Well-traveled Tipton has found a home at Apollo-Ridge
Tre Tipton has lived all over the place. His GPS asks him where to go next.
The Apollo-Ridge sophomore lived in Pittsburgh, Penn Hills, Jeannette and Vandergrift before finally settling in Apollo — where he plans to finish his high school career.
But there is one place Tipton — and his teammates — have never been, and that's the PIAA basketball playoffs.
Apollo-Ridge (18-8), the WPIAL's third-place team, will make its first appearance in the state tournament since 1991 when it takes on District 6 runner-up Northern Cambria (21-5) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Central Cambria High School.
Two other Alle-Kiski teams also will compete in the PIAA Class AA tournament.
Like Apollo-Ridge, the Burrell boys and girls teams are using extra practice time this week to retool for the PIAA postseason. Burrell's boys finished runner-up to Beaver Falls, while the girls finished third after a loss to eventual-champion Bishop Canevin in the semifinals.
The Apollo-Ridge and Burrell boys made surprise playoff runs in the WPIAL tournament, giving both of them confidence that it can happen again in the PIAA playoffs.
“It feels like a whole new season,” Tipton said. “We have to stay focused and keep playing as one. I want to do this for my seniors.”
Tipton hopes to lead his team further than any in school history. The standout two-sport athlete (football the other) almost didn't have a chance to help bring the program back to relevance.
He actually grew up thinking he'd be a wrestler until he became interested in football and basketball. He watched pick-up basketball games from the sidelines in Jeannette, where Terrelle Pryor was finishing alley-oops from Jordan Hall.
“When I was a little kid, I couldn't ball yet,” Tipton said. “I'd sit in the corner and dribble and practice. It felt good for me to beat dudes I grew up with. When I moved there, I realized everybody was good and I had to focus and keep pushing forward.
“I'm not the little one any more.”
Tipton propelled Apollo-Ridge to an upset of No. 4 seed Jeannette in the quarterfinals. He hit a half-court shot to close the third quarter.
“That was more than the shot of my life,” Tipton said. “I wasn't expecting to make it. The shot looked so off when it left my hands. Then, boom, in the hole.
“It sent an electric shock through me.”
The excitement faded when Apollo-Ridge ran into mighty Beaver Falls in the semis, but the Vikings think they can flip the switch again.
“Our kids are showing a lot of excitement at practice,” Apollo-Ridge coach Matt Gourley said. “I think they know what's ahead of them. There's a lot of talk about making history. Now they want to make some more.”
Some coaches give their teams time off before the state playoffs, which is what Burrell boys coach Rob Niederberger did after the Bucs expended inordinate amounts of energy and emotion to reach the WPIAL Class AA championship game.
The Buccaneers (19-7), who had Monday off, face District 6 third-place finisher Bishop McCort (18-8) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Gateway.
Although Burrell lost, 61-33, to Beaver Falls in the finals — tying the third-largest margin of defeat in WPIAL championship game history — the Bucs think they can regroup and start anew in states.
“We had a great run, and these guys have nothing to be ashamed about,” Niederberger said. “They'll be anxious to start another run.”
Gourley said his team is managing time well. The Vikings will have gone 10 days in between games by the time they tip Saturday night.
That means there's a risk of practice getting stale.
“It's tough; we're going to have intrasquad scrimmages and things like that,” Gourley said. “You try to keep it interesting.”
Burrell's girls (22-3), who face District 6 runner-up Bellwood-Antis (24-3) 6 p.m. Friday at Plum, had a rigorous practice Monday. The Lady Bucs plan to scrimmage Mohawk this week.
Sophomore guard Sydney Bordonaro said a lopsided, 55-19 loss to Bishop Canevin in the semifinals didn't hurt as much when the No. 2 seeded Crusaders upset seemingly invincible No. 1 Seton-La Salle in the WPIAL championship.
“We were happy that Canevin won (the WPIAL title),” Bordonaro said. “They deserved it. That gives us more confidence. We all know we didn't play like we can. We looked scared like a deer in headlights. We know we can play them closer if we see them again in states.”
Burrell could see Bishop Canevin in the quarterfinals.
Burrell had its team banquet Sunday.
“It wasn't all crying and emotional,” Bordonaro said. “We were just hanging out and eating food at Mogie's. Then it was like, ‘See you tomorrow at practice.'
“We don't want the season to be over yet.”
Tipton also would enjoy a rematch with Beaver Falls down the road.
“They never stop and they never seem to get tired,” Tipton said of Beaver Falls, which couldn't face the Vikings again until the semifinals. “For us, it's all about how we react from (losing). If we see them again, it's a blessing.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.