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St. Joseph girls draw No. 6 seed in WPIAL playoffs

| Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, 11:24 p.m.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
St Joseph's Alex Jones works on her file shooting during a recent practice, Friday Dec 2, 2016.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Freeport's Kim Mixon and Deer Lakes' Victoria Kelbler both grab a rebound during the WPIAL Girls WPIAL Class 4A Section 1 (4A) game at Freeport Middle School on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017.
Erica Dietz | for the Tribune Review
Deer Lakes’ Abby Buechel and Cassidy Chmura (right) react to winning the basketball game against Burrell on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017.
Erica Dietz | for the Tribune Review
Burrell’s Eliza Oswalt flies through the air as she scores past Freeport’s Ashley Sullivan (24) and Sidney Shemanski (22) during the fourth quarter of the basketball game at Burrell High School on Monday, Feb. 6, 2017.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Leechburg's Cam Davies pressures Vincentian's Alana Winkler on a full court press during the WPIAL Class 2A conference game at Leechburg Senior/Junior High School on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017. Leechburg lost the game, 76-41.

St. Joseph girls basketball coach Sally Ackerman was all smiles as she took her seat early at the WPIAL basketball playoff pairings meeting Tuesday at the DoubleTree Hotel in Green Tree.

After all, Ackerman knows nothing can be taken for granted each year after the Spartans missed out on the postseason in 2016.

“It was really nice (being there),” Ackerman said. “It was a tough season last season. It makes you understand that you have to work for it, and it doesn't just come to you. If you're going to get (to the postseason), you really have to want to get there, and they want it this year.”

St. Joseph (15-7) landed the No. 6 seed in the girls Class A bracket and will make the short trip down Route 28 to Fox Chapel for a noon tipoff Saturday against No. 11 Avella (11-11). Avella finished fourth in Section 2-A.

“I don't really know a lot about them,” Ackerman said. “On (Monday), they played Springdale and we did a drive-by for the first quarter and saw three minutes of the game (on our way to) practice.”

The first-round matchup proves to be interesting as the Spartans grew stronger as the season progressed, losing just twice since the calendar flipped to 2017. Avella won five of its last seven games.

“Most coaches will say that their teams are ready for the playoffs, and we had two tough games against Butler and Quigley,” Ackerman said. “I think they're ready, and the only thing we have to do is stay sharp on our fundamentals.”

The Spartans beat both Butler and Quigley Catholic last week and would face No. 3 Quigley (15-7) in the quarterfinals if they beat Avella. Quigley tied for first in Section 1-A with No. 2 Cornell.

St. Joseph's section rival Winchester Thurston earned the top seed and Section 2-A champion West Greene came away as the No. 4 seed.

In the Class 4A bracket, Freeport (13-9) drew the No. 7 seed and will face No. 10 Elizabeth Forward (12-10) at 3 p.m. Saturday at Fox Chapel. Elizabeth Forward finished third in Section 3-4A.

“I'm happy with our seed, and I'm definitely happy with where we're playing,” Freeport coach Fred Soilis said. “I kind of thought that we would be a six or a seven (seed). I'm pleased and we had a good season, and it would be a better season if we could win a playoff game.”

Section 1-4A rival Deer Lakes (9-12) earned the No. 12 seed and will meet No. 5 Beaver (12-5) at 3 p.m. Saturday at North Hills. Beaver finished third in Section 2-4A.

“It's good to be getting back into the playoffs, and it's the third year in a row that Deer Lakes has made it,” Lancers coach Dave Petruska said. “They're in a tough section, and I know they're going to be a tough team, but we're going to prepare as best we can.”

Burrell (9-13), which received the No. 2 seed each of the last three postseasons, this time grabbed the No. 11 seed and will play No. 6 South Park (14-8) at noon Saturday at North Hills. The Bucs are looking to extend their four-year PIAA playoff streak.

Section rivals Burrell and Freeport have a chance of meeting in the semifinal round. Section 1-4A champion Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic earned the top seed, with Blackhawk coming in at No. 2, Ambridge No. 3 and Keystone Oaks No. 4.

In Class AA, Leechburg (13-9) drew the No. 8 seed and will travel to Northgate on Friday for a 6:30 p.m. tipoff against No. 9 Burgettstown (15-7). The Blue Devils, in the playoffs for the second straight season, are looking for their first-ever postseason win. Burgettstown finished third in Section 1-AA.

“I don't really know much about Burgettstown,” Leechburg coach Joel Ceraso said. “I know they're pretty good. I like the draw, really. I'm not displeased, I'm not overly excited, I'm a little apprehensive; I'm just glad to be here.”

Chartiers-Houston earned the top seed in the Class AA bracket, followed by Vincentian, Greensburg Central Catholic and OLSH.

“Hopefully, we're fortunate enough to advance, and that's the next step. That's what I hope,” Ceraso said.

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

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