Sewickley Academy boys look forward to PIAA tournament
It has been an awesome two-year run for the Sewickley Academy boys basketball team.
And it's not over yet.
The No. 2 Panthers advanced to the WPIAL Class A championship round, where they fell to fourth-seeded Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, 50-36, last week at Petersen Events Center.
The loss snapped a 10-game winning streak for the Panthers, who will meet McConnellsburg (21-4) at 7:30 p.m. Friday in North Catholic's gym in the first round of the PIAA Class A tournament.
“Obviously, you've got two great teams down here. It's a great experience for these kids,” said Win Palmer, Sewickley Academy's coach, following the WPIAL title game. “I think (advancing to the WPIAL finals) really sets the tone for us for the future. We have great kids. They are reflective guys.”
Sewickley Academy (23-3) has compiled a 55-5 record over the past two years — including a perfect 21-0 regular-season record in 2014-15 — and won section titles both years.
This season, the Panthers have relied on the backcourt prowess of 6-foot-1 senior Scott Brown, and juniors Chris Groetsch and Justin Pryor.
Groetsch, a 5-10 guard, leads the team and ranks among the leading scorers in Western Pennsylvania.
He took a 19.6 ppg scoring average into last week's championship game, where he scored a team-high 13 points.
Pryor, a 6-2 guard, averages around 15 points per game, while Brown runs the offense and is the team's assists leader.
Also in the starting lineup are forwards Daniel Salter-Voltz, a 6-4 senior, and freshman Nate Ridgeway, a 6-3 freshman, who have provided solid scoring and rebounding in the Panthers' frontcourt this season.
Palmer rotated four reserves into the lineup versus CWNC — junior Dave Groetsch and senior Ryder MacDougall in the backcourt; junior forward Matt Rooney in the front court; and Declan Hickton, a 6-4 junior swingman.
Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic (18-8) won its sixth game in a row with its unyielding defensive performance in the championship game.
“That's North Catholic basketball,” Dave Long, the Trojans' coach, said. “That's what we stress; just trying to not get in footraces up and down the floor. We know that we're not completely blessed with all facets of the offensive game. We like to stress that defense.”
The Panthers' scoring output was their lowest in the past two years.
“We didn't shoot well at all. I don't know if it's the different environment or we just didn't shoot well. And North Catholic played good defense, too. I think all of those were factors,” Palmer said. “We just didn't run. We allowed North Catholic to slow us down.”
CWNC, which started out 0-5 in 2015-16, has won 16 of its past 17 contests.
The Trojans were sparked in the championship game by junior boardman Kenny Fukon (13 points) and junior guard Zach Offi (12 points), who combined for exactly half their team's point-total.
“North Catholic had us thinking on offense,” Hickton said. “It's hard to get in rhythm when you're thinking. They just slowed it down.
“Thankfully, we have a week (off). We'll be ready.”
Sewickley Academy, which started off 8-0 and 13-1 this season, defeated the Trojans, 55-42, in a nonsection game on Jan. 30.
“The first game actually was a low-scoring game,” Palmer said. “The difference was I think we gave up some easy layups (last week), and gave them some easy points.”
SA defeated Springdale, 63-36, Vincentian Academy, 76-70, and Jeannette, 69-68, in the first three rounds of the playoffs.
The Panthers staged one of the greatest comebacks in WPIAL playoff history in the semifinal round, erasing a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit against No. 3 Jeannette. The score was 62-41 with 4:30 left in the game.
Ridgeway ended up banking in the game-winner off a Brown assist with just 0.8 seconds remaining.
“That was a great win,” Brown said. “We celebrated, then we kind of blocked it out.”
CWNC edged No. 1 Monessen, 79-77, on a buzzer-beater in overtime in the semifinal round.
Sewickley Academy, which tied for first place in Section 1 with Eden Christian, averages 68.5 ppg offensively, and actually owns a lower defensive average (46.2 ppg) than North Catholic.
The Section 2 champion Trojans average 58.4 ppg offensively, and 48.7 ppg defensively.
Brown, Salter-Volz and MacDougall are the only seniors on the SA team, as the Panthers have 10 juniors, two sophomores and one freshman on their varsity roster.
Ray Fisher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5820 or firstname.lastname@example.org.