Sewickley Academy has had no shortage of big-time opponents on its schedule, and the Panthers have one more big test before they set out to defend their WPIAL and PIAA boys basketball titles.
The Panthers (15-4), ranked No. 2 in Class 2A, came up short against Class 3A No. 1 Lincoln Park, 62-57, capping off a big Saturday at the Academy in the Hoops for a Cure charity event and providing SA with a strong tune-up before a rematch Friday against Class 2A No. 1 OLSH.
The Hoops for a Cure event featured two other high-end games on the card. City League contender Westinghouse (15-3) picked up a 52-48 win over playoff-bound Eden Christian (13-4) in the first game, and Quaker Valley (18-0) remained the only undefeated team in the WPIAL with a 69-56 victory over Class A No. 2 Vincentian (13-7).
“It was a fantastic day to be able to bring in all those different teams and communities to our facility, and to do it as a fundraiser for cancer, it was a great, great event,” Sewickley Academy coach Win Palmer said.
Sewickley Academy wrapped up the day by battling through an injury that forced junior forward Nate Ridgeway to leave the game in the first half, but the Panthers couldn't hang on for the win after leading 31-28 at halftime.
Isiah Warfield led SA with 17 points despite foul trouble throughout, and Jett Roesing added 12 points for the Panthers. Keeno Holmes led all players with 25 points for Lincoln Park.
The Panthers' four losses on the season have come against Mars, OLSH, Lincoln Park — all favorites to at least reach the WPIAL final in their respective class — and Kennedy Catholic, the hands-down frontrunner for the state title in Class A.
“It was a really good game, and I'm proud of our guys. They handled (the injury) really well, and I thought our two seniors off the bench, Will Nocito and Jared Washington, gave us good minutes against a good opponent in front of a big-time crowd,” Palmer said. “We've lost to top-quality teams, and I think that's been healthy for us. Losses are painful, but that's how you learn the most.”
“Coach Palmer has given us a really tough schedule. Lincoln Park was another test for us, and we showed positive signs of growth,” said senior guard David Groetsch, who had 11 points in the game. “(Saturday) showed we're not quite there, but we're taking steps in the right direction.”
The next test of that direction will be when OLSH makes its visit to the Academy after winning the first meeting 70-68 on Jan. 16 in Coraopolis.
The Chargers (18-1) would win the Section 3 title outright by sweeping the Panthers, while Sewickley Academy can assure itself at least a share of the title — and a shot at the No. 1 seed in Class 2A — by defeating Shenango on Tuesday (after this edition's deadline) and topping OLSH in the regular-season finale.
“I think the biggest fixes we need to make aren't for anything OLSH did, it's looking at ourselves,” Groetsch said. “We didn't move the ball very well, and we got into one-on-one basketball when we faced adversity. We rallied individually rather than as a team.”
Palmer offered a similar sentiment about his own team's growth, but he added that the Chargers are a team with a legitimate shot at playing in the WPIAL final behind their stellar backcourt of 5-foot-10 point guard Dante Spadafora and 6-6 shooting guard Donovan Johnson. With firepower like that, SA will need its best effort to win the rematch.
“OLSH has an outstanding team, and Mike (Rodriguez, the Chargers coach) has done a great job with them. Offensively, they're as good as any OLSH team since I've been here, no question,” Palmer said.
“We're not a young team, in terms of having players who have been in important games, but where I see us getting better is staying in the moment in critical times. If there's a bad play, we just let it go — forgive yourself or forgive your teammate for the mistake. That's where we've matured the most.”