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AAA playoffs have sectional feel

| Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2005

The WPIAL Class AAA girls basketball tournament has turned into an exclusive party -- only Section 2 schools are invited.

All four semifinalists -- Blackhawk, Hopewell, Montour and Moon -- hail from Section 2-AAA.

"It's something else," Hopewell coach Chris Raso said.

The semifinal monopoly is believed to be unprecedented in Western Pennsylvania history, in any sport.

"It has to be, as far as I'm concerned," WPIAL executive director Larry Hanley said. "I remember three out of four ... in football, but never all four. Now, that's not to say it didn't happen before, but not as far as I can remember."

Fittingly, the teams will play at the same site -- Ambridge High School -- in the semifinals.

Montour (17-6) will play Blackhawk (14-11) at 6:30 p.m. tonight, and Hopewell (19-4) will play Moon (19-6) at 8 p.m. on Wednesday.

The winners will meet at 1 p.m. Saturday at A.J. Palumbo Center in an all-Section 2 WPIAL Class AAA championship game.

"We know our section is going to win the title," Blackhawk coach Mike DeChellis said.

No. 2 Hopewell and No. 3 Moon were favored to reach the semifinals. They went 10-2 in Section 2 and tied for first place. But third-place Montour (9-3 in the section), the No. 8 seed, needed a victory over top-ranked North Catholic to survive.

Fourth-place Blackhawk (7-5), the lowest seed still alive in the girls playoffs at No. 12, upset Indiana in the first round and beat Knoch in overtime on Friday.

Three teams from one section have reached the semifinals many times in basketball and other sports.

In fact, three of four boys basketball classifications are dominated by one section. In Class AAAA boys, three from Section 4 (Chartiers Valley, Mt. Lebanon, Upper St. Clair), in Class AAA, three from Section 2 (Hopewell, Moon and West Allegheny) and in Class A, three from Section 4 (Duquesne, St. Joseph and Vincentian).

But a Final Four from one section is virtually unheard of. It requires at least four teams in the playoffs -- which doesn't happen in many other sports -- and a bracket in which all four can reach the semifinals without crossing paths. And that's the easy part.

"It's a tribute to our section," DeChellis said.

The Section 2-AAA quartet is 8-0 in the post-season, and all four have clinched PIAA playoff berths. Everybody else in the WPIAL Class AAA is a combined 4-12 in the playoffs. "We were the fourth team, but I felt we were good enough," DeChellis said. "We told the girls before the playoffs that nobody out there is any better than the teams we've played in the section. They might be as good, but they're not better."

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