Westmoreland boys, girls basketball teams ready for PIAA playoffs

Sunday, March 6, 2022 | 7:00 PM

Some say luck is when preparation crosses paths with opportunity.

For many WPIAL basketball teams, luck had a lot to do with their state playoff fate. It was, after all, in the hands of other teams.

With the league’s follow-the-winner format to determine PIAA qualifiers and their seedings back in place this season, several Westmoreland teams were pulled into the state tournaments.

For several of them, it will be like breaking new ground.

Take the Greensburg Central Catholic boys.

The Centurions (18-4) lost in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs two years ago — coach Christian Hyland’s first year — and did not advance to states last year because the WPIAL sent only district champions.

This year, though, more teams qualified from every classification, including GCC in Class 2A.

GCC earned a spot in the PIAA tournament by reaching the WPIAL semifinals. They lost to top-seeded and eventual fourth-time champion Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, 77-42.

The third-place team from the WPIAL, GCC will visit District 5 champion Conemaugh Township (21-3) at 7 p.m. Wednesday in a first-round game.

“It will be nice to get a little break. We’re going to give them a couple days off and then get back to it,” Hyland said. “The kids like that we’re still playing and want to get back at it. They like to be around each other. This group has never been to states. It’s going to be a fun atmosphere.”

GCC’s most recent appearance in the PIAA playoffs was 2016-17.

“Who knows what can happen?” GCC senior guard Brevan Williams said.

For other local teams, it has been a lot longer.

• Latobe’s girls last made the PIAA playoffs in 1998-99. The Wildcats lost to Altoona in the Class AAAA first round, 53-42.

Latrobe (18-4) made the WPIAL Class 5A quarterfinals this year and qualified for the state tournament when South Fayette advanced to the WPIAL finals. The Wildcats will play at Hollidaysburg (23-1), the champion of District 6, at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

• The Monessen girls (17-6) will enter the PIAA Class A playoffs and travel to face Elk County Catholic (24-3) at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The Greyhounds have not been to states since 2010-11. Monessen coach Janine Vertacnik last saw PIAA action in 2009-10, when she guided the WPIAL champion Jeannette girls.

Burrell’s boys (14-9) return to the state bracket for the first time since 2012-13 when Rob Niederberger coached the Buccaneers. They will play in the Class 4A tournament and visit Fairview (23-2) at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The PIAA is having higher-seeded teams host games in the first round. The rest of the tournaments will be at neutral sites.

All five area qualifiers will be on the road for the entirety of their stay in the state brackets.

The Southmoreland girls (18-4) return after reaching the PIAA second round two years ago. At jam-packed Bedford, the Scotties lost to Lancaster Catholic, 64-56, just before the pandemic hit Pennsylvania.

The Scotties are looking to bounce back after falling to Knoch, 56-45, on Tuesday in the WPIAL 4A semis.

They will travel to play District 6 top seed Tyrone (22-1) at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

“(Knoch) really studied tape on us,” Southmoreland coach Amber Cernuto said. “They knew our tendencies. They double- and triple-teamed our post. It wasn’t our night. We just got outplayed. We were a little shellshocked, and they came out on fire.”

Cernuto said motivation should come naturally to her girls.

“They have the right to be upset,” she said after the WPIAL loss. “There is no time to sulk about it. We have to get back to work.”

Senior Gracie Spadaro had 14 of her 19 points in the fourth quarter against Knoch, but, like last year’s semifinal loss to Quaker Valley, the Scotties had fallen too far behind and didn’t have enough time to come back.

They are looking for a sharper start in the state first round.

Belle Vernon’s boys made a run in the state playoffs two years ago, reaching the second round before falling to Lancaster Catholic, 84-82, in a four-overtime thriller at Altoona.

This year’s Leopards (19-4) are still reeling from a 64-53 loss to Montour in the WPIAL Class 4A semifinals. Leopards coach Joe Salvino needs one more win for 700 in his career. He coached at Monessen for 34 years.

The win could come Tuesday when the Leopards make the shortest local road trip to meet a district champion. They face City League top seed Obama Academy (12-8) at 7 p.m.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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