Sewickley-area teams have high hopes for boys basketball playoffs

Matt Grubba
| Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, 11:54 p.m.

Three area boys teams are in the WPIAL basketball playoffs, and all three are contenders to be gearing up for the PIAA tournament in two weeks.

Quaker Valley enters the Class AA tournament ranked No. 4 in the final Tribune-Review rankings, and Eden Christian and Sewickley Academy — ranked Nos. 2 and 3 in Class A — could be on a collision course for a rubber match when the WPIAL tournaments begin play Friday.

The playoff pairings were announced Tuesday night, after this edition's deadline, but all three teams projected to be among the top seeds.

Sewickley Academy (20-2) wrapped up its regular season Saturday with a 66-51 win over Class AAA Hollidaysburg in the Hoops for a Cure event at North Allegheny. Chris Groetsch scored 22 points for the Panthers, who pulled away after entering the fourth quarter tied 42-42.

“We knew nothing about (Hollidaysburg) prior to seeing them on the floor. They were physically strong, they hit six 3s in the first half and have an inside player who really dominated the first half,” Panthers coach Win Palmer said.

“It was set up like a playoff game, in a big gym with no clear crowd rooting for one team or the other, and we had to adjust on the run. I was proud of the way our guys made adjustments. Hollidaysburg is as good of a team as we've beaten all year.”

Adjusting has been a big focus for the Panthers since their late-December loss to state No. 1 Kennedy Catholic. Sewickley Academy largely has been successful employing an up-tempo style, but Palmer has been teaching his team how to steady the pace when needed because of matchups and game situations.

“After playing Kennedy and seeing Farrell and Monessen, we learned we can't outrun and outscore teams like that,” Palmer said. “Our goal is to try to win a championship. You have to take into account other teams' styles, and midway through the year, we started learning how to play slow because that's the kind of game you get in the playoffs.”

Palmer mentioned WPIAL No. 1 Monessen by name and said the Greyhounds are the favorite.

Five other teams won section titles in Class A — Jeannette and Clairton shared a title, as did Sewickley and Eden — and Palmer said any of those six could reach the final. Because of that, he said he's not concerned whether his team is seeded second, sixth or in between.

“In my mind, six teams can win it all, and probably 10 or 11 can get to the semifinals (and state tournament),” Palmer said.

“It should be a fascinating tournament because there are so many good teams with different styles.”

Eden Christian (19-3) wrapped up its regular season Monday with a 67-59 win over Vincentian Academy as the Warriors showed they're ready to put their defensive mindset against up-tempo opposition like the Royals. Blake Carpenter led all scorers with 26 points for Eden, which has won 11 straight since a Jan. 2 loss to Quaker Valley.

As for the Quakers (18-4), their regular season ended Monday with a 64-58 loss at Class AAA Central Valley despite 17 points apiece from Coletrane Washington and Amos Luptak.

The loss shouldn't affect Quaker Valley's seeding in the Class AA tournament, where coach Mike Mastroianni said his team and its fellow Section 5-AA qualifiers should make some noise.

Top-ranked Aliquippa, QV and No. 5 OLSH — the third-place team — are likely to avoid a preliminary-round game. Ten of the 21 teams in the bracket, possibly including a strong fourth-place Avonworth team that split the season series with the Quakers, will not be as fortunate.

“We've been tested in our section, playing against Aliquippa and OLSH and Avonworth,” Mastroianni said last week. “I think all of those teams can win a couple games in the playoffs.”

Matt Grubba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mgrubba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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