Top-seeded Pine-Richland tops North Hills for 3rd time this season
As the standing-room crowd filtered out, Andrew Petcash finished his 30-point night with a breakaway dunk.
As he often does, the 6-foot-4 senior led the way Wednesday as No. 1 seed Pine-Richland earned a return trip to the WPIAL finals with an 85-62 victory over No. 5 North Hills in a Class 6A semifinal at North Allegheny.
But it wasn't Petcash's work alone.
Pine-Richland had four scorers reach double figures, which included a well-timed, 19-point effort from senior Evan Luellen, who averages 8.6. Rams coach Jeff Ackermann urged his team to find more scorers to complement Petcash and junior Phil Jurkovec, a pregame message that Luellen embraced.
“In the last game, a few of the starters combined for not even double figures,” said Luellen, who was one of them. “Somebody had to come out and take care of business.”
This semifinal was a rematch of last year's WPIAL Class 4A final that Pine-Richland won 73-50.
With three layups, a short jumper and three foul shots Wednesday, Petcash and Luellen combined scored Pine-Richland's first 11 points as the Rams sprinted to an 11-4 lead in the first four minutes and never trailed.
The victory carries Pine-Richland (23-1) back to the finals for a matchup with Butler at 9 p.m. Saturday, at Petersen Events Center. Pine-Richland twice defeated Butler, 56-55 and 64-59, in the regular season.
“We have some new guys (in the lineup) who were there last year but maybe didn't experience it all that much,” Ackermann said. “Now they get to come back and be a bigger part of it.”
Jurkovec had 17 points Wednesday and sophomore Andrew Kristofic added 11, but Luellen's effort was key. The 6-foot-guard scored 12 first-half points, made two 3-pointers and pushed Pine-Richland to a 42-32 halftime lead.
“If we get four guys in double figures, we're really hard to beat,” Ackermann said. “We shared the ball well, and Evan Luellen stepped up. He was attacking the basket and making 3s.”
Nick Smith led North Hills (19-6) with 22 points, Kamron Taylor had 15 and Andrew Paulauskas scored 12.
This was the third meeting this season between the section rivals. The first two were much closer — 65-63 and 72-71 — but Pine-Richland won them all.
“We got beat by a better team tonight,” North Hills coach Buzz Gabos said. “The first time we played them, we felt: ‘Hey, we can play with them.' The second time it was a tale of two halves, and we were right there. Tonight, it was like an uphill battle the whole time.”
A layup by Paulauskas cut Pine-Richland's lead to 46-39 midway through the third quarter, but it returned to double figures on layups by Luellen and Jurkovec. Pine-Richland led 61-49 after three, and North Hills was outscored 24-13 in the fourth.
North Hills has a spot in the state playoffs secured, but this loss left the Indians locker room quiet and somber. This was the third year in a row North Hills reached at least the WPIAL semifinals.
“There's just a lot of emotion,” Gabos said. “This group has been together and had success over a three-year period. The hard thing is you don't have a trophy to show for it, but that doesn't make it any less special.”
Pine-Richland had Jurkovec guard Smith, a 26-point scorer who played Wednesday in a knee brace. Gabos declined to discuss the injury. Smith scored 32 and 27 points in the regular-season matchups with Pine-Richland.
“He's the best scorer in the WPIAL that we'll go against,” Jurkovec said. “Coaches wanted to put some more size and athleticism on him, so they gave me the challenge.”
Jurkovec, a Notre Dame quarterback recruit, is 6-5. Smith, who is 6-1, made just six field goals and finished 1 for 7 from the 3-point arc.
“We made some adjustments defensively that really, really paid off for us,” Ackermann said. “We slowed Nick Smith down this time. The first two times he did whatever he wanted. We knew we had to slow him down.”