'Cinderella' Sewickley Academy advances to PIAA semifinals
The Sewickley Academy boys basketball team is in the midst of an improbable state playoff run that coach Win Palmer said is reminiscent of a certain iconic Disney character whose name tends to pop up annually in March.
Last week, the Panthers beat District 6 champion Homer-Center, 48-38, then cruised past the state's No. 2-ranked team, Farrell, 62-46, in the PIAA Class A quarterfinals.
The victories set up a matchup Tuesday against Kennedy Catholic — the consensus top-ranked team in the state — in the PIAA semifinals.
Palmer said he's not surprised how well his team has played to date, but he still is not shying away from expressing how proud he is with their results.
“I guess you can say it's the Cinderella thing,” Palmer said. “We're playing some really talented teams. Our guys believe in each other and what we're doing as a team.”
Sewickley Academy played solid defense in each game, most notably against Homer-Center. They were able to stifle Homer-Center's interior offense, a strength Palmer said they game-planned for in the days leading up to their matchup. Chris Groetsch and Nate Ridgeway each tallied 14 points.
Dan Salter-Volz and Matt Rooney played tough man-to-man, interior defense to keep Homer-Center's big men in check.
Sewickley Academy came out firing against Farrell. As a team, the Panthers were 24 of 30 from the free throw line, shot 57 percent from the field and were 4 of 9 from 3-point range. The consistent shooting, combined with suffocating defense, kept Farrell's hot shooters in check.
Groetsch scored a game-high 23 points and was 13 of 15 from the foul line in the fourth quarter.
“Our defensive focus during this stretch has been incredible,” Palmer said. “Offensively, we've just spread the ball around, and we're not asking anyone to come out and be the hero on a given night. I feel like anybody on the court can score, and that's how you have to play.”
Kennedy Catholic has been a thorn in the side of the upper tier of WPIAL contenders. This season, it beat Allderdice, Lincoln Park, Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic and Sewickley Academy.
Palmer hoped the earlier 79-63 loss to Kennedy Catholic could provide insight for the semifinal matchup.
“What's fun for our guys is that we take the same attitude, and everyone digs down and plays together,” he said. “We're not thinking about the last play and the next play. We just focus on whatever is happening in the moment. If we do that, who knows?”
The winner advances to Friday's 2 p.m. PIAA Class A championship game against the winner of Math, Civics & Science and Constitution.
Brian Graham is a freelance writer.