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Burrell/Apollo-Ridge WPIAL final is a possibility

| Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, 12:16 a.m.
Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch Burrell's Jake Prefling (left) defends the ball against Apollo Ridge's Alex Smith during the basketball game at Burrell High School on January 8, 2013.

Burrell versus Apollo-Ridge in the WPIAL Class AA boys basketball championship?

Could happen — really.

If both teams win semifinal games Wednesday night at North Allegheny, they'll meet Saturday afternoon on the WPIAL's grandest stage — Duquesne University's A.J. Palumbo Center — for the title.

A far-fetched notion when the season began, an all-local final could become reality if the teams continue to barnstorm the upset trail.

Alle-Kiski teams haven't met in a WPIAL basketball championship since Har-Brack played Ford City in 1938.

“Whoever gets hot is the team that makes a run,” Burrell coach Rob Niederberger said. “At this point, we have nothing to lose.”

Burrell (18-6) faces No. 6 seed Quaker Valley (20-4) at 6 p.m. Wednesday, with Apollo-Ridge (18-7) taking on No. 1 and defending champion Beaver Falls (21-3).

In a wild quarterfinal doubleheader that propelled both teams into the Final Four, Apollo-Ridge edged No. 4 Jeannette and Burrell clipped No. 2 seed Greensburg Central Catholic, with both games at Plum.

The WPIAL final in Class AA is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Palumbo Center. The potential A-K final has the area buzzing with basketball interest.

“I think it's awesome for the section,” said Mark Ziemianski, a former Burrell boys coach who now serves as an assistant with the girls. “Section 1 always gets bad-mouthed. It's been that way for years. This shows these teams can play with some of the best.”

Seeing Burrell and Apollo-Ridge make playoff runs is bittersweet for other Section 1 coaches.

“It's made it a frustrating week,” said Deer Lakes Jon McKay, whose Lancers lost in the preliminary round to Shady Side Academy after sharing the Section 1 title with Burrell. “We beat both Burrell and Apollo-Ridge. On the other hand, it kind of validates what we did. You try to take some positives out of it.”

McKay also thinks the teams making it this far helps his section's stock.

“We were saying all along, this section is way better than people give it credit for,” McKay said. “Nobody wanted to hear that. Hopefully, the accomplishments of Burrell and Apollo-Ridge will give credence to that.”

One Apollo-Ridge senior guard wouldn't mind another shot at the school in which he shares a name.

Lukas Burrell assures he has no relatives on Burrell's team. The two pronunciations are slightly different.

“It's one of those funny things,” Burrell said. “I guess it's just happened that way.”

Burrell, the player, said his team is starting to believe it belongs among the WPIAL's top teams, even though the Vikings, like the Buccaneers, were not seeded in a packed Class AA bracket.

“At the beginning of the season, it never crossed my mind,” Burrell said. “We've had our ups and downs, but we knew at some point, we could come together.”

Burrell beat Apollo-Ridge twice this season, 55-33 and 57-41. In the first meeting, the Bucs' Cole Bush scored a career-high 33 points and grabbed 19 rebounds.

“I'm not shocked at all that they're in the semifinals,” McKay said. “We lost to both teams. Apollo-Ridge throttled us the first time we played. If you'd have asked me if they could get to the WPIAL finals, I'd have said, sure.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com.

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