Kiski Area can't overcome two-time champ Gateway
For about three quarters, it was a relatively smooth ride for the Kiski Area's boys basketball team in its playoff opener.
The Cavaliers led by as many as 13 Wednesday night in their Class AAAA first-round game against Gateway at Plum.
But then came that queasy feeling opponents can get from facing Gateway, a team with a been-there-won-that sense of self confidence that radiates from senior leaders. For Kiski Area, it was like spending too much time in the wave pool after a big meal.
This was one unpleasant visit to Boyce Park.
Senior guard Dennis Boyce scored a game-high 23 points and swiped eight steals to rally the two-time defending WPIAL champions to a 24-point fourth quarter and a 56-45 victory over Kiski Area.
The ninth-seeded Gators (16-5) advance to face No. 1 New Castle (23-0) in Saturday's quarterfinals.
Kiski Area, which put together a co-section title and picked up the No. 8 seed, ends its season at 16-6.
Boyce is a three-year starter who won back-to-back titles. He helped the Gators come back from an early, 25-12 deficit and get to within 29-24 at the half. When he split two defenders for a layup late in the third to get the Gators to within 33-30, Kiski Area knew Gateway had life —and about nine minutes left to prove it still isn't ready to give up the keys to the Palumbo Center.
But thanks to Boyce, Gateway's bus driver might have to hand over his.
“Dennis Boyce did it all for us tonight,” Gateway coach Mitch Adams said. “I think he's probably going to drive the bus home.”
Boyce scored eight points in the final five minutes.
“Boyce was fantastic,” Kiski Area coach Harry Rideout said. “He's been doing that for them. He put in a wonderful effort and turned the game around.
“I didn't feel comfortable when we were up five. You could sense they were going to make a run. We weren't able to match their intensity.”
Gateway turned the tide in the fourth, opening the quarter with a 13-0 run, including a pair of inside hoops by Delvon Randall and a breakaway layup by Boyce to give the Gators a 43-35 lead.
Kiski Area went more than a minute without a point before Mike Simmons hit a 3-pointer with 4:12 left.
Joey Brungo, who tied senior Nick Stone's team-lead with 12 points, made a free throw to get the Cavs within 43-39.
But it got worse for Kiski Area from there. Two steals led to easy hoops for Boyce, who fueled another spurt, this time 9-2 to put the Gators ahead 52-41 with 1:02 left.
Defensive pressure seemed to wear down Kiski Area late.
“They handled our press for about six minutes because we went half-court man-to-man for the rest of the game and put pressure on them,” Adams said. “Kiski Area has some good shooters, and I thought our guys did a good job of closing out on them.”
Kiski Area's best play came in the second quarter. A 10-2 run, with 3s by Simmons and Stone, had Kiski Area ahead, 25-12.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.