What to watch for in WPIAL sports on Feb. 20, 2024: Class 5A champs begin title defense

Monday, February 19, 2024 | 11:39 PM

Welcome to the final day of the WPIAL basketball first round with girls Class 5A and 4A along with boys 2A games getting their crack at the postseason spotlight.

In the previous seven postseasons of WPIAL Class 5A girls basketball, only one school not named Chartiers Valley or South Fayette has worn the crown at the end, and that was Gateway in 2018.

Chartiers Valley is now in 6A and Gateway did not qualify for the postseason, leaving only the big green machine at South Fayette with 5A gold.

The Lions begin their quest for the three-peat Tuesday at home against Mars.

Unlike last season when South Fayette was the top seed and a clear favorite to repeat, this year’s squad is considered a bit of a longshot as the No. 6 seed after finishing 14-8 and in third place behind co-champs Lincoln Park and Trinity in Section 4-5A.

The Lions have won two straight and five of their last seven games heading into the postseason.

No. 11 Mars also finished in third place in its section, ending up with a .500 record at 11-11 overall behind co-champs Armstrong and North Hills in Section 2-5A.

The Fightin’ Planets are 3-5 since Jan. 20.

The other seven girls first round games in Class 5A on Tuesday:

• No. 16 Penn Hills (12-11), fresh off a preliminary round victory at Thomas Jefferson on Friday thanks to 28 points for senior Hannah Pugliese, visits top seed and undefeated Oakland Catholic (22-0).

North Hills (13-8) won its last four games and was co-champion with Armstrong in Section 2-5A. However, the Indians were seeded No. 8. They will host a first-round playoff game against No. 9 Plum (13-9) in a game you can see on Trib HSSN.

• It was a historic season for Lincoln Park, winning its first 18 games before finishing 20-2 and earning a share of its first Section 4 crown. The Leopards host No. 13 Penn-Trafford (14-8), which must make the long trip to Midland.

• No. 12 Latrobe (11-11) will visit Section 2 co-champ Armstrong (18-4) as the Wildcats try to slow down senior Emma Paul (21.4 ppg) and the River Hawks, who have won 13 straight games.

• What a year for No. 2 McKeesport (18-3). The Tigers have defeated everybody except Class 6A No. 1 Norwin and 5A top-seed Oakland Catholic twice. Even though they didn’t win their section, the committee awarded the Tigers the No. 2 seed as they prepare to host No. 15 Hampton (12-10) in a game you can view on Trib HSSN.

• From the West Hills to the easternmost point in the WPIAL, No. 10 Moon (14-8) and sophomore sensation Jaedin Griggs (18 ppg) will visit No. 7 and Section 1 champion Indiana (17-5) with senior Bella Antonacci (15.3 ppg) leading the way.

• A year ago, Trinity was the No. 4 seed and was favored over surprising Woodland Hills, a team that had just upset No. 5 Armstrong in the first round. The surprises continued as the Wolverines shocked the Hillers, 51-40, to advance to the 5A final four. This season, No. 14 Woodland Hills (9-11) will be a heavy underdog again as it visits No. 3 Trinity (17-5).

Bear hunting again

Last year, Fort Cherry enjoyed a tremendous season, finishing the regular season as undefeated Section 4-2A champions with an overall record of 20-2.

Most folks outside of the McDonald area, though, might not easily remember since the No. 3 Rangers were stunned in the opening round by No. 14 Clairton.

Kaden Smith scored 20 points in leading the Bears to the 53-46 first-round stunner.

This year was another banner season for Fort Cherry as the Rangers once again won the Section 4 crown outright, finished with a 17-5 overall record and earned the No. 4 seed in the 2024 postseason.

Once again, standing in the way of the Rangers’ pursuit of the 2A quarterfinals are the Bears.

This time though, it’s not Clairton. It’s Winchester Thurston.

These Bears finished third in Section 2 with a final record of 11-8.

Both teams won three of their final four games heading into the playoffs.

The two will meet at Avella in a game you can watch on Trib HSSN at 7 p.m.

Here is a look at the other seven boys 2A first-round matchups:

• Happy Anniversary, Aliquippa (17-5). The defending champs not only won the WPIAL 2A title 20 years ago, when they defeated Beaver Falls in the 2004 finals, 70-64, they also struck district gold 30 years ago when they beat Brentwood in the 1994 title game, 85-71. The Quips begin their title defense at home against No. 16 Nazareth Prep (6-12).

• The matchup between No. 9 Chartiers-Houston (16-6) and No. 8 Serra Catholic (15-7) is a rematch of a nonsection game played between the two 14 days ago. The Eagles defeated the Buccaneers in that matchup, 65-53.

• No. 5 Bishop Canevin (12-10), outright winners of Section 2-2A, will host No. 12 Burgettstown, which ended up tied for second place behind Fort Cherry in Section 4-2A. Each team lost its regular season finale after the Crusaders had a three-game winning streak and the Blue Devils had won four in a row.

• No. 15 Frazier (11-11) needed a season-ending win over Beth-Center to qualify for the playoffs. Its reward is a trip to Carbon to face No. 2 Greensburg Central Catholic (20-2).

• No. 7 Shenango is led by one of the top scorers in the district in Brody McQuiston and his 22.8 points per game average as it hosts No. 10 Eden Christian (11-10) in a game you can watch on Trib HSSN.

• The contest between No. 3 Northgate (16-5) and visiting No. 14 Clairton (10-12) is a rematch from the 2023 Class 2A quarterfinals. Josh Williams scored 28 points as the Flames burned the Bears, 67-48.

• No. 11 Sewickley Academy (13-9) will visit No. 6 Jeannette (14-7). The Panthers and Jayhawks have had several epic playoff battles over the years, but this will be the first without a familiar face on the sidelines after longtime Sewickley Academy coach Win Palmer passed away this offseason.

Four frays in 4A

Defending champion North Catholic, 2023 runner-up Blackhawk, Section 3 champion Elizabeth Forward and Section 1 runner-up Highlands can continue to rest and prepare for the quarterfinals while enjoying their first-round byes.

There are four girls basketball Class 4A first-round games slated for Tuesday:

• No. 9 Hopewell (11-11) won back-to-back district 3A titles in 2006 and 2007, then won again in 2012. The Vikings try to regain some of their past glories when they visit No. 8 Greensburg Salem (15-7), a team that won 10 of its first 11 games this season. The winner advances to face top-seeded Blackhawk.

• No. 12 Quaker Valley (5-15) has super sophomore Oumou Thiero, who is averaging 19.4 points per game, as it travels south to No. 5 Laurel Highlands (18-2), owner of the No. 2 team defense in all of the WPIAL, allowing 28.6 points per game. The victor heads to Highlands in the quarterfinals.

• Two teams headed in opposite directions at the end of the regular season collide when No. 10 West Mifflin (10-9), losers of three straight games, visits No. 7 Central Valley (11-10), owners of a six-game winning streak. The winner visits defending champion North Catholic.

• No. 11 Belle Vernon (10-12) travels to No. 6 Knoch (13-9). The Leopards have lost three of their last four while the Knights have been victorious in three of their last four games. The winner will play Elizabeth Forward.

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