WPIAL runner-up Sewickley Academy bounces back in PIAA tournament
Sewickley Academy's streak of 10 consecutive wins came to an abrupt halt at the hands of Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic in the WPIAL Class A championship game Feb. 26.
Panthers coach Win Palmer's first task once the pain subsided was to motivate his players and let them knew they had a second chance in the PIAA tournament.
“Initially there was a lot of frustration (after the WPIAL championship) and disappointment because we went in fully thinking we could win,” Palmer said. “That's why sports is an incredible feature in life.
“What you want to happen doesn't always happen. You have to deal with the next obstacle.”
Palmer said the Monday after the title game loss, his team entered the gym licking their still fresh wounds. By Tuesday the task of beating McConnellsburg was at the forefront of their minds.
“I think we did a good job leading up to that week,” Palmer said. “Our whole thing was we're here (in states) and not by a favor from anyone. We deserve to be here, and the result kind of said the rest.”
The result Palmer referred to was a 45-25 rout of McConnellsburg that earned them a date in the second round against District 6 champion Homer-Center (26-0).
Senior Nate Ridgeway led the way with 18 points and junior Chris Groetsch added 14. Palmer said the play of senior point guard Scott Brown was superb, and the energy off the bench by juniors Teddy McClain and Declan Hickton was paramount in assuring the Panthers (24-3) got back to their winning ways.
Palmer said his team came out energized and focused early on. He said the 17-16 halftime lead was reflective of the Panthers' nerves at the offensive end. They came to life in the second half and caught fire, putting the game away in a fourth quarter in which they outscored McConnellsburg, 20-5.
“I'm very happy with the way we played and sure initially we were nervous, but I think we worked through it well,” Palmer said. “We kept focus on defense, and personally I'd rather the nerves be from not shooting the ball crisply because I knew that was a matter of time until they found a rhythm.”
Palmer said having the opportunity to play in the postseason is great for a program but also fun in the schematic sense. Because the nature of postseason basketball is do-or-die, it forces the coaching staff and its players to prepare each night for a different beast to assure it lives to play another day.
“In the playoffs, you have to adjust to different strengths from different very good teams,” Palmer said. “I love to make players understand it's less about who they are playing but what they do and what they do well.
“Just as other teams are going to try to do to us, we just have to focus and try to limit their success, and I think that'll be a fun challenge.”
Sewickley Academy's second-round game was played after deadline for this edition. The winner advanced to play the winner of District 9 champion Elk County Catholic (26-0) and District 10 runner-up Farrell (20-6) in the quarterfinals Friday.
Brian Graham is a freelance writer.