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Albert Gallatin gains newfound respect

| Monday, Feb. 26, 2007

Albert Gallatin has toiled in anonymity throughout this season, calmly building a solid 18-6 regular-season record and earning a spot in the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs.

"There's not too many people that know about us," Albert Gallatin coach Dan Andria said. "We sort of on the outer fringes of the WPIAL and nobody really gives Section 1 any credit."

After Saturday afternoon, however, there was nowhere for the Colonials to hide. Not after a stunning 80-73 upset of No. 1-ranked Moon, a three-time defending champion in Class AAA looking to add its fourth straight title after being moved up a classification this season.

Albert Gallatin (20-6) will play Pine-Richland (18-7) in the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Canon-McMillan High School for the right to play for the title Saturday at Palumbo Center.

"We knew coming in that Moon was a very good team and that they had won three Triple-A championships in a row and they were going for a fourth, but we just went in and played," Andria said. "Our kids play good defense, but I think you have to play good defense in the playoffs."

Perhaps what Albert Gallatin's win really showed against Moon was just how balanced the WPIAL's highest classification is this season. There were no undefeated teams in Class AAAA, three teams entered the playoffs with at least 20 wins and none of the qualifiers finished the regular season with a sub-.500 record.

In fact, the four teams in the semifinals -- Albert Gallatin, Pine-Richland, Bethel Park and Fox Chapel -- represent each of the four sections in the classification. Of those four, only second-seeded Bethel Park has won both of its games in a rout, beating Hempfield by 30 and defending champion Mt. Lebanon by 20. No. 3 Fox Chapel has been taken to the brink of elimination by both Latrobe (54-53) and Central Catholic (54-51).

"Section 1 had two teams in the final eight and Latrobe came within a shot of making it three," Andria said. "When you see that there's only one team from each section, you can say that it is really balanced this year."

What could shift the equilibrium Albert Gallatin's way against the Rams could be the stockpile of talented seniors on its team. The Colonials are led by 6-foot-8 senior forward Jawaan Alston, a University of Buffalo recruit who scored a game-high 24 points in the win over Moon.

Though Alston may be the team's go-to player, he needs the others around him to step up their game for him to play at a high level. Alston is not a prototypical center, even though that's his station for the Colonials because his strength is ball distribution. When teams collapse on him and he kicks it out to an open man for a shot is when Alston is at his best.

What also helped Alston and Albert Gallatin down the stretch was the return of senior forward Nate Turner from shoulder surgery that sidelined him all of last year. He scored 17 points against Moon and is a perfect complement to Alston in the paint.

"Turner got hurt again a couple weeks ago with an ankle sprain and that set him back," Andria said. "But in the two playoff games, he's been really focused and played strong inside."

Well enough to change Albert Gallatin from anonymous to contender.

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