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Healthy Gateway comes alive to advance to basketball quarterfinals

Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Gateway's William Thomas scores past Upper St Clair's J.J. Conn (35) and Nick Staley (20) during a WPIAL Class AAAA playoff game Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, at Baldwin.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Gateway's William Thomas scores past Upper St Clair's J.J. Conn (35) and Nick Staley (20) during a WPIAL Class AAAA playoff game Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, at Baldwin.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Gateway's Thomas Kromka fights for a rebound with Upper St. Clair's Nick Staley (20) Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, at Baldwin High School.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Gateway's Thomas Kromka fights for a rebound with Upper St. Clair's Nick Staley (20) Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, at Baldwin High School.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Gateway's Thomas Kromka (left) and Daylon Harris defend on Upper St. Clair's Will Ross Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, at Baldwin High School.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Gateway's Thomas Kromka (left) and Daylon Harris defend on Upper St. Clair's Will Ross Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, at Baldwin High School.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Gateway's William Thomas scores past Upper St. Clair's J.J. Conn (35) and Nick Staley (20) Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, at Baldwin High School.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Gateway's William Thomas scores past Upper St. Clair's J.J. Conn (35) and Nick Staley (20) Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, at Baldwin High School.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Upper St Clair's J.J. Conn (35) gets past Gateway's Montae Nicholson Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, at Baldwin High School.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Upper St Clair's J.J. Conn (35) gets past Gateway's Montae Nicholson Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, at Baldwin High School.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Upper St. Clair's Conor Gallagher scores past Gateway's Montae Nicholson Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, at Baldwin High School.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Upper St. Clair's Conor Gallagher scores past Gateway's Montae Nicholson Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, at Baldwin High School.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review - Gateway's Thomas Kromka scores over Upper St. Clair's Will Ross (00) Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, at Baldwin High School.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review</em></div>Gateway's Thomas Kromka scores over Upper St. Clair's Will Ross (00) Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, at Baldwin High School.

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Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 10:27 p.m.
 

This Gateway lineup certainly didn't resemble a No. 12 seed.

Delvon Randall scored 21 points, and teammates Thomas Kromka and Shomari Thomas each had 17 in Wednesday night's first-round victory over No. 5 Upper St. Clair, 68-50, in the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs at Baldwin. After the first quarter, the Gators never trailed.

“They were way better than (No. 12), but I don't think the committee realized that,” said USC coach Danny Holzer, whose Panthers (16-7) were the Section 4 champions. “They should have been a nine or 10 seed. No question.”

Gateway (14-9) entered the playoffs having lost five of its final seven regular season games, but showed what its tall, athletic lineup dotted with Division I athletes can accomplish.

Injuries and illness have been among Gateway's toughest foes.

“We've been banged up and sick all year,” Gateway coach Mitch Adams said. “Hopefully, this is the last I'm going to see of sickness.”

Thomas had missed the past six games with a concussion, yet had 12 points in the second half. Randall missed time this season with pneumonia. Kromka dealt with a broken nose and back trouble, but was dominant inside.

Gateway, which won WPIAL titles in 2011 and 2012, will face No. 13 Kiski Area in the quarterfinals. Kiski also pulled a first-round upset, beating No. 4 Plum, 50-40.

“I'll play anybody with a healthy team,” Adams said, “and we're healthy right now.”

The lead changed hands four times on four consecutive baskets in the first quarter. The first came on a reverse layup by USC's J.J. Conn to take a 7-6 lead at 3:40. The fourth lead change, a jumper in the lane by Kromka with 2:10 left, was the game's last. Kromka gave Gateway a 10-9 lead it never lost.

Gateway used a 17-5 run to build a double-digit lead in the second quarter. The Gators led 12-11 when a 3-pointer by Thomas and a breakaway dunk by Kromka sparked the run.

Randall and Kromka both had 10 first-half points and Gateway held a 33-21 halftime lead.

“Our No. 1 thing was to keep them off the boards and, two, to take away transition,” Holzer said. “We really didn't do either one because their athleticism is really impressive.”

Gateway's lead reached 18 points when Randall took a pass from Montae Nicholson in the lane and scored from the right block with 4 minutes left in the third quarter. The Gators led 41-23.

Consecutive 3-pointers by USC's Andrew Wheeler and Thomas Steve to end third quarter cut Gateway's lead to 45-35. Another three by Steve 10 seconds into the fourth circled the inside of the rim but flew out.

“If he makes that three to cut it to seven, it might be a different game,” Holzer said. “But their athletic talent just overwhelmed us.”

Wheeler led USC with 12 points. Conn and Conor Gallagher each had 11.

Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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