Quaker Valley, Sewickley Academy boys basketball teams 2 wins from PIAA titles
Two teams, two schools, each two wins from a state title.
That's where things stood after Saturday afternoon, when Quaker Valley and Sewickley Academy both advanced to the PIAA boys basketball semifinals with quarterfinal wins in their respective bracket.
The Quakers (25-3) knocked off District 3 runner-up Middletown, 77-66, in a Class 4A game at Altoona. At the same time, Sewickley Academy (24-4) beat Greensburg Central Catholic, 61-46, in Class 2A at Baldwin.
Up next for the teams were Tuesday's semifinals, played after deadline for this week's edition.
QV was scheduled to meet a powerful team from Erie Strong Vincent (26-3), which knocked off New Castle, 68-43, in a battle between the District 10 and WPIAL champs. Sewickley Academy, on the other hand, sees a familiar foe in Bishop Canevin (22-5). The Panthers and Crusaders met three times already, with SA winning the most recent game in the WPIAL semifinals.
Weather caused last week to be a condensed one for both teams as second-round games were moved to Thursday because of snow. The move didn't affect the Quakers, who made short work of Grove City, 64-42, at North Allegheny.
“We had extra time built in with the pushback on the date, and it was probably a good thing at the time,” QV coach Mike Mastroianni said. “But then the short turnaround between the Grove City game and the Middletown game, because we have a lot of guys who have done this before and have spent a lot of time game planning, that didn't hurt us much.”
All five QV starters scored in double figures against Middletown (22-6), located just east of Harrisburg. The Quakers trailed 17-16 after one quarter, but seized momentum at the end of the first half with two late baskets.
Wolf Moser found Danny Conlan, who led the team with 20 points, for a basket to put QV ahead by eight. An unforced turnover by Middletown gave QV the ball for the last shot of the half, and Amos Luptak's pull-up jumper stretched the halftime lead to 37-27.
“We probably left some opportunities out there that we'd normally finish in the first quarter, but we had a good last minute of the second quarter to pull away,” Mastroianni said. “Those were big baskets. We were probably up 18 or 20 midway through the third and were able to keep a good lead.”
Sewickley Academy opened up an early lead on GCC (25-2), but the Panthers' big push came in the third quarter after going to halftime with a 24-19 lead. The Panthers began to spread the floor and run more effectively, led by 19 points from Justin Pryor.
GCC made a push to close the gap late — the Centurions cut the margin from 20 to nine with the help of some unnecessary fouls that frustrated Panthers coach Win Palmer — but Palmer's team made 11 of 16 foul shots in the final quarter to maintain the edge.
“We told the guys we're going to bring them in (Sunday), just for a little film session to go over a few things,” Palmer said, adding praise for the effort even when the aggression needed to be dialed back.
“Our practices are mostly defense because we've got some great offensive skill guys. They buy into it, and they don't go, ‘This isn't fun,” because they know it's going to make them better. ... Mentally, that takes a long while to pick up.”
For the Panthers, who are bidding for their first state title since 2010, it is the second straight appearance — fifth overall — in the semifinals after losing to eventual Class A state champ Kennedy Catholic at that point last season.
Quaker Valley has lost twice in the state semifinals (2006, '12) since beating Windber in their first appearance in 1999. The Quakers lost in the Class AA final that season to Annville-Cleona.