Westmoreland boys, girls basketball teams set to learn playoff opponents

Monday, February 12, 2018 | 6:12 PM

Franklin Regional's run to its first boys basketball section championship in a decade started last March at neighboring Plum.

At least that's when the team believed the accomplishment was possible.

The Panthers spoiled WPIAL champion Moon's chances at an accompanying state title with a 52-51 upset of the Tigers in a PIAA first-round game.

With a host of talent, senior leadership and size returning, the Panthers (18-4) should have been red-flagged as a contender in Class 5A.

“We knew last year we had talent,” senior guard Nate Leopold said. “We had all kinds of injuries and didn't really get healthy until the end of the year. We beat Moon, and we knew coming back here with that confidence that we can beat anybody when we want to play. We have more goals to go. We have a long road ahead of us.”

The Section 3 co-champions will learn if the WPIAL feels that way about them Tuesday night when the league unveils playoff pairings in Green Tree.

No. 3-ranked Highlands (16-4) tied No. 4 Franklin Regional, so both teams will receive plaques. It would seem only one of them will draw a top-five seed, but that could change.

Eight Westmoreland boys teams and five area girls teams will be seeded in the WPIAL tournaments.

Four other boys teams from the county also helped their seeding by winning or sharing section championships: Belle Vernon (4A), which won back-to-back titles; Burrell (3A), Jeannette (2A) and defending WPIAL Class A champion Monessen.

As always, the WPIAL looks at section success, strength of schedule and even reputation when it draws up the brackets. To look talented and be talented are different things.

The Trib Top 5 in Class 5A last week had Mars at No. 1, McKeesport 2, Trinity 3, Moon 4 and Highlands 5.

Franklin Regional knocked off No. 2 McKeesport on Friday, 69-60, for its sixth consecutive win.

“There is a fine line between confidence and cockiness,” Greensburg Salem coach Craig Mankins said. “And (Franklin Regional) is very confident. They are going to be a very difficult out in the playoffs. I'm glad we don't have to play them first. Playing Franklin (Regional), Highlands, Gateway and all the teams in our section is going to prep us for these other sections that we're going to play.”

Section 1-2A champ Jeannette (17-3) was wearing T-shirts Friday night that said, “Jeannette vs. Everybody.” Jayhawks coach Adrian Batts thinks the WPIAL could try to draw up a Jeannette vs. Sewickley Academy finals matchup in Class 2A. That's if the teams are on opposite sides of the bracket. Sewickley could be the 1, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart 2 and Jeannette 3.

Top-ranked OLSH lost to Sewickley Academy on Friday, 66-61.

“It seems like something the WPIAL would want to see since we've played them so much in the playoffs,” Batts said. “We can't get too far ahead of ourselves, though. We need to win that first one first.”

Jeannette and Sewickley have met in the playoffs the last two years, with the Panthers winning 80-51 in last season's quarterfinals, and 69-68 in the semifinals two years ago.

“We're just trying to get healthy,” Batts said. “It's been a while since we've had everyone together.”

Belle Vernon, with its sometimes-10-deep bench and balanced scoring, could be in line for a top-three seed in 4A. The Leopards were No. 5 last year. Quaker Valley and New Castle probably will be 1-2.

Girls 6A has been top-heavy with North Allegheny (21-0) the clear favorite and Peters Township (18-3) the likely No. 2 seed. But what about Section 2? It has perennial power Norwin (11-8) at the top, and competitive teams in Hempfield (11-10) and Latrobe (15-6). The so-so records are deceiving, but it remains to be seen if the steering committee will drop those teams out of favor.

Norwin is ranked No. 4 and Hempfield checked in at No. 5 this week.

Latrobe, which missed the postseason last year, has not won a playoff game since 2007.

Greensburg Central Catholic girls coach Joe Eisaman said this year's team reminds him of the team he had two years ago. That group peaked at the right time, seized late-season momentum and made a run to the WPIAL finals after finishing third in its section and getting tabbed with the No. 14 seed.

GCC (12-9) shared the Section 3-2A title with Serra Catholic (14-6), so it could be in line for a quality draw.

Vincentian (20-1) likely will get No. 1 and OLSH (19-2) No. 2.

“This team has the strong guards, too,” Eisaman said. “We have four go-tos. All four are strong in all areas. We're just going to keep grinding it out and run our sets.

“Wherever we're seeded, we're not going to mope about it.”

The GCC girls have not missed the WPIAL playoffs since the 1999-2000 season. The program has not had a losing season since the 1970s.

With six classifications, brackets in most cases again will be smaller: 12 teams instead of 16, with the top four seeds receiving first-round byes.

The WPIAL finals will be March 1-3 at Pitt's Petersen Events Center.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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