What to watch for in WPIAL sports on Feb. 16, 2024: Breaking down the 1st full day of WPIAL playoff action

Thursday, February 15, 2024 | 6:09 PM

Let the games begin!

Opening night of the 2024 WPIAL basketball playoffs shines a spotlight on first-round games in Boys Class 4A and A along with openers in girls 2A along with two 5A preliminary round contests.

One of the dark horses in the Class 4A boys basketball postseason is South Allegheny.

Despite finishing in third place in a challenging Section 4-4A, the Gladiators are 16-6 thanks to a strong finishing kick to the regular season in which they won four in a row and six of their last seven games.

Those numbers are nice, but factor in who they came against and it’s easy to see why some feel the Gladiators are a dangerous No. 7 seed.

In the last three weeks, South Allegheny has defeated Uniontown (No. 4 seed in 4A), Avonworth (No. 6 seed in 4A), Quaker Valley (No. 13 seed in 4A) and Shady Side Academy (No. 3 seed in 3A).

Its only loss in that time frame was to Montour (No. 3 seed in 4A) by eight points.

However, it won’t be an easy start out of the gates for this longshot as they prepare to open up at home Friday against Belle Vernon (12-8).

The Leopards finished second behind Uniontown in Section 3-4A.

After winning four of five games in late January and early February, BVA limped to the finish line by losing three of its last four games, including a 99-90 loss to Thomas Jefferson in the regular season finale.

The Gladiators will have to find a way to slow down the classification’s top scorer in Leopards junior Zion Moore, who is averaging 25.6 points per game.

The other seven boys first-round games in 4A Friday:

• No. 16 Freeport (7-14) drew the short stick and must travel to Midland to face defending champion, top seed and heavy favorite Lincoln Park (19-3).

• Junior Brady Mayo averages 24 points per game as he leads No. 9 Beaver (12-10) at No. 8 Knoch (14-8).

• No. 13 Quaker Valley (11-11) makes the long trek to Fayette County to face No. 4 Uniontown, a team that won its first 14 games before finishing 19-3.

• Senior Max Hurray is averaging 24.2 points per game for No. 5 North Catholic (13-8) as it hosts No. 12 Elizabeth Forward (14-7) on Trib HSSN.

• After sitting out the postseason a year ago, senior Peter Kramer is averaging 23.5 points per game in leading No. 2 Hampton (19-3) to a home game against No. 15 Central Valley (14-8) on Trib HSSN.

• No. 14 Southmoreland (16-6) was a spectator for the postseason a year ago, but the Scotties held off Albert Gallatin to earn a playoff berth and a trip to No. 3 Montour (19-3) on Trib HSSN.

• No. 11 Highlands (14-7), a preseason Top 5 team, hopes to make some noise in the postseason as it travels to No. 6 Avonworth (15-7).

Giddy Guillen

The California boys basketball team missed out on the Class A playoffs last year but qualified this season with a third-place finish in Section 2-A.

If the Trojans still want to be playing beyond opening night, they will have to clean things up on defense.

In the final game of the regular season last week, California yielded 64 points to Monessen senior Lorenzo Gardner in a 90-59 loss to the Greyhounds. Gardner’s big night set a Westmoreland County single-game scoring record.

No. 10 California (7-15) opens the postseason by facing No. 7 Aquinas Academy (14-8) in a game being played at Peters Township.

The benefactor of the Trojans defensive struggles might be junior Jacob Guillen, who leads the team with an average of 20 points per game.

The other four boys Class A first-round games Friday:

• No. 9 Avella (9-13) visits No. 8 West Greene (15-7) a year after the teams combined for an overall record of 11-33.

• No. 13 Summit Academy (4-12) made the playoffs despite losing eight of its last nine games. The Knights visits No. 4 and Section 2 champion Monessen (17-4).

• No. 14 St. Joseph (3-19), loser of nine of its last 10, heads to No. 3 Rochester (15-6), champions of Section 1.

• No. 11 Jefferson-Morgan (13-9) visits No. 6 Carlynton (7-14) as both teams are 4-3 in their last seven games; however, the Rockets ended a three-game skid in their regular season finale while the Cougars have won three straight.

Showdown of the stars

One of the most intriguing first round matchups in any class is the 2A girls basketball game between the No. 10 and No. 7 seeds.

On Friday at 7 p.m., 2023 runner-up Freedom (12-10) hosts Clairton (17-4).

The Bulldogs finished tied for second place with Rochester, three games behind Aliquippa.

The Bears finished in third place in Section 3 behind Greensburg Central Catholic and Serra Catholic.

While the teams are good, their leaders are two of the best in the district.

Clairton junior Iyanna Wade leads the WPIAL in scoring, averaging a mind-numbing 40 points per game.

Freedom senior Shaye Bailey is 10 points shy of 500 for the season and is fifth in the WPIAL with a scoring average of 22.3 points per game.

The Bulldogs have won three of their last four games while the Bears have been winners in eight of their last 10 contests.

The other seven girls 2A opening-round games Friday:

• Top-seeded Greensburg Central Catholic (16-6), led by sophomore Erica Gribble (20 ppg), hosts No. 16 Northgate (7-15).

• Rochester (14-7), the 2019-2021 Class A champion, travels to face Section 2 co-champ and No. 8 Burgettstown (13-9). Both the Rams and Blue Devils have won three straight.

• The other Section 2 co-champion, No. 4 Fort Cherry (17-5), had a nine-game winning streak snapped in its section finale against South Side. The Rangers face No. 13 Beth-Center (11-10) at Peters Township.

• Section 4 co-champion and No. 5 Chartiers-Houston (16-6) will host No. 12 South Side (13-9). It has been seven years since the Bucs won gold in 2017.

• No. 2 and Section 1 champion Aliquippa (19-3) won 19 of its first 20 games before falling to Mohawk and Lincoln Park in its final two games. The Quips host No. 15 California (10-12).

• No. 3 Serra Catholic (18-4) hopes to follow in the footsteps of the Eagles team from 25 years ago that won district gold in 1999. This year’s squad begins the postseason by welcoming No. 14 Brentwood (10-12) on Trib HSSN.

• A year ago, Winchester Thurston did not make the district playoffs and finished with a record of 3-15. This season, the Bears finished tied for third place in Section 3 with an overall record of 10-13 as they travel to take on Section 4 co-champ Washington (18-5).

Pair of pigtails

Class 5A boys and girls were the only two brackets that had more than 16 teams, thus they will have one preliminary round game, or pigtail game, on Friday to determine each bracket’s No. 16 seed.

On the boys side, the fourth-place teams in Sections 1 and 2 will battle for a spot in the first round as Trinity (10-12) hosts Woodland Hills (8-13).

The Hillers ended a three-game losing skid with back-to-back wins over Ringgold and Beaver to close out the regular season. The Wolverines finished with three losses in their last five games.

For the girls, two teams that tied for third place in their sections collide as Penn Hills (11-11) visits Thomas Jefferson (9-12) on Trib HSSN.

The Indians finished strong, winning four of their last five games to end up tied with Plum for third place in Section 1-5A.

The Jaguars won their last two games to force a three-way tie with Latrobe and Penn-Trafford in Section 3.

The winner will visit top seed and undefeated Oakland Catholic in a first-round contest set for Tuesday.

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