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Valley, Highlands set for rubber match

Bill Beckner Jr.
| Thursday, Feb. 19, 2009

Valley boys basketball coach Vern Benson said the "Battle for the Bridge" isn't just reserved for football.

Valley and Highlands once waged intense battles for bragging rights on the gridiron, thumping one another on cold Friday nights.

But, "the basketball guys talk about that, too," Benson said. "They want to win it, too."

Assuming the bridge reference still pertains to the hoops rivalry, Section 1-AAA rivals Valley (15-8) and Highlands (17-6) will decide who gets symbolic possession of the Tarentum Bridge -- at least for this season -- as the sometimes heated rivalry moves indoors to the hardwood, with plenty at stake.

After splitting their season series, the Highlands and Valley will meet for the third time at 6:30 p.m. Friday in the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals at nearby Plum High School.

"From what I hear, people better get there early," Benson said. "People are going to pack it in."

The game is starting at 6:30 p.m., rather than the customary 8 p.m., so that Plum can accomodate the crowd. The Oakland Catholic-Penn Hills girls game will follow. Fans can buy one ticket for both games.

Valley won the first game against Highlands, 86-67. Highlands took the second one, 73-70.

"We're all pumped up," Highlands senior guard-forward Jeff Sinclair said. "This is really going to be fun."

The teams haven't met in the postseason since 1970, when they staged a tiebreaker game after section play. That game, not a true WPIAL playoff game, was played at Geneva College.

Friday's winner will clinch a berth in the PIAA tournament. The loser can still qualify, but will need help.

Valley advanced to the quarters with a 64-50 victory over fourth-seeded Laurel Highlands on Tuesday at Gateway. The Vikings led by as many as 19 early, and saw that lead dwindle to five in the fourth quarter before pulling away.

Highlands, the No. 5 seed in the tournament, calmly defeated Indiana, 82-57, in the first round, burying 13 3-pointers at Fox Chapel.

One player to watch is Highlands junior guard Mike Trenski, who transferred from Valley in the offseason. He was a target of the Valley student section in the teams' first meeting at Valley. Trenski, who leads the Golden Rams in scoring, was heckled every time he touched the ball.

Highlands fans will likely return the favor, trying to rattle Valley scoring threats such as forward Troy Hill and shooting guard Bryan Rayburg.

"I do the morning announcements on the TV, and I already told everyone, 'You have to be there booing him again like you did last time,' " Rayburg said. "The student section is going to be there, definitely. It's going to be wild."

Additional Information:

WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals

Valley (15-8) vs. Highlands (17-6)

When: 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Where: Plum High School.

Winner plays: Chartiers Valley/Blackhawk winner in semfinals.

Of note: Winner makes state playoffs.

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