Aliquippa coach says team's ready for challenge in PIAA semis
Mike Zmijanac's team has trailed only once all season. It has outscored opponents, 709-64, invoked the so-called “mercy rule” in all but two games, scored at least 34 points in each of them and allowed more than seven only twice.
Aliquippa is two weeks removed from its 15th WPIAL title and two victories away from its third PIAA championship.
Still, Zmijanac has a complaint about a Quips roster that has been close to flawless so far this season.
“They don't bring their socks back after every game for us to use them next week,” the gregarious coach deadpanned. “They're supposed to bring them back to us, but instead they take them home and keep them.”
Laundry aside, Aliquippa has done little wrong heading into a PIAA Class AA semifinal against Richland 7 p.m. Friday at North Allegheny.
Coming off a 55-15 quarterfinal rout of Karns City, the Quips have scored the fifth-most points in Pennsylvania history. The only time they have trailed this season was 6-0 in the first quarter against Ellwood City on Oct. 12 (Aliquippa would go on to win, 54-12).
Zmijanac has plenty of time to fret about socks — one thing he's not concerned with is how his players will react if or when they face adversity.
“That's something that doesn't enter my mind,” Zmijanac said. “Two of those guys started as freshmen when we lost to Greensburg Central Catholic (in the WPIAL title game) and (seven) started as sophomores when we lost to South Fayette (at Heinz Field the following year).
“So they've faced adversity before. They know what it feels like to lose, and they don't like it very much.”
Neither does Richland, which, like the Quips, is 14-0. The Rams won the District 6 championship for the first time two weeks ago and beat District 10 champion Hickory, 38-12, in the quarterfinals last week.
This is the furthest Richland has advanced into the PIAA playoffs since the tournament began in 1988. Aliquippa is making its eighth semifinal appearance. The Quips have played in four PIAA title games, but they fell one step short last season in a 20-19 semifinal loss to Tyrone.
That game, 361 days ago, was the most recent time Aliquippa faced anything remotely resembling a possible defeat late in a game. Fourteen times this season, the Quips have taken the field; on each occasion, the outcome was decided well before the start of the fourth quarter.
There's been no need to maintain a razor-sharp focus from kickoff through to the final whistle, but Zmijanac has no doubt it will be there when Aliquippa needs it.
“We have a good program, and when you have a good program, kids stay focused,” Zmijanac said. “You can ask North Allegheny or Clairton that, too. You get to play another week is the idea; there's lots of teams that have to be challenged to keep their focus now that are practicing basketball.”
All of Aliquippa's football players, as they so often are into December, remain tied up late into another season.
The Quips, however, have lost in their previous two semifinal appearances since winning the 2003 PIAA championship. Each of those two losses was by one point, including to Tyrone last season.
“We always use that as motivation,” Aliquippa quarterback Malik Shegog said. “We always say, ‘Day One started the day after that game.' ”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.