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High School Sports

At midpoint of season, Section 3-AAAA still up for grabs

| Thursday, Jan. 16, 2003

Nearly six weeks of basketball have settled just about nothing in Section 3-AAAA.

The teams in the most tightly-packed race in the WPIAL will take a much-needed break from section play until Friday as the first half of the schedule is completed.

"We knew going into the season that everybody was going to be good," said Pine-Richland coach Dave DeGregorio, whose team has won three in a row since an 0-3 start. "But this is crazy."

Here is a look at the wild and wacky seven-team section:

= Every team is within two games of first place.

= Every team has at least two victories and two losses. Only two other sections in the entire WPIAL are without an undefeated first-place team, and both of those sections are led by once-beaten teams.

= Every other section in the WPIAL has a bottom-feeder last-place team with either none or one section victories.

"We just need to win to games," Butler coach Joe Lewandowski said. "You can say it's jumbled up, but if we don't win games, nothing changes."

The teams have taken their turns beating each other in a crazy game of six degrees of separation.

Already this season, Butler beat North Allegheny, which beat Pine-Richland, which beat Seneca Valley, which beat Shaler, which beat North Hills, which beat New Castle, which, of course, beat Butler.

"As long as I've been around here, I've never seen anything like this," said Lewandowski, in his fifth season in the area.

The games are nearly as close as the section standings. New Castle, North Allegheny and Seneca Valley already have been part of two overtime games this year.

"Every game is a big game," DeGregorio said. "That's the truth."

The logjam has provided some hope for last-place teams Butler and North Allegheny, who can use a two-game winning streak to vault into legitimate playoff contention.

It also has given fair warning for first-place teams Shaler and Seneca Valley, who know any second-half let-up could mean a disappointing February.

"It's not like other sections, where one or two teams are running away with it," Lewandowski said. "We're not out of it. If you were 2-4 in years past, that would be a huge mountain. It's still a mountain, but we have hope."

The Section 3-AAAA schedule for Friday night is Butler at North Allegheny, North Hills at Shaler and Seneca Valley at New Castle. Pine-Richland plays host to Vincentian in a non-section game.

Butler has lost its past three section games. But the Golden Tornado can shake up the section when they play North Allegheny, Shaler and North Hills in an eight-day span beginning Tuesday.

Seneca Valley and Shaler are tied for first place at 4-2, but injury-plagued Shaler is coming off a 72-36 loss to Connellsville.

New Castle, the Section 3-AAAA pre-season favorite, is part of a three-way tie for third place, but beat No. 2 Penn Hills on Sunday.

Pine-Richland is the hottest team in the section with consecutive victories over North Hills, Butler and Seneca Valley.

North Allegheny has lost two section games in a row, but plays its next five section games at home.

The top three teams from Section 3 — plus any ties that can't be broken — will make the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs. The race should come down to the final night of section play, Friday, Feb. 7.

"I think it's about doing the little things to get a little bit better in the second half of the season," DeGregorio said.

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