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Basketball

McKeesport girls summer hoops league primed for playoffs

| Sunday, June 21, 2015, 9:57 p.m.

When Eric Smith started the McKeesport Girls Basketball Summer League eight years ago, he didn't imagine how it would grow.

Nor the increased workload and responsibility that comes with an expanded field.

“When we started it, there were 12 teams,” said Smith, the McKeesport High School girls coach. “We've seen lately anywhere from 23 to 26 teams a year. We've gotten a routine down with many of the same people doing the same things.

“It's tough to run, but it's sure easier than it was years ago.”

The league heads into the playoffs Monday having just completed a nine-game regular-season schedule in varsity and junior varsity divisions.

Norwin Gold (9-0) won the Varsity Division regular season with a lineup heavy with players from last season's WPIAL Class AAAA champion and PIAA semifinalist. Norwin Gold defeated Bethel Park, 46-43, in overtime, sending Bethel Park (8-1) to second place with its first loss.

While many teams within a tight radius of McKeesport took part in the league, a handful of squads traveled long distances to play.

“It's been a great experience for our girls,” said Blairsville coach Ralph McGinnis, whose Bobcats won the District 6-A championship and like Norwin, advanced to the PIAA semifinals. “We weren't sure we'd get a chance to play in this league this year. The competition is great for us.”

Blairsville, the only team outside the WPIAL, applied for membership in the McKeesport league but originally was told there were no openings.

“I got a call late from Eric, who said, ‘You're not going to believe this” McGinnis said. “We had some teams drop out, if you're still interested.

“We pulled the team together and we went down there and played. The first couple games were rough. We were missing some kids and we had to go with the eighth- and ninth-graders. It was a great way to get them some experience, though.”

Blairsville, which also plays in the Indiana County summer league and is on a waiting list to play in Hollidaysburg, won just twice during the regular season at McKeesport. But McGinnis said the Bobcats benefitted by the level of competition.

Smith said several teams, including WPIAL Class AAAA power Pine-Richland, are not participating in the playoffs.

“Coaches all have difference agendas with their teams this time of year,” he said. “In the case of Pine-Richland, they're going to be attending a college camp. Peters Township elected to pull out because some of their players said they'd be on vacation.

“As long as teams get something out of this, it's worthwhile for them.”

Playoff games are scheduled at three sites on the McKeesport campus.

In Monday's preliminary-round games, Ringgold faces Belle Vernon and McKeesport plays Elizabeth Forward at Neenie Campbell Gymnasium, and Norwin Blue plays Thomas Jefferson and Woodland Hills meets Mt. Pleasant at Auxiliary Gymnasium in Varsity Division games.

In the Junior Varsity Division, McKeesport battles Woodland Hills, with the winner meeting Thomas Jefferson at Neenie Campbell, while Mt. Pleasant and Penn-Trafford face off for the right to play Baldwin at Auxiliary.

The McKeesport High School gymnasium also will be used for later-round games, which will be Tuesday through Thursday.

Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dmackall@tribweb.com.

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