Section 1-AA wide open in boys basketball at halfway point
Asked about the state of competition in Section 1-AA boys basketball at the halfway point of the schedule, almost every one of the member teams' coaches gave the same assessment.
Anyone can beat anybody on any given night, or some slight variation has become the refrain throughout the section, which is unique among the WPIAL as the only one that has both a leader with a section loss and a last-place team with a section win.
“It's great to be 4-1, but wow, these are going to be a tough five games coming up,” said Deer Lakes coach Jon McKay, whose Lancers (9-5 overall) sit atop the standings. “All five of those teams (Apollo-Ridge, Burrell, Ford City, Summit Academy, West Shamokin) scare me.”
Until about a week ago, the section's playoff picture appeared fairly straightforward. Burrell (9-4, 3-2) was unbeaten in the section, with all three wins coming by at least 17 points. Apollo-Ridge (11-3, 3-2) had just one loss, 55-33, which came at Burrell. And Deer Lakes, yet to meet Burrell, owned an 87-69 loss at Apollo-Ridge.
West Shamokin (7-6, 2-3) initiated the wild week by beating Burrell, 74-69, in overtime at home Friday. On Tuesday night, Ford City (4-10, 1-4) surprised Apollo-Ridge, 51-48, at home in overtime, and Deer Lakes topped host Burrell, 48-44.
“Really, it's the mentally strong team that's going to get the wins, because you go through so many highs and lows,” Burrell coach Rob Niederberger said. “I think we got a little too high on ourselves.”
Burrell remains imposing with its core of 6-foot-plus forwards, opposing coaches agree. Apollo-Ridge still features an explosive, guard-oriented attack that averaged more than 70 points earlier this season..
“They've all pretty much caught on to us,” said Apollo-Ridge coach Matt Gourley, whose Vikings have increasingly seen zone defense and have consequently scored 55 points or fewer in their last three contests. “We've got to get better in our half-court offense.”
But Deer Lakes, with its eight seniors, has found role players who've stepped up to complement standout scorer Tim Jaczesko (23.4 points per game) and put the Lancers in position for a section title.
“You could tell they were ticked off every time they read” season previews praising Burrell and Apollo-Ridge, McKay said. “We didn't talk about it. We just used it as motivation.”
West Shamokin's formula for success mirrors Deer Lakes, with Anthony Rocco (19 points per game) leading the offense.
“If Anthony is the only guy on that night, it's going to be very difficult to beat a good team,” West Shamokin coach Mike Nagy said.
Ford City's underclassmen-heavy lineup has shifted to a more deliberate half-court approach. And Summit Academy (4-9, 2-3) represents a wild card due to the ever-changing nature of its roster.