lebanon and Canon-McMillan this month. Junior Colin Cote (6-foot-6) is an 18-point scorer.
Prediction: Pine-Richland over Mt. Lebanon
Favorite: It’s close, but Mars is the slim favorite as the defending WPIAL Class 5A champion. The Planets ran through Section 3 undefeated, and their only nonsection loss this season came in Las Vegas. Senior guards Andrew Recchia (17.7) and Khori Fusco (15.5) lead a balanced scoring offense that includes 6-5, 290-pound football recruit Mike Carmody in the middle. Mars averages 71.9 points.
Challengers: Section 2 champion Moon and Section 1 champion Penn Hills could’ve made an argument for the No. 1 overall seed. Moon’s only loss was to Chartiers Valley in double overtime. Donovan Johnson (23.0) and Connor Ryan (15.6) are the top scorers for Moon, which allows a WPIAL-low 46.3 points per game. Penn Hills won the WPIAL Class 6A title last season before dropping to 5A and replacing every starter from that championship-winning lineup. Tyree Spencer (19.8) and Wes Kropp (15.5) lead the new-look Indians, who average 72 points. Chartiers Valley emerged as a contender behind Joe Pipilo (18.6) and first-year coach Brandon Sensor. Senior guard Keandre Bowles (29.5) is the WPIAL’s leading scorer for a Woodland Hills team that reached the Class 6A semifinals last year. McKeesport’s Deamontae Diggs is a 21-point scorer.
Don’t overlook: Franklin Regional reached the WPIAL finals a year ago with a low-scoring, defensive approach. This year the Panthers are allowing just 47.7 points, second-best in WPIAL Class 5A.
Prediction: Penn Hills over Mars
Favorite: Two-time defending WPIAL champion New Castle didn’t start this season as the favorite to three-peat, but the Red Hurricanes got there by winning the Section 2 title. They won nine of their final 10 with their only blemish a three-point loss in overtime to Quaker Valley. They are led by Demetris McKnight, Sheldon Cox and Drew Cox, who all average between 11 and 13 points.
Challengers: New Castle defeated Ambridge twice, Ambridge defeated Quaker Valley twice and Quaker Valley defeated New Castle twice. But Ambridge and Quaker Valley finished a game behind New Castle in the Section 2 because the Bridgers also lost to Beaver while the Quakers lost to Blackhawk. Seniors Ryan Stowers (22.0) and Danny Conlan (16.6) lead Quaker Valley, which was the WPIAL runner-up the past two years. Aaron Hilzendeger (17.6), a 6-5 senior, leads a tall Ambridge lineup that also has 6-6 Liam Buck and 6-7 Enire Bowens in the frontcourt. Uniontown has a 14-game winning streak and ran through Section 3 undefeated behind 21-point scorer Billy DeShields, a 5-10 junior. Knoch and Highlands tied for the Section 1 title. Highlands won the most-recent matchup 54-45 behind Luke Cochran (19.9) and Johnny Crise (16.2), a 6-7 junior. Knoch’s Scott Frazer averages 17.5.
Don’t overlook: Ringgold went 3-19 last season, 0-12 in the section, but bounced back this year to finish second in Section 1.
Prediction: Ambridge over New Castle
Favorite: Defending WPIAL champion Lincoln Park seeks its fourth straight trip to the finals. Senior Keeno Holmes, a 6-3 guard who recently announced a Clarion offer, is a 16-point scorer for the Leopards, Isiah Smith averages 15 and Casey Oliver adds 12.
Challengers: Aliquippa ended Lincoln Park’s section winning streak at 83 games with a 77-74 victory Jan. 22. The Quips feature a lineup that’s filled with players from its state championship football team, including Kentucky recruit MJ Devonshire (17.1) and Pitt recruit Will Gipson. North Catholic and Seton LaSalle shared the Section 2 title with each team winning on its home court. Seton won the first 81-57 and North Catholic won the rematch 66-49. Isaac DeGregorio (20.6) and Jackson Paschall (15.6) lead the Trojans under new coach Dave DeGregorio. The Rebels played a tough nonsection schedule that included wins over McKeesport and Monessen, and losses to New Castle, OLSH and Serra Catholic. The four semifinalists last year were Lincoln Park, Aliquippa, Seton LaSalle and North Catholic. Deer Lakes and Washington will try to break through that logjam this year. Deer Lakes won Section 3 behind Brad Perrotte (20.2) and Washington won Section 4.
Don’t overlook: Steel Valley carries a nine-game winning streak into the playoffs, including a 12-point win over Deer Lakes. Ironmen junior guard Camden Polak (23.9) already reached the 1,000-point mark.
Prediction: Lincoln Park over Aliquippa
Favorite: Our Lady of the Sacred Heart reached the WPIAL and PIAA finals last season with a young roster that returned mostly intact — so expectations run high. Donovan Johnson transferred to Moon, but the Chargers feature a talented lineup with senior Daren DiMichele (16.2 ppg), sophomore Jake DiMichele and sophomore Dante Spadafora, among others.
Challengers: Sewickley Academy’s hopes for defending its WPIAL title seemed to take a hit when 20-point scorer Nate Ridgeway left the team for personal reasons. But the outlook improved when star junior Isaiah Warfield (25.1) led the Panthers to a five-point victory over rival OLSH on Feb. 8. Serra Catholic can cause big trouble for small opponents because the Eagles have 6-9 senior Jimmy Moon in the middle. Moon averages 28 points for the Section 2 champions. California’s Malik Ramsey was a 25-point scorer in the regular season, but the new PIAA transfer rule has him ineligible for the playoffs. Dusan Krivokapic (22.9) led Winchester Thurston to the first section title in team history. Jake McDougal is an 18-point scorer for South Side Beaver.
Don’t overlook: Shenango has a losing record and finished fourth in Section 3, but the Wildcats showed life down the stretch with victories over Sewickley Academy and South Side Beaver. Junior guard Colin McQuiston is a 20-point scorer.
Prediction: OLSH over Serra Catholic
Favorite: Defending WPIAL champion Vincentian Academy finished the regular season 14-7 but lost to some of the top teams in the WPIAL, including Moon, Quaker Valley, Penn Hills and Lincoln Park. The underclassmen-heavy Royals captured the Section 1 title with a 12-2 record after defeating Cornell on Friday. Sophomore 6-foot-6 forward Angelo Reeves had 18 points, junior guard Nate Cullo 16 and sophomore guard Alex Griggs 13 for the Royals.
Challengers: The talent level in Section 1 was certainly on display this season, and a trio of teams could contend for a WPIAL title game berth. Cornell and Nazareth Prep tied for second at 11-3, and Union, last season’s WPIAL runner-up, was 10-4. Nazareth Prep, formerly known as Holy Family Academy, averages 68.7 points behind junior Will Taylor (18.5), who surpassed 1,000 career points this season. Cornell, which held the top ranking for much of the season, was led by junior guards Zaier Harrison (17.4 ppg) and Kaden Divito (26.1 ppg). Union, which is led by junior guard Nate Meeks (19.5 ppg), owns impressive wins over Vincentian and Cornell, but was swept by Nazareth Prep. Section 2 champion Monessen has averaged a Class A-leading 71.6 points under first-year coach Dan Bosnic. The Greyhounds rely on the scoring of freshman guard Devin Whitlock (18.7 ppg), as well as Darnel, DaWayne and Dishon Howell.
Don’t overlook: St. Joseph captured the Section 3 title for the first time since 2000 and has won six straight games, including an overtime thriller over Leechburg on Friday. The Spartans are led by sophomore guard Andrew Sullivan (17.8 ppg), who had 28 points against the Blue Devils.
Prediction: Vincentian Academy over Cornell
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at email@example.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.
Tags: Aliquippa, Ambridge, California, Chartiers Valley, Cornell, Deer Lakes, Fox Chapel, Franklin Regional, Highlands, Knoch, Latrobe, Lincoln Park, Mars, McKeesport, Monessen, Moon, Mt. lebanon, New Castle, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart