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Playoff-bound coaches can only speculate their WPIAL bracket fate

| Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, 11:36 p.m.
Erica Dietz | for the Tribune Review
Highlands’ John Crise attempts to score past Armstrong’s Joe McCanna during the first quarter Friday, Jan. 6, 2017.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Leechburg's Makenzie Fello drives around Vincentian's Tess Belko during the WPIAL Class 2A conference game at Leechburg Senior/Junior High School on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017. Leechburg lost 76-41.

Sally Ackerman enjoys the pomp and circumstance surrounding the WPIAL basketball playoff pairings meeting, even if she wishes sometimes it would go more quickly.

Representatives from 157 boys and girls basketball playoff qualifiers will convene at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Green Tree to learn their postseason fate. The playoffs begin later this week.

“I think it's nice that they bring everyone down and give the section champs plaques out, so they get a little bit of recognition for working hard and winning a section,” said Ackerman, the St. Joseph girls coach.

“I wish they could just throw it up as soon as you walk in the door so that everyone knows right away instead of leading up to it, but I guess that's the fun of it also, waiting to see when your class gets put up and looking for your name as fast as you can. It's a little bit of suspense.”

Every year at this time, basketball coaches can engage in their own version of “Bracketology” to try to figure out their team's seeding and first-round opponent. That means plenty of guesses about what the WPIAL basketball pairings committee might value most.

Valley boys coach Mark Faulx said he spoke to a number of people to see how the Vikings would compare to other third-place teams in Class 4A.

“I'm not really good at that stuff — this is what people are telling me,” said Faulx, who led Valley to the playoffs for the first time since 2011 and the first time in his tenure. “It's kind of hard to figure out how they're going to put that all together because I do think, even though we only have 11 wins, our losses have been (strong). We've played New Castle, Canon-McMillan. We've played a lot of good teams.”

Several Alle-Kiski Valley teams did the same as Valley, loading up nonsection schedules with higher-classification or highly regarded teams in the hopes it could make a difference come playoff time. The Burrell boys might be the poster children, enduring a 10-game losing streak early in the season while playing predominately higher-level teams before posting a 7-3 section record.

The Highlands boys, who made a run to the WPIAL Class AAA championship game last season, played Pine-Richland (21-1), Lincoln Park (18-4), Penn Hills (19-3) and Moon (17-4).

The Golden Rams (12-10), who returned four starters from the WPIAL runner-up, went through inconsistent periods that included a four-game midseason losing streak but closed the regular season with five wins in six games.

“It's hard to speculate,” Highlands coach Tyler Stoczynski said. “We had success last year and we played a tough nonsection schedule; however, in our own section we finished third. There's a lot of variables, and regardless of where we land, we'll be ready to go.”

Likewise, the Leechburg girls (13-9) played a high number of teams from the WPIAL's upper classifications and also posted a significant victory over Brentwood in their section finale.

“I'm hoping that they recognize how well we played at the end, and the fact that if you look at our nonsection schedule, we didn't play any A teams (aside from No. 1 Winchester Thurston), we didn't play any AA teams,” Leechburg coach Joel Ceraso said. “We played pretty much all 4A and 5A teams.”

Some local teams could benefit from playing in the same section as a potential No. 1 seed — the Leechburg boys in Section 1-AA with Greensburg Central Catholic (21-0); the Burrell, Deer Lakes and Freeport girls in Section 1-4A with defending state champion Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic (19-2); and the St. Joseph girls in Section 3-A with Winchester Thurston (18-1).

Others could be hurt in their seeding by a perceived stronger section in the same classification: boys Section 2-4A, which includes New Castle, Quaker Valley, Beaver Falls and Central Valley, for instance, figures to get better seeding than Section 1-4A, which includes Deer Lakes, Freeport and Valley.

Adding some extra intrigue this season is the PIAA's new six-classification system, which will reward byes to teams in every class but boys AAA and girls 5A. The St. Joseph girls may have given themselves a chance at a bye — or at least a better seed — with a win last week over Section 1-A co-champ Quigley Catholic.

“We secured a playoff spot rather early this year, and that didn't slow them down,” Ackerman said. “They kept the gas going, and we're ready to rock and roll.”

Although guessing games can be fun, the coaches are more than ready to find out who they will play when the real games begin.

“We talk about it a little bit, potential opponents, to see if maybe we can figure out where we need to start scouting,” Stoczynski said. “But really, we just let the chips fall where they may and go from there.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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