George Guido: At long last, spring sports are back

Saturday, March 27, 2021 | 9:02 PM

Something happened Friday that hadn’t happened in 687 days.

There were regular-season high school baseball and softball games played in the Alle-Kiski Valley.

After last season was wiped out, players and coaches must have thought it was a lot more than 687 days.

When I saw early weather reports last week indicating rainy weather Friday, the first thought was to force those patient people to endure at least one more delay in getting back out onto the various fields.

But the season is underway, with other spring sports such as track and field, lacrosse and boys volleyball also ready to resume.

Normalcy is coming back, albeit slowly.

It will be interesting to see the turnout of fans as more and more people get vaccinated. People seem to be yearning for any excuse to get out of the house. Take last Wednesday, when Highlands hosted a middle school baseball scrimmage. The place was packed. There were more people there than some WPIAL playoff games at Highlands over the years.

All for a preseason scrimmage, mind you.

More good news is only about six baseball umpires are opting out of the season, making the staffing of games easier, according to one WPIAL board member. For the 2020 football season, about 36 officials opted out, making scheduling dicey.

The iron maiden affair

There wasn’t PIAA girls basketball in the 1950s, but anyone watching Monday’s state Class 2A semifinal game between Neshannock and Penns Manor might have raced home to check their calendars to see what year it actually was.

That’s because neither team substituted the entire game. Five on the floor from start to finish, including overtime.

Neshannock won 39-36.

Nobody really got into foul trouble, and everyone was playing well for 36 minutes.

Neshannock’s defense really played well, so there was no reason for coach Luann Grybowski to substitute. In fact, the Lancers didn’t give up a point in the final 8 minutes, 12 seconds of the game.

It’s the way basketball was for a number of years. Going back in the archives to games from the 1930s, the box scores listed substitutes in a game because there were so few.

Moving forward

The high school basketball season concluded over the weekend with the 12 state championship games at Hershey’s Giant Center.

It was the first time since 1971 that only schools that won District titles were admitted to the PIAA tournament. Teams that lost in the WPIAL finals saw their seasons end abruptly. In most cases, teams drew a first-round bye and had to win only two games to make it to Hershey.

Starting in ’72, four or more WPIAL teams were bracketed.

As for the WPIAL, it was an open tournament for this year only because of pandemic-related cancellations. Some teams played an uneven number of section games.

The WPIAL hasn’t made any decisions for next year, but a consensus of coaches feels the league ought to go back to four teams from each section making the playoffs.

Higher-seeded schools also played on their home courts until the PIAA and WPIAL finals were held on neutral floors. There were many instances when games were well-played and well-officiated that one easily forgot that it was somebody’s home court.

The WPIAL, however, should look at allowing section winners or the top four seeds to play their first playoff game at home starting in 2022.

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