WPIAL title-game run ends for Gateway with New Castle loss
The past three postseason runs for the Gateway varsity boys basketball team involved a stop at Duquesne University's A.J. Palumbo Center.
The Gators celebrated WPIAL titles on that court in 2011 and 2012 and were runners-up in 2010.
Saturday's 87-55 loss to New Castle ended the run to a third WPIAL title and another Palumbo Center visit for the Gators, but Gateway head coach Mitch Adams knew his team still had a good chance to secure a spot in the PIAA playoffs for the fourth year in a row.
And it came down to if No. 1 seed and favored Red Hurricanes could continue its undefeated charge Wednesday against Seneca Valley in the WPIAL semifinals.
Five teams from WPIAL Quad-A enter the PIAA playoffs next week, and the four semifinalists automatically are entered.
The fifth spot is determined by the WPIAL's follow-the-leader format that has been in place for more than a decade.
The team the WPIAL champ defeats in the quarterfinals also earns a spot in the PIAA tournament, so after Saturday's quarterfinal game at Ambridge High School ended, Gateway became huge New Castle supporters.
“Hopefully, if New Castle wins (the WPIAL title), it will pull us in, and we get another shot at New Castle. I would like that,” Adams said.
Wednesday's WPIAL Quad-A semifinal games were to be played past the deadline for this week's edition.
Gateway is 19-5 in the postseason the past four years, including a 12-2 mark in WPIAL tournament games.
“The kids know what it takes to get it done in the playoffs,” Adams said.
Adams gave the team Monday and Tuesday off from practice, and, he said, practice for a potential state playoff rematch with New Castle would resume Wednesday.
“They needed to get away from me for a little bit,” Adams said.
“It was a chance for them to heal up and get healthy. We've had some colds and flu, and it was a good chance for them to relax a little bit.”
The WPIAL runner-up will face the top team from the City League, while the third place team from the WPIAL will face the champion from a District 9-10 subsection.
The fourth-place WPIAL team will be matched up with the District 6 champ.
Gateway hung with New Castle for the first quarter and the early part of the second quarter on Saturday. Senior Jordan Landfair connected on two field goals to put the Gators ahead, 14-8 with 3:48 to go in the first.
New Castle responded with an 8-0 run fueled by two of the team's 11 3-pointers.
Another Red Hurricane 3-pointer late in the first quarter gave the hosts a 21-18 lead after one.
Gateway trailed 27-26 three minutes into the second quarter, but New Castle went on a 19-7 run to close out the half.
The Red Hurricanes hit four more 3-pointers during the second-quarter spurt and led 46-33 at the break.
“D.J. got into foul trouble, and I had to sit him. Tommy got a charge called on him, and then the wheels fell off,” Adams said.
“We were able to execute and do what we wanted for the first quarter and a half, and if we were able to continue to do what we wanted, it might have been a different ball game. I don't know if we would've beat them, but New Castle is as good a team as I've seen. They defend, they handle the ball and they shoot it and rebound the ball extremely well. Ralph Blundo does a great job up there.”
Gateway committed eight turnovers in second quarter and six more in the third, and New Castle extended its lead to 26 at 66-40 at end of third quarter.
Landfair had 10 points in the first quarter and finished with a team-best 16 for the game, while junior Delvon Randall added 11 points, including nine in the second quarter.
It was the first time Gateway allowed 80 or more points in a game since Franklin Regional scored 81 in an 81-75 victory over the Gators on Jan. 30, 2009 — a span of 107 regular-season and playoff games.
Gateway won its final four games of the season in 2009 after that loss to the Panthers, and it set up the recent run of success for the Gators.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.