What to watch for in WPIAL sports on March 8, 2024: State basketball playoffs to tip off

Thursday, March 7, 2024 | 10:29 PM

Welcome to opening night of the 2024 PIAA basketball playoffs featuring first-round games in boys Class 5A, 4A and A, along with girls 6A, 3A and 2A.

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

For some, the state postseason is a long five-round journey with hopes that teams can finish their season with a game at the Giant Center in Chocolate Town.

However, for one boys 5A district team, the Road to Hershey begins in Hershey.

Bethel Park (13-13), the No. 6 seed out of the WPIAL, will visit Hershey (21-3), the runners-up in District 3.

The scrappy Black Hawks did upset South Fayette with a buzzer-beater in the WPIAL 5A first round, then lost to Shaler in the quarterfinals, 35-26.

BP earned a spot in the state playoffs with a consolation round win at Gateway, 55-53, before losing to Fox Chapel in the fifth-place game by 21 points.

Bethel Park is 2-5 in its last seven games.

Meanwhile, Hershey was the top seed in the District 3 playoffs and had won 18 of its last 19 games following playoff wins in the district quarterfinals and semifinals over Warwick and Greencastle-Antrim to reach the D-3 title game.

There, the Trojans were knocked off by No. 2 seed Mechanicsburg, 63-47.

Tipoff at Hershey is at 6 p.m.

Here are the other boys 5A first-round games involving WPIAL teams:

• WPIAL champion Moon (23-3) will host City League runner-up Obama Academy (11-12) at 7 p.m. The Eagles were 1-7 against WPIAL teams this season.

• WPIAL runner-up Franklin Regional (23-3) will be home to the No. 6 seed out of District 3, Warwick (17-8). The Panthers had won 12 straight before falling to Moon in the district finals.

Shaler (23-3) will welcome the No. 4 seed from District 3, Greencastle-Antrim (20-6). The Titans scored 75 points in a consolation win over Thomas Jefferson after scoring a combined 75 points in a quarterfinals win over Bethel Park and a semifinals loss to Franklin Regional.

Thomas Jefferson (21-4) visits the third seed out of District 3, York Suburban, (20-6) at 6 p.m. The Jaguars have lost back to back games for the first time this season after falling to Moon in the semifinals and Shaler in the consolation game.

Fox Chapel (15-11) heads north to the Hagerty Family Events Center in Erie to take on District 10 champion Cathedral Prep (15-10). It is the only 5A first-round game pitting teams with double-digit losses.

Gateway (18-8) will travel to Mechanicsburg (20-5) for a 6 p.m. games against the District 3 champions. The state playoffs are a fresh start for a Gators team that started the season 11-1 but is only 7-7 since Jan. 16.

Former section foes collide

Two years ago, the Lincoln Park and Montour boys basketball teams were Section 2-4A foes.

Both regular season meetings were nail-biters.

In Midland, the Leopards won, 51-49, and then in the rematch in Robinson Township, the Spartans prevailed at home, 69-67.

Now, the champions of Section 2-4A will host the winners of Section 4-4A as Lincoln Park (23-3) welcomes Montour (21-5) in a state opening-round game at 7 p.m.

The WPIAL champion Leopards have won 15 straight games since falling to Neumann-Goretti on Jan. 6.

The Spartans had won six straight after beating Southmorleand in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs, but then lost to Avonworth in the quarterfinals and South Allegheny in a consolation round game before finally earning a spot in the PIAA playoffs with a victory over Knoch, 70-58.

The teams did play last year in a nonsection contest with Lincoln Park winning by 20 points.

Here are the other five boys 4A first-round games involving WPIAL teams:

• WPIAL runner-up Hampton (22-4) will be home to District 10 runner-up Hickory (17-8) at 7 p.m. The Talbots were 1-0 against District 10 teams this season while the Hornets were 2-1 against WPIAL squads.

Uniontown (22-4) looks to make another long run in the state playoffs when it opens up at home against District 10 No. 3 seed Grove City at 7 p.m. on Trib HSSN. The Red Raiders reached the state semifinals a year ago, losing to eventual champion Lincoln Park. This is the 60th anniversary of Uniontown’s 1964 PIAA basketball championship run.

Avonworth (17-9) will visit District 9 champion Punxsutawney (14-10) at 7 p.m. The Chucks needed only two wins in the D-9 playoffs to win gold, beating Clearfield in the semis and Bradford in the finals, 60-52.

North Catholic (16-9) heads north to battle District 10 champion Warren (20-5) at 7 p.m. The Dragons had three straight double-digit victories to win the D-10 title, beating Hickory in the finals, 71-52. The Trojans are 3-3 in their last six games.

South Allegheny (18-8) travels to Eastern York (18-7) to battle the District 3 champions. The Golden Knights were the No. 5 seed in the 4A district playoffs but stunned top-seeded Berks Catholic in the semifinals on their way to D-3 gold.

Rare double gold repeats

In this century, the only WPIAL boys basketball team to win back-to-back PIAA championships was Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in 2021-2022.

Both Lincoln Park in 4A and Imani Christian in A are trying to become the second and third schools to do it.

The two-time WPIAL champion Saints come marching into the PIAA postseason Friday when Imani Christian (14-10) takes on Union-Rimersburg (13-11) at Norwin at 7:30 p.m.

A year ago, the Saints defeated Clarion, Union-Rimersburg, Farrell, Union and Berlin-Brothersvalley to win the state crown.

The Knights are the No. 5 seed out of District 9.

In last year’s PIAA second round meeting between the two, Imani Christian crushed Union-Rimersburg, 80-48.

The other four boys A first-round games involving some of the top scorers from this season in the WPIAL:

• WPIAL runner-up Neighborhood Academy (18-6) will play District 10 runner-up Rocky Grove (16-8) at North Allegheny at 7:30 p.m. Courtney Wallace had 28 points in the title-game loss to Imani Christian.

• Union (15-11) will take on District 5 runner-up Turkeyfoot Valley at Pitt-Johnstown at 6 p.m. and here on Trib HSSN. Junior Lucas Stanley and Rodney Johnson combined for 42 points in the first two district playoff wins for the Scotties.

Rochester (17-8) will travel to Farrell (19-5) at 7 p.m. in a battle of old rivals from when they were both in the WPIAL. Rams senior Xavier Rigby averaged 18.5 points per game in two playoff district victories. The Steelers are the District 10 champions.

Monessen (20-5) visits District 9 champion Elk County Catholic (24-2). In the Greyhounds’ first-round WPIAL playoff win, senior Lorenzo Gardner dropped 44 points. Thirt-five years ago, Monessen won the second of its back-to-back PIAA titles. In both 1988 and 1989, the Greyhounds knocked off the Crusaders on their way to state gold.

Northern success

Following a loss in the girls 6A district title game to Norwin, North Allegheny (22-3) looks to regroup when it hosts District 10 champion Erie (17-7) at 6 p.m. on Trib HSSN.

The Tigers began their lone PIAA championship run three years ago by beating District 10 champion McDowell in the quarterfinals of the 2021 champions-only tournament.

This year, NA was 7-0 against teams from other districts and 2-0 against teams from out of state.

In fact, North Allegheny was 22-0 against any team not named Norwin.

In the postseason, the Royals won the D-1o crown by beating McDowell, 38-32. Erie then eliminated Allderdice, 79-62 before falling to D-6 winner Altoona in a state prelim game for seeding.

There are three other WPIAL 6A teams in action in the opening round:

• WPIAL champion Norwin (21-3) opens up the state playoffs at home against the No. 7 seed from District 3, William Penn (16-10). The Knights have won 12 straight and have only one loss in calendar year 2024.

Peters Township (23-2) will visit the No. 3 seed out of District 3, Lebanon, (22-3) at 6 p.m. The Indians were the No. 2 seed and lost to North Allegheny in the WPIAL semifinals while the Cedars were the top seed and lost to Dallastown in the D-3 semifinals.

Chartiers Valley (16-8) heads east to visit District 6 champion Altoona (20-4) at 7:30 p.m. The Colts lost to eventual champion Norwin in the District 7 semifinals while the Mountain Lions rolled past State College in the D-6 title game, 61-42.

Back together again

This past Friday, Shady Side Academy upended 2023 champion and top seed Avonworth at the Petersen Events Center, 52-45, to win the WPIAL Class 3A girls basketball championship.

Now the Bulldogs and Antelopes are under one roof again.

Except this time they won’t be squaring off against each other, they will be playing third-place finishers from neighboring districts in a doubleheader at Avonworth.

In the opener at 6 p.m., newly minted District 7 champion Shady Side Academy (24-2) will take on River Valley (20-7) from District 6. The Bulldogs lost to the Panthers in the state quarterfinals a year ago, 54-21.

In the second game at 7:30 p.m., Avonworth (22-2) will host Wilmington, the No. 3 team from District 10. The D-10 Greyhounds were 3-0 this season against WPIAL competition. After winning a WPIAL title last year, the Antelopes were 1-1 in the state postseason.

Here are the other Class 3A first-round games involving WPIAL teams:

• Former PIAA champion Neshannock (18-8) will visit District 5 runner-up Chestnut Ridge (13-12) at 7 p.m. The Lancers won their state crown two years ago.

Beaver Falls (16-8) travels to Westmont-Hilltop (19-4) for a 7 p.m. game in Johnstown. The District 6 runner-up Hilltoppers beat Neshannock in the first round a year ago and picked up two state playoff wins before falling to OLSH in the quarterfinals.

Keystone Oaks (18-7) heads north to battle District 10 runner-up Northwestern (21-4). The Golden Eagles were one and done in the state postseason a year ago, falling to Chestnut Ridge, while the Wildcats did not qualify for the PIAA playoffs in 2023.

Seton LaSalle (15-10) visits Karns City (18-8) at 7 p.m. This is the second straight year the Gremlins won the District 9 title. Last season, they were bounced in the opening round by Shady Side Academy, 54-19.

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (17-9) travels to Erie to face District 10 champion Mercyhurst Prep (21-3) at 7 p.m. The Chargers were the No. 5 seed out of the WPIAL last season, but defeated Wilmington, Avonworth and Westmont-Hilltop before falling to River Valley in the state semifinals.

Eight might not be enough

There are eight WPIAL girls basketball teams playing Friday in the first round of the PIAA playoffs.

Six of them face the task of going up against opponents with at least 20 wins.

The two exceptions are WPIAL champion Greensburg Central Catholic (20-6) hosting the No. 4 seed from District 6, Bellwood-Antis (15-10) at 7 p.m., and Rochester (17-8) playing District 5 champion Everett (18-7) at Bedford at 7 p.m.

The WPIAL was a combined 3-5 in 2A girls first-round games a year ago with the Centurions picking up one of the victories by crushing Windber, 55-33.

GCC went all the way to the state semifinals where it lost to District 10 champion Kennedy Catholic.

The other six games involving WPIAL teams in 2A openers are:

• WPIAL runner-up Serra Catholic (21-5) hosts the No. 3 seed from District 6, Bishop McCort (24-2), at 7 p.m. The Crimson Crushers were the top seed in the D-6 playoffs but were upset by Marion Center in the semifinals, 58-57.

Aliquippa (22-4) travels to Portage (23-3) at 7 p.m. The Quips were 19-1 at one point before losing three of their last seven games. The Mustangs are the District 6 runners-up.

South Side (15-11) visits Maplewood (21-4 at 7 p.m. The Rams were the surprise of the WPIAL playoffs, upending both Chartiers-Houston and Fort Cherry as the No. 12 seed before losing to eventual champion Greensburg Central Catholic. The Tigers reached the District 10 title game, falling to Kennedy Catholic.

Clairton (19-6) hits the road to face District 9 champion Redbank Valley (20-5). The Bulldogs must find a way to slow down the WPIAL’s top scorer in Iyanna Wade, who averages over 40 points per game.

Fort Cherry (19-7) will challenge host Kennedy Catholic (20-4) at 7 p.m. The Golden Eagles defeated Brentwood, Burgettstown, Bishop McCort, Greensburg Central Catholic and Homer-Center to win the 2023 PIAA 2A state championship.

Winchester Thurston (11-15) looks to pull over a stunner when it visits Marion Center (20-5). The Stingers know about surprises as they won the District 6 title as the No. 5 seed.

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