Westmoreland County high school basketball notebook: The Pete to be packed with county teams

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Wednesday, February 28, 2024 | 11:01 AM


Five Westmoreland County teams are headed to Petersen Events Center this weekend to compete for WPIAL basketball championships. That is a county record for finalists in one year.

But there is a lot more in common for the teams than a trip to the “Pete.”

The Franklin Regional (5A), Burrell (3A) and Greensburg Central Catholic (2A) boys are seeking titles, along with the Norwin (6A) and Greensburg Central Catholic (2A) girls.

Several teams share local connections.

Consider:

Franklin Regional boys coach Jesse Reed is a former GCC standout and was a teammate of GCC coach Christian Hyland.

• GCC senior Franco Alvarez grew up in the Norwin School District. He is a photographer in his free time and takes pictures for the Norwin girls basketball boosters.

• GCC girls standouts Mya Morgan, Avery Davis and Erica Gribble are all from North Huntingdon and could have attended Norwin. Morgan and Davis played youth basketball with Norwin’s current seniors, including Lauren Palangio, Bailey Snowberger and Ava Kobus.

• Gribble’s sister, Alayna, is Norwin’s all-time leading scorer and won two WPIAL titles. She went on to play at Pitt and later, Saint Joseph’s.

• Franklin Regional plays Moon in the 5A final. Franklin Regional athletic director Zach Kessler is a Moon alum.

• Moon second-year coach Gino Palmosina coached one of the area’s top college players in Saint Vincent’s Jaden Gales. Palmosina and Gales won two WPIAL titles and a PIAA title together at Bishop Canevin. Franklin Regional coach Reed was an assistant coach at Saint Vincent, while assistant Mike Simmons and Austin Dedert played for the Bearcats.

Franklin Regional, Burrell and Greensburg Central Catholic never have won a WPIAL boys basketball title.

Burrell, Norwin and Franklin Regional will play back-back-to-back Friday. Burrell faces Deer Lakes at 5 p.m., followed by Norwin-North Allegheny at 7 and Franklin Regional-Moon at 9.

Three’s company

Norwin first-year assistant coach Abi (Gabauer) Courtley, a former Lady Knights standout and TribLive Westmoreland player of the year, will make her third trip to the Pete for the finals.

A former West Virginia Wesleyan standout, she made it to the championship with Norwin as a sophomore and junior, winning a pair of titles.

“Now, to be able to go as a coach,” Gabauer said, “is pretty cool.”

County champs

The GCC girls will try for their sixth WPIAL title, and first since 2007.

The Norwin girls have two titles, in 2015 and ‘16. The ‘16 title was the last for a county girls school.

The last county boys team to win a championship was Monessen in 2017.

Monessen leads the area with eight titles (2017, ‘15, ‘11, ‘02, ‘01, 1995, 1920 and ‘19).

Other boys champions include Jeannette (2008), Valley (1993), Norwin (1988, ‘86, ‘63), Latrobe (1985), Belle Vernon (1978), Irwin (1954, ‘53, ‘50, ‘48), Arnold (1942), and New Kensington (1934, ‘30).

Additional local girls winners are Penn-Trafford (2014), Jeannette (2010), Monessen (2006, ‘04, ‘95), and Franklin Regional (1979, ‘77).

Brotherly love

Norwin sophomore guard Ava Christopher has emerged as a key two-way player for the Lady Knights.

Christopher, who saw time in the postseason as a freshman last year, had 14 points — and several defensive plays — in Monday’s 63-47 semifinal win over Chartiers Valley.

She is trying to become the second member of her family to win a WPIAL title. Senior Owen Christopher won a boys soccer title with the Knights in November. He was the TribLive player of the year.

There is not an in-house competition, at least from Ava’s point of view.

“There is some sibling love there,” Ava said. “He talks about (winning a title first) a lot. We root for each other, but I don’t want to compare what we do.”

Rowell vs. Guillory

A matchup to watch Friday night is between Franklin Regional’s Cam Rowell and Elijah Guillory of Moon.

Both are long, 6-foot-5 guards who can get to the rim and finish. And both can get up: They have multiple dunks and even a few alley-oops. Maybe this meeting was meant to be: It’s a leap year.

Rowell is averaging 18 points a game. He is drawing increased Division II and III college interest.

Guillory, who had 39 in a semifinal win over Thomas Jefferson, committed Tuesday to Youngstown State.

Shoot your shot

Greensburg Central Catholic junior guard Liam Gallagher had a big night in the quarterfinals with 13 points, 12 coming on four 3-pointers, in a win over Eden Christian.

He added three 3s in the semifinals against Northgate.

Gallagher may get his shooting touch from his mother, Christine. A Rochester, N.Y. native, she played Division III basketball at Caldwell (N.Y.).

“She works with me on my shot,” Gallagher said. “My mom and dad are my rocks. I try to shoot 500 shots a day. My family is like a team to me.”

All-section

Section 2-A announced its postseason award winners and Monessen took home most of the hardware.

Greyhounds’ senior Lorenzo Gardner was named the section player of the year, while Dan Bosnic was the coach of the year.

Gardner also made the first team.

Finals facts

Only twice have Westmoreland boys and girls teams won basketball titles in the same season. That happened in 2015 with the Norwin girls and Monessen boys, and in 1995 with a Monessen title sweep.

• Two county boys teams have never won WPIAL titles in the same season. Multiple girls teams from the county won titles in the same year only once, in 2006 (Monessen and GCC).

• Burrell and Deer Lakes will meet in the 3A final. That will mark the first time two teams from the Alle-Kiski Valley faced off for a WPIAL boys basketball championship since Har-Brack and Ford City played in 1938.

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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