South Allegheny boys make long awaited return to postseason
If there is one team that can relate to playing meaningless basketball over the final week of the season, it's South Allegheny.
The Gladiators are two years removed from a winless season and haven't played meaningful February basketball — or had a winning record for that matter — in a decade.
So, once again, South Allegheny heads into the final week of the season without much to play for, but don't dare call it meaningless.
South Allegheny (13-7, 7-3) clinched its first playoff berth since 2003 last week, but with Greensburg Central Catholic already securing the Section 3-AA title, the final week of the season has a brought on a different meaning.
“It's for playoff seeding and we take that seriously,” second-year coach Tony DiCenzo said. “We want the second seed and we control our own fate (with games against Springdale and Serra Catholic). It matters a lot and they haven't been able to say that for a while around here.”
To put it in perspective, the last time South Allegheny made the playoffs, or even had a winning record for that matter, was when DiCenzo was a senior guard at West Mifflin — a year after the Titans played in the state title game.
Since then, the Gladiators have won only 59 of 224 games heading into this season.
“I won't name any names but there were people within the South Allegheny community who told me that this was the worst high school basketball job in the WPIAL,” DiCenzo said, “that I had to be crazy wanting this job and saying that these kids just aren't winners.”
DiCenzo and his players have proven them wrong.
And if last week's close loss to a dominant GCC (15-2) team was any indication, South Allegheny can surely be a scary team in the playoffs.
“That game was definitely a gauge for us,” DiCenzo said. “We also never want to lose a game, but if we are going to take something from that game it is that they are an upper-echelon team and we hung right with them.”
SA is led by forward Ty Cook, who did not play as a junior. Cook leads the team in scoring, followed by guard Kordell Thompson and forward Jeiron Lewis. Point guard Harry Matczak and forward Derek Vargo make up an all-senior starting lineup with juniors Dylan Papson and Johnny Perkins coming off the bench.
South Allegheny isn't the only team that has an important week ahead.
Section 4-AAA will take four playoff teams and all four will be local. Thomas Jefferson (17-2, 9-1) is in the driver's seat to claim the championship, but one hiccup over its final two games — Steel Valley (13-3, 7-3) on Tuesday and West Mifflin (10-5, 6-4) on Friday — could allow Elizabeth Forward (15-3, 8-2) to grab a share of the section. TJ can clinch at least a share of the title Tuesday at Steel Valley. TJ beat Steel Valley, 84-57, last month. Steel Valley is 7-0 at home, winning by an average of 27 points.
In Class A, last year's runner-up Clairton (6-5, 4-2) has played only 11 games in nearly two months. The Bears have clinched a playoff spot out of Section 3-A but have four section games left — Carmichaels, Geibel, Mapletown and Monessen. The Bears have an outside shot at the section title.
In Quad-A, Norwin (11-8, 5-5) can clinch a playoff spot Tuesday with a win over Connellsville (10-9, 4-6). The Knights could miss the playoffs with two losses to end the season.
Serra (8-11) will miss the playoffs for the first time in a decade while McKeesport (9-10), Woodland Hills (0-19), Yough (4-16) and East Allegheny (0-17) are out as well.
On the girls' side, Norwin and Elizabeth Forward can sew up section titles this week.
Norwin (14-5, 11-1) can claim a share of Section 1-AAAA championship with wins over Kiski Area (0-18, 0-12) Tuesday and Penn-Trafford (15-4, 12-0) Thursday while Elizabeth Forward (16-2, 9-1) can clinch a share of the Section 4-AAA title with a victory Wednesday at red-hot Ringgold (11-8, 6-5) and also can claim the outright section crown with a home win Thursday against rival Belle Vernon (15-4, 8-2).
Phil Shar's Thomas Jefferson girls (10-8, 5-5) need to win their final two Section 4-AAA games against Waynesburg (0-10, 2-15) Tuesday and West Mifflin Thursday or win one of two and have Elizabeth Forward beat Ringgold on Wednesday. TJ is out with two losses.
West Mifflin (13-5, 7-4) is pretty much locked into the No. 3 spot in Section 4-AAA with only a game Thursday at Thomas Jefferson remaining.
Serra Catholic (18-2, 9-0) clinched its second consecutive Section 4-A title and 14th in school history on Monday. Serra's only two losses were to Class AAA's Belle Vernon and defending Class A champion Vincentian.
The majority of the remaining seven district girls' teams have long been eliminated except for McKeesport (8-11, 3-7). Eric Smith's team was bounced from the Section 2-AAAA race Friday when Penn Hills upset Plum.
The rest of the area teams — Woodland Hills (1-17), Yough (2-17), South Allegheny (2-16), East Allegheny (3-14), Steel Valley (1-16), Clairton (0-16) — have a combined 9-96 record.
The WPIAL playoff pairings meeting is Feb. 11.