WPIAL’s 2nd-leading scorer exits early as Aliquippa defense stops Steel Valley
Saturday, February 15, 2020 | 2:30 AM
Aliquippa had a strategy for facing the WPIAL’s second-leading scorer: Trap Steel Valley’s Camden Polak whenever he touched the ball, keep it out of his hands if possible and make him work for every shot.
There was one final mission.
“Take a lot of charges,” Quips coach Dwight Hines said. “We wanted to frustrate him.”
It all seemed to work. Polak, typically a 31-point scorer, fouled out in the third quarter Friday night as No. 5 seed Aliquippa defeated No. 12 Steel Valley, 53-46, in the first round of the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs at West Allegheny.
Three of Polak’s five fouls came on the offensive end, sending the star senior to the bench with 15 points. Polak finished 3 for 11 from the field and 6 of 9 from the foul line.
“We don’t care who you are, we’re going to bring it to you,” Aliquippa senior Michael Dawkins said. “We have a game plan for every team. The game play for him was: ‘He’s not getting his.’ That’s where our head was at. He’s not getting what he averages.”
Aliquippa’s football team is known for an aggressive defense, and some of those same athletes turned this matchup physical and at times chaotic, a combination the Quips relished. Aliquippa forced turnovers, rebounded hard and took almost twice as many first-half shots as Steel Valley (31-17).
“That’s all about pressure,” Hines said. “Our goal is to hold teams underneath their average.”
Steel Valley’s offense averaged 63 points per game.
“None of us really like getting scored on,” Hawkins said. “That’s just our mentality. If we get scored on, we get mad.”
As a team, Steel Valley didn’t make a basket until more than a minute into the second quarter. Polak didn’t get his first shot to fall until a 3-pointer around 2 minutes before halftime, but by then Aliquippa already led 26-11.
“The whole week, we worked on stopping him,” said Aliquippa senior Zuriah Fisher, a Penn State linebacker recruit. “They’ve got a lot of good players, but he’s their main guy, so we had to stop him. When we stopped him, I knew the game would be over.”
Fisher led Aliquippa (15-8) with a game-high 18 points and Dawkins added 13. The Quips advanced to face No. 4 Seton LaSalle in the quarterfinals Thursday.
Shane Regan and Jordan Fisher each had nine points for Steel Valley (13-9).
Aliquippa led 31-21 when Polak fouled out with 3 minutes, 15 seconds left in the third quarter.
“This was the second time all year we lost Cam,” Steel Valley coach Dale Chapman said. “We’d never lost him this early. He’s 70 percent of our offense.”
Polak picked up his fourth foul earlier in the quarter but Chapman kept him on the floor, worried that they couldn’t catch Aliquippa without him. The Ironmen seemed to be finding some momentum just before his fifth foul.
“I thought about taking him out but they were stretching the lead out on us,” Chapman said. “Two possessions before that, he’d just hit back to back 3s. He’s a streaky person. If he starts hitting 3s, that puts us right back in it.”
Steel Valley senior Connor Rossey fouled out early in the fourth and another senior starter, Tyler Mitchell, already was sidelined with an injury. Steel Valley finished the night with three reserves on the floor, but Aliquippa didn’t run away with the game.
The Quips led 37-26 after three quarters but the gap was down to six points with 1 minute remaining.
Steel Valley sparked a late 8-3 run including a put-back basket by NiJhay Burt with 62 seconds left to trail 52-46, but the rally stalled there.
“We kind of took a little backslide because we felt as if the game was already out of hand,” Hines said. “It’s playoff time. You’ve got to play all 32 minutes relentlessly. If you don’t do that, things like that can happen.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
More Basketball• Mt. Pleasant hires T.J. Kravits as new boys basketball coach
• Trib HSSN girls athlete of the year: Morningstar shines bright for champion North Allegheny
• Valley News Dispatch boys athlete of the year: Highlands’ Crise savored super senior seasons
• Westmoreland County boys athlete of the year: GCC’s Nate Ward showed will to win in 4 sports
• Rebel Yell Podcast: Best of the Century salute to Spencer Lee and Maura Huwalt