Seneca Valley routs No. 5 Central Catholic
Rather than take a playoff approach, Seneca Valley coach Victor Giannotta treated this like just another section game.
And his Raiders won by 31 points.
“This validates how good our section is,” Giannotta said of Saturday's 72-41 victory over No. 5 Central Catholic in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAAA basketball playoffs at North Hills High School.
This was a fourth-place team from one section beating the champion of another, but the coach insisted that not all sections are equal. The league's pairings committee respected Section 3 enough to award the bracket's first three seeds to New Castle, North Allegheny and Hampton. But fourth-place Seneca Valley (16-7), seeded No. 12, proved the section's talent runs even deeper.
“Frankly, there's no doubt in my mind that anyone in our section would have made the playoffs in any other section,” Giannotta said. “Our top three teams and us would vie for a section title in any other section.”
Central Catholic (16-6) was the Section 2 champion, one season after leaving Section 3, and entered the playoffs with an eight-game winning streak.
The Raiders approached playing their old section opponent the way they've prepared all season.
“Nothing changed,” Giannotta said. “No practice changed, no preparation changed.”
No. 4 Upper St. Clair (20-3) awaits Seneca Valley in the quarterfinals.
R.J. McCauley scored 26 points and Easton Bazzoli added 22 for Seneca Valley, which began with a 7-0 run and never trailed. McCauley scored 10 of his team's first 15 points.
The Raiders used their disruptive zone defenses to force Central Catholic into turnovers.
“It was important to get ahead,” McCauley said. “We played great defense, and great defense led to great offense.”
Seneca Valley held a 38-16 halftime lead after Bazzoli slammed through an emotional buzzer-beating dunk. The emotion was much different for Central Catholic, which entered the locker room with the same number of turnovers as points.
“You don't ever win a game at the end of a quarter,” Giannotta said, “but when Bazzoli made that dunk at the end of the half, our kids were in the locker room and the Central kids were still sitting on the bench.”
A cutting layup by McCauley pushed the lead to 30 with 4:45 left in the third quarter. Central Catholic was held without a basket in the third and scored just two points, free throws by David Urso.
Seneca Valley's lead peaked, 53-18, after the third. It would have grown larger if not for Urso, who scored 10 of his team-high 19 points in the fourth quarter.
The teams combined for 28 free throws in the fourth. Seneca Valley made 13 of 17.