What to watch for in WPIAL sports for March 9, 2024: PIAA basketball 1st round continues

Saturday, March 9, 2024 | 11:17 AM

Opening weekend of the 2024 PIAA basketball playoffs continues Saturday with first round games in boys 6A, 3A and 2A, along with girls 5A, 4A and A.

Once again this year, all first round games are home contests for the higher seeds unless otherwise determined.

The WPIAL playoffs lead to a lot of speculation, anxiousness and sometime controversy when the brackets are placed in the hands of various sports committees.

Some of those emotions don’t come into play in the PIAA playoffs because the bracket seeds are determined well in advance.

However, that doesn’t mean it is the best way or it doesn’t cause anxiousness.

Take the 6A boys bracket for example.

While there are no easy games in the state playoffs, if records are any indication, the WPIAL runner-up has a much tougher challenge than the WPIAL No. 3 seed.

After falling in the district finals, Baldwin (18-7) earned a home game and will host District 10 champion McDowell (20-5) at 1 p.m.

Meanwhile, WPIAL consolation winner Mt. Lebanon (20-5) hits the road to face District 6 winner State College (12-12) at 3 p.m.

Yes, the Highlanders are home and the Blue Devils hit the road for a couple of hours, but it seems the tougher test is for Baldwin.

State College lost to McDowell in mid-February by 20 points, but when the two district champions met last weekend for seeding purposes, the Little Lions earned a home game by stunning the Trojans, 48-46.

WPIAL champion Upper St. Clair (20-5) is also home as it welcomes the No. 7 seed from District 3, Central Dauphin (18-8), at 1 p.m.

No fool’s gold

A year ago, Deer Lakes proved that its surprising WPIAL title run was no fluke when the Lancers followed up with four PIAA victories and returned home from Hershey with silver after falling in the finals to West Catholic.

Now following a repeat title performance in the district playoffs, the Lancers hope to show more skeptics they are the real deal with another March run.

Last year, they hosted Seneca from District 10. On Saturday, Deer Lakes (21-4) welcomes Mercyhurst Prep (17-8), the No. 3 seed out of District 10.

The Lakers lost to Franklin in the D-1o semifinals this year, but earned a state playoff berth with a win over Fairview in the consolation game.

Here are the other Class 3A first round boys games involving WPIAL teams.

• WPIAL runner-up Burrell (16-9) earned a home playoff game in the state playoffs despite being a No. 11 seed in the district playoffs. Now the Bucs welcome the District 6 No. 3 seed Bishop Guilfoyle (23-4) at 1 p.m. The Marauders were the top seed in the D-6 playoffs before being upset in the semifinals by Westmont-Hilltop.

Mohawk (17-8) travels from Lawrence County to nearby Butler County to take on District 9 champion Moniteau (13-11) at 6 p.m. in a battle of the Warriors. Moniteau had a bye into the D-9 title game where it beat defending champion Brookville, 58-57.

Neshannock (20-5) heads north to take on District 10 runner-up Franklin (20-5) at 1 p.m. The Knights were the top seed in the D-10 playoffs, but lost in the finals to Girard, 60-50.

Shady Side Academy (18-8) heads east to face District 5 champion Chestnut Ridge (22-4) at 4 p.m It was 24 years ago that the Bulldogs defeated Saegertown, Washington, Girard, Aliquippa and Halifax to win the 2000 PIAA 2A state championship.

Derry (15-7) faces a long road trip to Erie to face Girard (23-2) at the Hagerty Family Events Center at 7:30 p.m. The Yellowjackets knocked off Greenville, Fairview and top-seeded Franklin to win the District 10 championship.

Ellwood City (17-9) goes up against District 6 champion Westmont-Hilltop (20-5) at 3 p.m. This is the third trip to the state playoffs in four years for the Wolverines, who are 1-2 in that time period and 10-7 overall. Ellwood City reached the state semifinals in both 1986 and 1987.

A golden celebration

Not counting former district member Farrell’s seven PIAA championships as a member of District 7, Aliquippa is tied with Midland for the most boys basketball state titles with five.

The Quips are celebrating an anniversary for three of those five wins.

The first crown came 75 years ago when Aliquippa defeated York to win the 1949 PIAA 3A championship.

Aliquippa’s second state title came 35 years ago when it defeated Allentown Central Catholic to win 1989 PIAA 2A gold.

The school’s next boys basketball championship came 30 years ago when the Quips knocked off Carbondale to capture the 1994 PIAA 2A title.

The Quips also won it all in 1997 and 2016.

The 2024 version of Aliquippa (21-5), fresh off back-to-back district titles, opens up the state playoffs Saturday at home against Otto-Eldred (25-2) at 2 p.m.

The Terrors are the No. 3 seed out of District 9.

These two met in the state semifinals last year with the Quips prevailing, 56-28.

The other WPIAL 2A boys basketball teams opening up state playoff action Saturday include:

• WPIAL runner-up Greensburg Central Catholic (23-3) plays host to District 5 runner-up Windber (16-9) at 2 p.m. The Centurions are licking their wounds after losing big to Aliquippa in the WPIAL finals, 69-32, while the Ramblers lost to Conemaugh Township in the D-5 finals, 37-35.

Fort Cherry (20-6) earned the No. 3 seed out of the WPIAL and heads north to face District 9 runner-up Karns City (20-7) at 1 p.m. A year ago, the Rangers did not qualify for the state playoffs while the Gremlins lost by 32 points to Aliquippa in Round 1.

Northgate (18-7) visits District 9 champion Redbank Valley (22-3) at 1 p.m. Both teams won one and lost one in their most recent trips to the PIAA postseason. For the Flames, it was last year while for the Bulldogs, it was 2022.

Bishop Canevin (15-11) will face host Conemaugh Township (21-5) at 4 p.m. The Indians are the District 5 champions following a two-point victory over Windber. This game is in the eastern half of the bracket, which means a lot of long road trips for the Crusaders if they continue to win.

Jeannette (16-8) heads north to Erie to face District 10 champion Iroquois (14-11). The Jayhawks defeated Kane, Girard, North Catholic, North East and Strawberry Mansion in the 2008 state playoffs to win PIAA 2A gold.

Serra Catholic (17-9) challenges District 6 champion West Branch (23-3) at 3 p.m. The Eagles needed a seventh-place consolation win over Eden Christian to qualify while the Warriors ousted Northern Cambria in the D-6 finals, 58-38.

District of domination

When it comes to the first round of the PIAA Class 5A girls basketball playoffs, the WPIAL is the district of domination.

In the last two years, District 7 teams have been a combined 10-4 in the opening round.

Taking it a step further, since the start of the 5A tournament in 2017 and excluding the postponed 2020 tournament and the district winners only, no first round games in 2021, WPIAL schools are a combined 24-6 in Round 1.

So how will the seven teams from District 7 do this season?

• WPIAL champion South Fayette (18-8) will host Red Land (12-14), the No. 8 seed from District 3 at 2 p.m. As WPIAL champions the last two years, the Lions are 5-2, including a run to the 5A title game last season.

• WPIAL runner-up Armstrong (21-5) earned a home game and will host Palmyra, the No. 5 seed from District 3 at 1 p.m. The Cougars must find a way to slow down River Hawks senior Emma Paul, who averaged 27.3 points per game in four WPIAL playoff games.

McKeesport (21-4) welcomes West York (18-8), the No. 4 seed out of District 3, at 1 p.m. The Tigers finally knocked off Oakland Catholic in the district third-place consolation game, avenging two of the team’s four losses this season.

Oakland Catholic (24-2) heads east to face Susquehanna Township (23-2), the No. 3 seed out of District 3, at 1 p.m. After winning their first 24 games this season, the Eagles are trying to end a two-game losing streak after losing star junior London Creach to injury in the district semifinals.

Trinity (20-6) heads north to Erie to battle District 10 champion Cathedral Prep (19-3) at the Hagerty Family Events Center at 6 p.m. These two teams squared off in the opening round of the 2023 PIAA playoffs with the Ramblers eliminating the visiting Hillers, 48-30.

Lincoln Park (22-4) visits District 3 runner-up Northern York (24-2) at 2 p.m. This is the first state playoff game for the Leopards while the Polar Bears won their first 20 games this season.

Indiana (19-7) heads to York to face District 3 champion York Suburban (23-1) at 4 p.m. The Trojans have won 14 straight games, including the D-3 title game win over Northern York, 37-35. Their resume includes wins over Seneca Valley and Gateway this season.

10-year-old gold

Ten years ago, the Blackhawk girls basketball team won the first of back-to-back PIAA championships.

The Road to Hershey and state gold for the Cougars began with wins in the first round, second round and quarterfinals over teams from District 10.

Now after falling in the district championship game, WPIAL runner-up Blackhawk (22-3) opens the state playoffs at home against the No. 3 team from District 10, Harbor Creek (14-10), at 1 p.m.

Those two state titles were the third and fourth in school history.

This is the 25th anniversary of the first PIAA crown captured by the Cougars.

In 1999 and again in 2000, Blackhawk defeated Montoursville in the state championship game.

The Cougars are tied for second all-time among WPIAL girls basketball teams with Oakland Catholic with four PIAA titles.

The team with the most is the team that upended Blackhawk in the WPIAL finals this year, North Catholic.

The Trojans have won eight PIAA championships, with the most recent coming in 2016.

The first state title for the scarlet and gold came 44 years ago in 1980.

On Saturday, North Catholic (17-7) will host Conneaut at 1 p.m.

These two schools met in the opening round a year ago with the Trojans clipping the Eagles, 70-44.

Here are the other Class 4A first round games involving WPIAL teams:

Elizabeth Forward (22-3) will visit District 10 runner-up Warren (20-5) at 1 p.m. The Warriors last played in the PIAA postseason in 2022 when they lost in the first round. The Dragons fell to Blackhawk in last year’s state opener.

Laurel Highlands’ (20-4) magical turnaround season continues as it travels to Johnstown (12-12) for a 3 p.m. game. The District 6 champion Trojans were the No. 3 seed in a three-team D-6 4A tournament, but they defeated No. 2 Penn Cambria by 10 points and top-seeded Juniata by 18 points in the finals.

Highlands (18-7) heads northeast to battle District 9 champion St. Marys (21-5) at 4 p.m. District 9 teams are 1-5 all-time in girls Class 4A games with the lone win coming seven years ago. The Flying Dutch lost to Knoch in a first round game two years ago.

Knoch (15-11) visits Fairview (20-5) at 1 p.m. Both the Knights and Tigers picked up state wins a year ago and both were eliminated by Blackhawk — Knoch in the second round and Fairview in the quarterfinals.

St. Joe’s squared

Well, one thing is for sure, St. Joe’s will be playing in the second round of the girls PIAA Class A playoffs on Wednesday.

The question is, will it be St. Joseph, located in Natrona Heights, northeast of Pittsburgh? Or will it be St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy, located in Boalsburg near State College?

St. Joseph (21-4), the runner-up in the WPIAL, will host St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy (23-2), the No. 3 team from District 6. The game tips off at 1 p.m.

The Spartans nearly pulled off a shocker, taking top seed and defending WPIAL and PIAA champion Union to overtime in the district finals, only to lose, 50-43.

The WolfPack were the No. 2 seed in the D-6 playoffs, but lost to Williamsburg in the semifinals, 56-42.

St. Joe’s Catholic Academy was 19-0 at one point this season.

The other four games involving WPIAL teams in the A openers include:

• WPIAL and defending state champion Union (19-5) will host the No. 5 seed from District 9, Port Allegany (19-7) at 1 p.m. The Scotties, winners of 14 straight, defeated District 9 teams Clarion and Elk County Catholic in the first two rounds on their way to a state title a year ago.

Aquinas Academy (17-7) will square off with District 6 runner-up Williamsburg (24-3) at Claysburg-Kimmel at 3 p.m. The Crusaders are appearing in their third straight state playoff after winning their first PIAA game a year ago. The Blue Pirates beat St. Joseph and DuBois Central Catholic last year before falling to eventual champion Union in the quarterfinals.

Riverview (16-8) heads to Altoona to visit District 6 champion Bishop Guilfoyle (24-3) at 3 p.m. The Marauders are three years removed from winning the 2021 PIAA Class A title with a victory over Jenkintown in the state finals. It was the seventh state crown for the Bishop Guilfoyle girls, which won their first 40 years ago in 1984.

Monessen (19-6) will challenge host Elk County Catholic (25-2) at 5:30 p.m. This is the 20th anniversary of the Greyhounds’ 2004 PIAA title run. These two teams met in the 2022 PIAA first round with the Crusaders winning big, 52-23.

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