West Shamokin girls, Ford City boys step into rugged WPIAL Class AA matchups
With a playoff win for each, West Shamokin's girls and Ford City's boys basketball teams are set up to face a pair of powerhouses.
The Wolves meet No. 1 Seton-La Salle, the defending WPIAL and PIAA champ, for the second straight season at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Baldwin, while the Sabers square off with No. 1 Aliquippa at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Moon in WPIAL Class AA first-round games.
Even with the daunting matchups on paper, neither team is intimidated by their opponent. The Wolves (12-11) lost to the Rebels (15-7) last year, 61-33, but West Shamokin's players feel they are better off as a result of that experience.
“I think we're all pretty excited. We're a different team, and Seton-La Salle's a different team,” Wolves senior Lizzy Cornish said. “We're just going to go out, play hard and not back down.”
The Rebels are a different looking team without the size of current Pitt freshman Yacine Diop or junior college player Naje Gibson in the paint, but guards Cassidy Walsh and Nicolete Newman are Division I recruits leading this year's Seton-La Salle team.
“It's a big deal for us. Not many teams from West Shamokin get an opportunity like this,” Wolves junior Steph Schrecengost said. “We definitely have different players on both teams (from last year), but we're both trying to do a lot of the same things.”
Ford City (13-10) faces an Aliquippa (21-0) team that has plenty of history behind it with 10 WPIAL titles, but it's the present team that the Sabers are amped up to face.
“They are a better team than us, but all you have to do is beat them once. That's what we're focused on these next two days,” Sabers senior Blake Bower said. “We started today with film on them, and by the start of practice, I could see in everyone's face that they were ready to work a lot harder to get ready.”
What the Sabers saw on film is the team ranked No. 1 in the state and the highest-scoring Class AA team in the WPIAL at 76.7 points per game.
Against that athletic, up-tempo attack, Ford City knows its best shot at staying in the game is to slow the pace and try to keep the scoring in the 40s or 50s.
“They are a really strong team. They're up-tempo and they take care of the ball,” Sabers junior Brandon Heilman said. “We really need to not turn the ball over and give them the chance to get easy buckets in transition.”
Ford City's players still have another day to work on the Xs and Os to prepare for Aliquippa, but what the Sabers already have down — just as their female counterparts at West Shamokin do — is the right attitude to go into a playoff game as a heavy underdog.
“Everyone knows what Aliquippa is about, football and basketball, but I think some teams don't go in with the right mindset and (Aliquippa) is in their head going into the game,” Bower said. “It's going to be a game where both teams make runs, but you can see it in everyone's eyes (for Ford City). There's no doubt in anybody.”
“Even if you're playing against a team like Seton, it's still just playing a game of basketball,” Schrecengost said. “It's just playing like you can and moving on after one play is over and thinking about the next.”