Quaker Valley defeats Blackhawk, creates 1st-place tie in unpredictable Section 2

Tuesday, February 4, 2020 | 11:46 PM

The WPIAL’s wildest section won’t tame easily.

Four teams are within a game of first place and there’s now a two-way tie at the top after Quaker Valley defeated host Blackhawk, 71-59, Tuesday night in Section 2-4A. This section is traditionally one of the WPIAL’s deepest, but there’s been very little separation this season.

“It’s just a tremendous league,” Quaker Valley coach Mike Mastroianni said.

Quaker Valley (15-5, 8-3) and Blackhawk (8-10, 8-3) are tied for first, ahead of Ambridge (11-6, 7-3) and New Castle (12-7, 7-4) as the regular season enters its final days.

Central Valley (11-7, 6-5) also remains in the playoff hunt.

“There’s a group of us that have good solid teams and there’s a bunch of us that have high-level players,” Mastroianni said. “That makes it difficult every night to prepare.”

Quaker Valley lost to Blackhawk on a last-second shot Jan. 10, but avenged that loss Tuesday behind double-doubles from senior Jon Weir and sophomore Markus Frank. Weir had 18 points and 15 rebounds, and Frank had 19 points and 11 boards for the Quakers, who had four scorers reach double figures.

K.C. Johns added 17 points, including six free throws in the fourth quarter, and Jack Gardinier had 10.

“Coach Mastroianni is one of the best coaches around,” Weir said. “What he does a great job of doing is getting us ready to play each game. … For us, it’s locking in on those one or two things that we have to focus on.”

Rebounding was one emphasis this time.

Blackhawk built an early 14-5 lead with offensive rebounds but those vanished in the final three quarters.

“We always talk about second and third plays,” Weir said. “You might close out on your man, but then you’ve got to rebound, too, and box out. Focusing on those second and third plays was a big determining factor.”

Quaker Valley completes its section schedule at home Friday against Ambridge. Blackhawk visits Beaver (6-14, 1-10).

Ryan Heckathorn led Blackhawk with 29 points, James Darno scored 14 and Marco Borello had 13.

A 3-pointer by Heckathorn cut Quaker Valley’s lead to 63-57 with 64 seconds left, but Weir and Johns answered with four consecutive free throws, preventing any more late-game heroics. Heckathorn’s game-winner last month came with 1.8 seconds remaining.

“We lost that (Jan. 10) game on the 31 minutes of controllable things we needed to do to get to that point,” Mastroianni said. “Tonight we did the controllable things.”

Quaker Valley trailed 14-5 during a lackluster first quarter but regrouped and led by two points at halftime. Ahead 26-24, the Quakers won the third quarter 17-6 behind Weir, who scored 10 points in the period.

Quaker Valley led 43-30 after three.

They rebounded and defended better than they did four weeks ago, Mastroianni said, in part because Weir is getting healthier. The 6-foot-5 forward missed part of the season with a broken left hand.

He was injured diving for a loose ball in the second game of the season and missed several weeks. He returned to the court last month and plays with a heavy wrap.

“It’s not easy to grab a ball with all that tape wrapped in my hand,” Weir said. “It just putting out the most effort and if a couple go through my hands, I’ll just have to live with it.”

Weir’s first game back was the loss to Blackhawk, Mastroianni said, but he played only a handful of minutes off the bench that day. His presence Tuesday was key.

“We had to be patient with him coming back,” Mastroianni said. “It’s been about a month now. He’s given us a lot of good minutes.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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