George Guido: WPIAL champs prove sports adage true

Tuesday, March 3, 2020 | 4:54 PM

An old sports cliche states “champions are made while no one is watching.”

That notion was confirmed during the recent high school basketball district playoffs.

Lizzy Groetsch of North Allegheny, moments after her winning shot in overtime lifted the Tigers to their third WPIAL title in four seasons, talked about getting an understanding custodian to unlock the gymnasium doors for her at 5:30 a.m. to practice her shooting before heading to class.

In the case of Obama Academy’s Sean Snead, he talked about waking up at 4 a.m. in Pittsburgh’s Sheraden section last summer and shooting at a darkened playground while most of the city slept.

Snead scored 19 points in the City League title game as Obama ended Allderdice’s six-year stranglehold on the boys basketball crown.

I can recall talking with Dave DeVenzio when his brother, Dick, the late Springdale/Ambridge/Duke University basketball great, was getting inducted into the WPIAL Hall of Fame.

Dave, five years younger than Dick, would go to the Springdale gym several hours before game time and retrieve balls shot by Dick in a mostly-darkened gym, figuring that making shots in a lighted facility would be easier than hitting in the dark.

Groetsch and Snead will be in action close to home Friday in their respective teams’ PIAA openers.

In Class 6A girls, North Allegheny will take on Manheim Township at 6 p.m. Friday at Sewickley Academy, and Obama Academy will face Penn Hills in the boys 5A opener at 7 at Brashear High School.

Highlands stays close to home

The ink barely was dry on the PIAA Class 4A brackets before WPIAL champion Highlands’ game was switched to Kiski Area from Fox Chapel.

The Golden Rams will face Harbor Creek at 7:30 p.m.

Highlands is 7-7 all-time in the PIAA playoffs.

Harbor Creek is located just east of Erie. The Huskies are the No. 3 team out of District 10 and have to travel 137 miles from its campus amid Erie’s grape country.

The PIAA tries to get the higher-ranked team to play closer to home when feasible. Starting in the second round, the PIAA looks at more neutral sites, depending on where facilities are available.

While Highlands is led by Johnny Crise, Korry Myers and Luke Cochran, it’s interesting to note the Golden Rams are getting scoring from more than the big three.

Highlands has seven players who have scored more than 100 points on the season, something not often seen on the high school level.

Jimmy Kunst, Wahkeem Roman, Antoine McDaniel and Carter Leri have exceeded 100 points for the Golden Rams, who are averaging 72.2 points.

In the 6 p.m. game Friday at Kiski Area, WPIAL Class A runner-up Cornell squares off against Saltsburg, a school next-door to the Kiski Area School District.

Before Saltsburg moved out of the WPIAL to PIAA District 6 in 1980, the Trojans were in a local WPIAL section against St. Joseph, Leechburg and others.

In another Friday game, Riverview’s girls will play Everett in the PIAA 2A playoffs at 6:30 at Pitt-Johnstown.

Other local sites

Freeport’s girls have a tough task facing 20-time WPIAL champion North Catholic in the PIAA opener at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Kiski Area High School.

At least the Yellowjackets will have about 10 miles to go, while North Catholic has a 32-mile trip from its Cranberry Township campus.

North Catholic, however, can focus on getting its teams to a single site. The WPIAL champion Trojans boys will be at Kiski Area for a 3 p.m. contest against Westmont Hilltop from the Johnstown area.

Valley High School also will be hosting a PIAA opening-round doubleheader Friday.

Mars will take on Elizabethtown, a mere 221 miles from New Kensington, at 6 p.m.

Plenty of attention will be focused on the second game as Vincentian Academy tries to keep its legacy going when the Royals face Allegheny-Clarion Valley from Foxburg at 7:30 p.m.

The last PIAA tournament game will be the final one for Vincentian, which will be closed at the end of the school year.

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