A-K Valley teams learn much from last year's playoff runs
The Burrell girls basketball team played in six playoff games last season, three in the WPIAL, three in the PIAA bracket.
Despite the half-dozen bonus games, the Lady Buccaneers walked away feeling incomplete, the bystanders at the side of a pinball machine being operated by somebody else who was racking up the high score.
But it's a new postseason now and with all of that playoff experience in hand and a much better feel for the big-game pressure, Burrell wants its chance to pull back the spring-launcher and light it up, with all the accompanying bells and whistles.
“We wanted to take care of business in the section, now we have bigger goals in mind: WPIAL championship, state championship, but it's one step at a time,” said junior point guard Sydney Bordonaro who, along with her teammates, takes a 22-0 record into the playoffs.
Burrell carries with it expectations greater than any local girls team has seen in years. The No. 2 seed in Class AA, the Lady Bucs will open the playoffs Tuesday. After going as far as its 1994 team did last season, Burrell has plans to take its sole place in school history — its brimming for that chance — and do so with a been-there-before demeanor.
“Last year we definitely learned to keep composure during games,” Bordonaro said. “In the WPIAL semifinals, we didn't play our game. If we come out and play our basketball, we will be good.”
A number of other Alle-Kiski teams also can lean on what they did last year as they begin playoff quests.
The Apollo-Ridge boys (18-3) made it all the way to the Class AA semifinals after starting out in the preliminary round. The Vikings will start there again, but with greater knowledge of what it takes to advance.
Another playoff run wouldn't come as much of a surprise now.
“I think that the run last year gives us an edge mentally,” Vikings coach Matt Gourley said. “These guys know and believe that anything can happen and if you let your guard down, even for one second, and it's over.”
Girls teams at Fox Chapel (17-4) and St. Joseph (18-4) open the playoffs as top-5 seeds with 2012-13 resumes that include unfulfilled stops in the quarterfinals. Lessons were learned.
“After losing last year we all learned that it's not all about which team has more talent, it's about the team that works the hardest,” said Fox Chapel senior forward Erin Mathias, whose team is seeded No. 3 in Quad-A. “In the playoffs anything can happen on any given night. That's why you have to give it everything you got every time you step on the court.”
St. Joseph upset Class A No. 5 Avella in the first round last season but begins this tournament in the No. 4 spot.
“We are going to be more aggressive this year,” senior forward Mallory Heinle said. “We will take it to the other team from start to finish and not have passive possessions. That is the way we have been playing all season and it has been successful.”
The Burrell boys soft-shoed their way into the Class AA championship game, then underwent sweeping change in the offseason. The coaches changed, graduation rebooted the roster and new faces had to emerge to match a new scheme. Despite a 6-15 record, the Bucs are back in the Class AA tournament, and junior Joey Cox can offer his advice from that crazed run to Palumbo.
He said the younger players have to “Just to think in the present and don't worry about making mistakes. Stay positive and don't let playoff nerves affect how you play.”
Sounds easy enough. But the playoffs are about poise and protecting leads. The Knoch boys won a prelim game last year and have the potential to go farther as the No. 6 seed in Class AAA.
Style could be the difference-maker for Knoch (16-4), which lights the way with a defense-first philosophy.
“We're the most unique team in the WPIAL,” Knoch senior guard Austin Miller said. “We can play half-court and hunker down on defense. Teams like Chartiers Valley just want to run all day. We play a different way and it works for us.”
Like giving that pinball machine an extra bump and knocking out the power cord.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.