North Allegheny boys put layoff to good use ahead of WPIAL playoffs

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Saturday, February 17, 2024 | 11:01 AM


When other WPIAL basketball teams were probably prepping for their playoff openers, the North Allegheny boys took batting practice in the high school gym.

They certainly had time to spare.

That’s because North Allegheny and everyone else in the Class 6A bracket got a 10-day layoff before starting their postseason tournament. So, one day after the WPIAL announced the playoff pairings, the Tigers continued a team tradition and had some fun with a different sport.

“We could’ve taken the day off, but we brought the kids in and played some Wiffle ball,” North Allegheny coach Dave DeGregorio said. “We do it at least once a year and we’ve been doing it forever. We usually do it over Christmas, but we were traveling this year, so we didn’t get the chance.”

They’re now hoping to go deep again — this time deep into the playoffs.

The popular opinion before the season was that there maybe wasn’t a clear-cut favorite in Class 6A boys. That might still be true, since nobody went unbeaten in either section. The two section title winners, Mt. Lebanon and Central Catholic, drew the top two seeds, but the big-school classification might be a wide-open race for the WPIAL championship.

“I think there are probably five or six teams who could win it,” said DeGregorio, whose fifth-seeded Tigers (11-11) open the playoffs at No. 4 Baldwin (16-6) on Feb. 23.

North Allegheny came within a last-second shot of taking the section title away from Central Catholic. The Vikings won 58-57 in the teams’ Section 1 finale to take the title in dramatic fashion. It was a disappointing outcome, but one that DeGregorio said his team quickly moved on from.

“We addressed it. We talked about it,” he said. “It could’ve lingered, that’s why it was good to play Monday (Feb. 12 against Bethel Park) and then have a day where you’re having some fun.”

Even with that last-second loss included, North Allegheny played as well as anyone in Class 6A down the stretch. The Tigers won five of their last six regular-season games, but it took work to get there.

NA had lost seven of its first 10 games, including a triple-overtime opener to Mt. Lebanon, but DeGregorio said his team had a turning point in early January. He credited his players for starting to communicate better on defense, and offensively they capitalized on their size to score more around the basket.

Leading scorer Joey Dopirak, who averages 20 points, is 6-foot-5. Another senior starter, Ty Iwanonkiw, is 6-11.

“We’ve sort of morphed into a team that’s throwing the ball inside a little more than we were,” DeGregorio said.

The Tigers finished second in Section 1, which had them in contention to host a playoff game. Instead, the WPIAL basketball committee chose to send them on the road to face Baldwin, the third-place team from the other section.

“It did not surprise me,” DeGregorio said.

There are only eight teams in the 6A bracket, so that tournament starts with quarterfinal games. The WPIAL championships are Feb. 29-March 2 at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.

Teams that were hot late in the regular season surely would’ve preferred a quick start to the playoffs, but DeGregorio said his coaching staff took advantage on the days they were given. They scheduled scrimmages with Allderdice, Peters Township and Shaler, but mostly tried to keep the team to its usual practice routine.

“It’s funny because it is so much time off,” he said. “You’re finding scrimmages, and it’s an opportunity to go back and maybe teach some fundamental stuff. But we try not to change a whole lot.

“We’ve just got to be who we are and try to be the best version of it.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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