East Allegheny earns 1st playoff berth since '96
Considering the way East Allegheny players were celebrating in their locker room Tuesday after an 83-59 victory over Belle Vernon, someone unfamiliar with the situation might have thought they had just won a WPIAL championship.
Instead, the Wildcats did the next best thing: They put themselves into title contention.
East Allegheny (11-9, 6-5) clinched no worse than a fourth-place finish in Section 4. The school has locked up a spot in the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs, which are scheduled to begin Feb. 15.
Many schools might take a postseason appearance for granted, but the Wildcats had reason to cut loose after they ended one of the longest playoff droughts in the WPIAL.
“This is big,” East Allegheny senior Shawn Adair said. “We haven't made the playoffs in a long time, and we knew that if we came in to work every day, put our time in the gym and worked as a team, that this day would come.”
East Allegheny, which has never won a WPIAL boys basketball championship, had not qualified for the WPIAL playoffs since 1996. Only West Greene, which has not been to the postseason since 1992, has a longer current dry spell.
The Wildcats reset their goals with two games remaining in the regular season.
“We've got to stay focused just like we have been,” East Allegheny senior Joel Randolph said. “It's our ambition, and we've got to keep moving forward. We're trying to get EA their first championship.”
Randolph was a key figure in the clinching game. He scored a career-high 31 points and had a team-leading 16 rebounds. It was an outstanding night, but the reason for it was because the Wildcats were caught flat-footed by a Belle Vernon game plan designed to shut down guard Jordan Williams.
“They went into a box-and-1 on Jordan, which left Shawn Adair open and Joel Randolph open,” East Allegheny coach Vernon Benson said. “That's the luxury of having three guys that can score. It's tough to go with a triangle-and-2 and a box-and-1 because we have other guys that can score.”
Though Williams was held to only six points — well below his team-leading average of 17.6 — both Randolph and Adair, who chipped in 20, picked up the slack. East Allegheny also got bench contributions from Martel Crosby, who chipped in 11 points, including three 3-pointers.