Thursday, January 30, 2014

Chartiers-Houston takes leap forward with win over Wash High

With the WPIAL basketball regular season winding down, any coach will tell you that every section game is important. The difference between finishing second in your section and finishing in third is critical for seeding in the WPIAL playoffs.

Chartiers-Houston (6-3, 12-4) took a step in the right direction on Wednesday night when the Bucs defeated Wash High, 63-59. The victory gives Chartiers-Houston a season split between the Prexies and with Seton-La Salle having a stronghold on first place, the game was important for the Buccaneers and head coach Eugene Briggs.

Chartiers-Houston could not overcome a slow start in the two teams’ last meeting on Dec. 17, which ended with the Bucs losing, 75-58. This time around, Chartiers-Houston’s 28-point first quarter and perfect free throw shooting down the stretch sank Wash High. The win puts the Bucs just one game behind the Prexies (7-2, 13-5) in the standings and are gaining momentum at the perfect time.

On Wednesday night, the Bucs had three double-digit scorers: Alec Ferrari (12 points and six assists), Kodie Hanley (17 points and 15 rebounds) and AJ Myers (12 points). Wash High, led by Nate Swart’s 18 points, drew within 10 points at the end of the third quarter, but Char-Houston went 7-for-9 from the free throw line in the final eight minutes to seal the win.

Chartiers-Houston is in perfect position to make a run at second place. The Bucs’ next two games are non-section matchups against Avonworth and Carrick. They have just three games remaining in Section 4-AA play: Brentwood (Feb. 4), Bishop Canevin (Feb. 5) and Fort Cherry (Feb.7). In contrast, the Prexies must face first place Seton-La Salle at home Friday night before finishing the season against South Fayette (Feb. 5) and Burgettstown (Feb. 7).

The win may seem like a small step at the tail end of the marathon that is the WPIAL basketball season, but Chartiers-Houston now controls their destiny. After missing the playoffs last season, the Bucs are in position to grab better seeding when playoff pairings are announced on Feb. 11.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Frey picks Mercyhurst after successful year at McGuffey

Patrick Frey almost intercepts a pass against
South Fayette on Aug. 30 

Patrick Frey’s decision to transfer to McGuffey from Trinity paid off.

The 5-10 205-pound fullback and linebacker enrolled at McGuffey to join the school’s Vocational Agriculture Program. With his former football coach Ed Dalton leading the Highlanders, the move was a perfect fit
Paired with junior James Duchi in McGuffey’s read-option offense, Frey rushed for a team-high 1,290 yards and 22 total touchdowns (19 rushing). He was McGuffey's leading tackler on defense as a safety and linebacker. He added three sacks and three interceptions for the Highlanders. Frey was selected first-team All-Century Conference on offense and defense, as well as earning a spot on the Observer-Reporter’s Elite 11.

With several colleges offering Frey scholarships, the senior has made a decision. Frey will continue his football career at Mercyhurst College. The Lakers, who are losing 15 players to graduation, finished last season with a 7-4 overall record and 4-3 in PSAC play. Frey is unsure what position he will play at the next level, but told Mercyhurst’s coaching staff that he did not have a preference toward offense or defense. He simply wanted to continue playing football.

Frey chose Mercyhurst over offers from Robert Morris, Seton Hill, Alderson-Broaddus, Clarion, Gannon, West Liberty and West Virginia Wesleyan. As a junior at Trinity, Frey rushed for 940 yards and nine touchdowns.
Click here to view Frey's highlights from the 2013 season.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Canon-McMillan's front court helping Big Macs with unselfish approach

Big Macs junior Jake Papi
Friday night’s battle for first place in Section 4-AAA between Upper St. Clair and Canon-McMillan did not disappoint.

The Panthers’ 56-47 win – a nine-point margin of victory – does not give the matchup justice. This was a game between two strong perimeter shooting teams who entered Friday tied for first place in the section.

Canon-McMillan has succeeded this season largely on the play of guards Alex Hammers, Sam Bohn and Britton Beachy, but it is not the trio’s ability to score that has the Big Macs competing for the top spot in the section.

Canon-McMillan is has one of the smallest lineups in Class AAAA. The tallest player in its starting lineup Friday night was 6-4 sophomore forward Jordan Smith. When you stack Upper St. Clair’s lineup against the Big Macs, one would think the Panthers would be able to succeed driving into the lane for easy points. Upper St. Clair’s leading scorer, senior forward J.J. Conn, entered the game averaging 16.4 points per game and his 6-3 frame is accompanied by a physical nature under the basket.

Allowing post players to score does not coincide with the brand of basketball Canon-McMillan plays and Conn’s performance suffered because the Big Macs have made a point to stop interior scoring threats like Conn.

Conn did not score a point in the first half and was held without a field goal until 1:03 remaining in the third quarter when he drove to the basket for a lay-in and was fouled. The ensuing three-point play was just one of three two-point field goals the senior registered in the Panthers’ win.

The key to Canon-McMillan stopping Conn was the relentless play of its guards – Hammers, Bohn and Beachy. The three are told by head coach Rick Bell to assist the team’s smaller “big men” inside. They helped Smith, Connor Helinski, Costa Karanikos, Malik Brown and Jake Papi contain Conn throughout the game. This did allow Upper St. Clair to drive to the basket and dish the basketball out to its guards for uncontested three-point shots, but one would think adjustments will be in the works for the Big Macs’ rematch with the Panthers on Monday night at Canon-McMillan High School.

The five-man rotation has played unselfish this season and is rotated throughout the game. When I spoke to Bell prior to Friday night’s matchup, he attributed a great deal of the team’s success to his front court and the way they have handled themselves against physically superior competition.

“In almost every single game in our section, we are undersized,” Bell said on Wednesday night. “That was our concern at the beginning of the season. Were we going to get hurt on the interior? The kids, our forwards, have done a great job because we rely on them collectively offensively, but we really rely on them defensively and I have to hand it to our guards for helping them out.”

The Big Macs’ man-to-man defense has been successful so far this season and it will be interesting to see how Canon-McMillan responds on Monday night. Playing a section-rival in back-to-back games just three days apart is not common. The two teams were originally scheduled to face each other earlier in the season, but Upper St. Clair had to reschedule in order to play a tournament in Las Vegas during December.

“In my 19 years of coaching, I can’t remember having to do that,” Upper St. Clair head coach Danny Holzer said following Friday’s game. “We will enjoy this win for sure. It’s a big one for us and we’ll have to get ready to play on Monday.”

Friday, January 24, 2014

McGuffey girls holding strong during 21-game section winning streak

McGuffey junior Sammie Weiss
Sammie Weiss has rewritten McGuffey High School basketball’s record books since she began her career as a freshman. Last night, she had another memorable performance and this time, she even broke a record held by a player on the boys team.

With her third basket last night, Weiss became the school’s all-time leading scorer for boys or girls basketball. She finished with 22 points and the junior now holds the record with 1,446 career points, which was held by Seth Hunter.

It is incredible what Weiss has accomplished in less than three years at the high school level. She was named the Observer-Reporter’s Player of the Year last season and has picked up where she left off. Weiss is averaging 21.7 points per game for the Highlanders, who once again, sit atop Section 5-AA. One year after going undefeated in section play and advancing to the Class AA WPIAL quarterfinals, McGuffey (8-0, 14-3) is averaging a Class AA-best 65.5 points per game with no signs of slowing down.

Last year’s squad fell to Burrell, 61-41, in the WPIAL Tournament but with Weiss holding one more year of experience, this year’s Highlanders team is looking like they could be bound for the state tournament. This is not a one player show. Junior Rachel Czulewicz runs the point for McGuffey and is the anchor of the Highlanders’ offensive attack. She relays the plays from head coach Amanda Burchett to her teammates; mixing a combination of perimeter shooting with accurate passing.

When I covered the Highlanders’ matchup against Charleroi on Jan. 2, the Cougars attempted to put two defenders on Weiss during the first half, but the move freed Czulewicz up for uncontested shots. Charleroi was forced to adjust in the second half and the result was Weiss propelling the Highlanders to a 68-49 victory.

It will be interesting to see how McGuffey wraps up the season. They have a tough game on Monday when they travel to Charleroi (6-3, 15-4) for a rematch with the Cougars before facing Beth-Center, Wash High and South Side Beaver.

Weiss is one of the most talented girls basketball players in Western Pennsylvania, but Charleroi senior guard Mia Woytovich is not far behind. She is averaging 20.3 points per game for the Cougars and has Charleroi bound for the WPIAL playoffs. The matchup between the two players will be one to watch as Charleroi tries to break McGuffey’s 21-game winning streak in section play that dates back to Feb. 6, 2012.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Canon-McMillan is the story of the year in WPIAL basketball

Canon-McMillan head coach Rick Bell

Canon-McMillan has stunned Class AAAA basketball. The Big Macs were seen as a program in transition entering the season with a plethora of talent from last year graduating and an incredible amount of opposing talent in Section 4.

The likelihood of the Big Macs reaching the playoffs was minimal at the beginning of the season with Luke Blanock’s cancer diagnosis and other key players suffering injuries stunning the players. When Canon-McMillan lost back-to games against Wash High and Bethel Park in the first week of the season, the adversity seemed too much to overcome for the Big Macs.

Canon-McMillan answered by winning seven of their next eight section games, including a key victory over Bethel Park on Jan. 17. The doubts of the Big Macs’ underclassmen being able to step into key roles were trumped by the play of a group of kids who are determined to make the best out of an adverse situation.

Junior Alex Hammers, who was struck by the news of Blanock’s diagnosis, is having an incredible season by averaging 17.4 points per game. Hammers has made clutch shots for Canon-McMillan in several key games and paces their offense. Freshman Britton Beachy shook the jitters of his first season as a varsity starter to make an immediate impact for the Big Macs (6-2, 10-5). Sam Bohn has also been a steady offensive presence.

I received a phone call from a reader last week, who brought to my attention the possibility of Canon-McMillan winning Section 4-AAAA. The accomplishment is in their crosshairs and the Big Macs took a gigantic leap forward when they defeated Baldwin, 62-46, on Tuesday night. Canon-McMillan now sits atop the section and will have the chance to secure their standing with back-to-back games against second-place Upper St. Clair.

The story is incredible. The Big Macs have two seniors on their roster and have freshmen logging major minutes. I Tweeted on Tuesday night that Canon-McMillan head coach Rick Bell should be coach of the year in Class AAAA and I stand by that statement.

Yes, New Castle is undefeated and Hampton also has an incredible team, but the Big Macs do not have a roster of Division I recruits like Malik Hooker or Ryan Luther. They aren’t flashy and are not a trendy pick to win the WPIAL. While I commend New Castle head coach Ralph Blundo and Hampton head coach Jack Lafko for the job they have done, neither had to face a locker room of teenagers with news of a teammate and friend laying in a hospital bed with Ewing’s sarcoma.

Bell is the clear-cut choice for Coach of the Year. It does not matter if Canon-McMillan fails to make a lengthy run in the playoffs or if they drop both games to Upper St. Clair, Bell gave his team the confidence to persevere in the face of adversity.

Give the kids some credit, as well. I can’t imagine being a high school basketball player in that situation. They blocked out the doubters and gathered together for a common goal. Friday night’s game against Upper St. Clair is another step in the Big Macs’ quest for that goal.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Tueday's game to watch: Wash High versus Chartiers-Houston

Wash High travels to Chartiers-Houston on Tuesday night in a pivotal matchup for both teams in Section 4-AA.

This is the second meeting between the two teams after the Prexies defeated the Buccaneers, 75-58, on Dec.17, but Chartiers-Houston is much improved from the start of the season. The Bucs have won six of their last seven games and had won six straight before running into the top team in Class AA, Seton-La Salle.

Wash High (6-1, 12-4) has a firm grip of second place in the section with four double-digit scorers leading the Prexies – DeQuay Isbell (14.2 ppg), Nate Swart (13.7), Dupree Jenkins (11.6) and Quorteze Levy (10.1). Wash High had a strong start to the season, but the Prexies have slipped up since back-to-back games against Quaker Valley and Seton-La Salle.

The Prexies were defeated by Perry Traditional Academy, a city league team, on Sunday at California University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Tournament.  Despite a nice cushion separating Wash High and Chartiers-Houston in the standings, the third-place Bucs are on a roll as of late.

Chartiers-Houston (4-3, 10-4) is led in scoring by sophomore Kodie Hanley, junior Alec Ferrari and freshman A.J. Myers. The x-factor for the Bucs could be senior Miles Williamson. Williamson, a star wide receiver on Chartiers-Houston’s football team, is picking up the pace on the hardwood and poses match-up problems for opposing teams.

“He is now hitting stride and is making that transformation from football to basketball,” Chartiers-Houston head coach Eugene Briggs said. “He is looking like a quality basketball player. His passing and shooting is greatly improved from last year. He’s a great all-around player.”

According to Briggs, the key to stopping Wash High has not changed.  The Bucs must prevent the Prexies from creating points in transition and he plans to use an extremely athletic seven-man rotation to defend Wash High’s strong lineup.

“The recipe to beat Wash High typically doesn’t change,” Briggs said. “You have to stop them in transition and keep it as a half-court game. If you do that, you have a chance win. If you don’t, it’s going to be at their advantage. It will definitely be a physical game and they have some size on them. We have to control the tempo.”

Wash High will have to find a way to stop Williamson, who stands at 6-4, and fellow senior Ben Shade, a 6-6 force in the post. Briggs can line the two players up at different positions on the court, which creates mismatches for smaller teams. They play a physical brand of basketball that mixes well with the Bucs’ youthful backcourt. Briggs said the unsung hero of the group is Ferrari, who runs the point for Chartiers-Houston, is averaging 13 points per game.

“The guy that doesn’t always gets noticed is Alec Ferrari,” Briggs said. “He’s had a great season so far. He is really doing a good job running the show for us. All seven of them have done a good job. It’s hard to get away with just having seven guys.”

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Henneman's three sinks Cal and other notes from Friday night's games

Jefferson-Morgan’s playoff hopes looked dire as the clock was winding down Friday night when the Rockets trailed California in a Section 5-AA matchup.

With Jefferson-Morgan trailing, 52-50, Rockets junior Rece Henneman threw up a desperation half-court shot.  As the shot propelled through the air of the gymnasium, Jefferson-Morgan’s playoff hopes rested on a miracle.

The ball went through the net and the Rockets stormed the court as the stunning comeback came to fruition with a 53-52 win.  The victory puts Jefferson-Morgan (4-4, 7-8) into fourth place in the section behind Brownsville, Frazier and Charleroi.  Defeating California puts the Rockets a game ahead of the Trojans at a time Jefferson-Morgan needed it the most.

The Rockets have three section games in the next ten days with a road game against Brownsville on Tuesday and back-to-back home games against Beth-Center and Frazier.  They could not afford to be swept by California when the Trojans are the one team that could prevent Jefferson-Morgan from reaching the Class AA WPIAL Playoffs.

Henneman finished the critical win with 23 points and his performance this season has been as consistent as any player in Washington or Greene County.  The junior is averaging 20.2 points per game, which will certainly insert him in the Observer-Reporter Player of the Year discussion.  Time and time again, he has risen to the occasion for the Rockets, who lost five of their first seven games to start the season.

·         Section 4-AAAA’s matchups on Friday night saw two teams pull upsets to inch closer to the playoffs.  Canon-McMillan defeated Bethel Park, 63-66, behind the play of Alex Hammers and Britton Beachy.  The Blackhawks made a comeback with a 33-point fourth quarter, but clutch free throw shooting by the Big Macs (5-2, 9-5) sank their rival.

Three days after Peters Township lost a heartbreaker to the Big Macs, the Indians were led by J.C. Brush’s heroics to walk away with a victory over Mt. Lebanon.  Brush hit the game-winner with four seconds remaining.  During a season where both Canon-McMillan and Peters Township have faced adversity, they have produced clutch wins over tough opponents in a brutal section.

The Big Macs will now face Baldwin before having back-to-back contests against Upper St. Clair, while Peters Township has the luxury of facing Moon and Trinity this week.

·         Carmichaels had a critical bounce-back win over Mapletown with Brandon Lawless paving the way (another candidate for Player of the Year). He scored 37 points to lead the Mikes to a 69-42 victory over Mapletown.  After Carmichaels lost to Monessen on Tuesday night, head coach Don Williams stressed to his team that while the scoreboard displayed a loss, they had nothing to be disappointed about.  The season is still far from over and to believe in themselves.  The message stuck for the Mikes, who hold onto second place in Section 3-A.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Canon-McMillan to face talented Bethel Park on Friday night

For the second year in a row, Canon-McMillan is trying to sneak into the playoffs in Class AAAA.  The Big Macs (4-2, 8-5) made the playoffs last season with a fourth place finish in Section 4-AAAA and a victory on Tuesday night has them in the playoff hunt once again.

The Big Macs defeated Peters Township, 55-46, with Britton Beachy and Alex Hammers leading the way.  Beachy, a freshman guard, scored 10 of his 14 points in the first half to give Canon-McMillan a 25-19 lead at the break.

Hammers, who finished with a game-high 20 points against the Indians, scored 15 in the second half to push the Big Macs to the key section win.  The victory over Peters Township has the Big Macs in third place in the section.  Mt. Lebanon is right behind Canon-McMillan and defeated the Big Macs, 51-37, on Jan. 10.  Head coach Rick Bell’s squad could not afford a loss against the rival Indians and a lineup that has seen different faces receiving playing time got the job done.

The Big Macs’ cannot rest easy.  They face first-place Bethel Park (5-1, 10-2) on Friday night.  The Blackhawks are led in scoring by Joey Mascaro, who averages 19.3 points per game, and Josh Krafczynski’s 15.2.  The Blackhawks are on a five-game winning streak and with a roster of six seniors that finished second in the section last season, Bethel Park’s team is loaded with veteran talent.

Canon-McMillan has just one senior on its roster.  Costa Karanikos is averaging double figures and along with Hammers, has been a steady force in the Big Macs’ lineup.  The key to Canon-McMillan’s season could rest on the play of Beachy.  The freshman has made an immediate impact when the Big Macs needed it the most.  Injuries and illness had the roster depleted to a seven-man rotation, but with Malik Brown returning, reinforcements continue to roll in for Canon-McMillan.

The game against Bethel Park could be a measuring stick for the Big Macs.  They have had an unexpected amount of success this season and with the competition in Class AAAA being what it is, a win over the Blackhawks would do wonders for Canon-McMillan’s confidence.

A victory would also provide much needed cushion for their playoff hopes.  The Big Macs have seven-straight section games following Friday night’s matchup against Bethel Park, including back-to-back games against second place Upper St. Clair on Jan.24 and 27.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Monessen ready for lengthy run in Class A

One thing was apparent at Carmichaels High School on Tuesday night.  Carmichaels and Monessen don’t like each other.

The opening minutes of the Section 3-A matchup were fast paced, but emotions were in check.  The remainder of the game was filled with verbal exchanged between players and fouls kept adding up.  It was obvious that the referees were trying to send a message to both teams that while physical play would be tolerated, neither team could take it too far.

The Greyhounds made a statement Tuesday night with a 78-55 road win over the Mikes.  Their combination of speed and physicality will be tough for Class A teams to matchup with.  Justice Rawlins and Clintell Gillaspie are extremely athletic players who mix strong perimeter shooting with impressive post play.  The two combined for 37 points on offense and frustrated Carmichaels’ offense throughout the game.

Monessen head coach Joe Salvino used Gillaspie and Rawlins to clog the lane.  The goal was to prevent  Mikes senior Brandon Lawless from driving to the net.  The strategy worked throughout the game, but it was the play of Javon Brown that stood out.  Salvino uses Brown to guard the opposing team’s best player and the results have been beneficial to Monessen during their run to the top of the standings.

“Javon is one of our better defensive basketball players,” Savlino said.  “We tried jumping Lawless whenever he had possession and it worked.  We were sloppy at times, especially when we had the lead.  We took our foot off the gas pedal a bit and let them hang around.”

Savlino demands perfection from the Greyhounds and I’m sure Lawless finishing with 17 points did not please him.  Lawless eclipsed the 1,000-point mark for his career and while Carmichaels struggled with consistency, the Mikes’ leading scorer never gave up.  Frustration did get the best of him at times, but he did his part for Carmichaels.

I do think the next matchup will be just as chippy, but Monessen made a statement.  The Greyhounds are one of the best teams in all of Class A.  They have everything great teams need to succeed and no one should focus on the team’s overall record.  Monessen began the season with losses against Upper St. Clair, Franklin Regional and Norwin.  Later in the season, they lost by just 10 points to Class AA’s top team, Seton-La Salle, and defeated Uniontown on the road.

Rawlins believes their experience against top competition has made the transition into section play a successful one.

“Those games were huge for us,” Rawlins said.  “We played against guys who were six-foot-five and up.  Now that we are playing Class A teams, we are outrebounding everyone and playing at the top of our game.”

That they are.  It will be interesting to see how Monessen matches up with Clairton on Friday when they host the Bears, who are the defending champions in Section 3-A.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Boys' basketball: Section 3-A contains this week's most intriguing matchups

The tightest playoff race in WPIAL boys’ basketball may be found in Section 3-A.  With last year’s section champs, Clairton, starting their season later than usual and three other teams showing consistency on both ends of the court, this week’s slate of games could play a pivotal role in who will reach the playoffs.

The most exciting matchup can be found on Tuesday night when Carmichaels plays host to Monessen to determine first place in the section.  After seeing their undefeated season come to an end in a non-section game against Frazier, the Mikes bounced back last week with an 87-38 win over Geibel.

Pacing Carmichaels’s offense, which has averaged 65 points per game this season, is senior Brandon Lawless.  Lawless combines a smooth perimeter shot with a knack for driving the lane; averaging 26.1 points per game.  The Mikes (2-0, 10-1) have two other seniors who have been contributing to the fast start since the season tipped off.  Cory Fuller is averaging 13.1 points per game and Ty Aeschbacher has chipped in 11.3 a game for head coach Don Williams’s squad.

The x-factor in the Mikes’ offense could be a new, but familiar face.  Point guard Ty Cole, who missed the first month of the season with mononucleosis, is a two-year starter who is averaging 17.3 points per game since his return.  The plethora of experience should make the Mikes the odds-on favorite to win the section, but Monessen’s lineup matches that experience and adds a brand of physical basketball that not many teams in Class A can handle.

Senior Clintell Gillaspie paces the Greyhounds’ offense with 19.6 points per game and like Lawless, can match a strong interior game with an outside scoring touch.  Joining Gillaspie on the court for Monessen is a defensive force who can match up with the opposing team’s best player and still provide double-digit scoring for the Greyhounds.  Senior Javon Brown, who is averaging 14.9 points per game, displayed his defensive prowess on Friday when Monessen faced Mapletown.  The Maples’ top player, Dereck Riggleman, scored 51 points in Mapletown’s 66-60 win over Geibel on Thursday.  He eclipsed the 1,000-point mark for his career and when the Maples faced Monessen on Friday, was matched up against Brown.

Brown shut him down; allowing Riggleman to score just 13 points in Monessen’s 84-30 win over Mapletown.  The storylines are plentiful and with both teams showing no signs of slowing down, it will be interesting to see who prevails once the two storied programs face one another on Tuesday night at Carmichaels High School.

·         Depending on the outcome of Tuesday night’s matchup, there are two more Section 3-A games this week to keep an eye on.  Monessen plays last year’s section champions, Clairton (1-0, 3-2), on Fridaynight.  Clairton did not start the season until late December and it is unknown whether the Bears have the same amount of fire power as last year’s team, which finished section play with an undefeated record before losing in the WPIAL title game to Vincentian Academy, 86-74.

·         Carmichaels will host to Mapletown on the same night and it will be interesting to see who the Mikes will use to contain Riggleman.  It is obvious that his play has earned him the same respect as Lawless and Gillaspie.  Despite the Maples needing every one of his points to defeat Geibel last week, Riggleman is the type of player who can determine the outcome of a game.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Peters Township's hockey team continues successful run

Peters Township’s hockey team is a model of success in the PIHL.  Year after year, the Indians are one of the top teams in Western Pennsylvania with head coach Rick Tingle leading the way.

While the Indians won four-straight Penguins Cups from 2002-05, Peters Township has yet to earn the area’s top honor since moving up to Class AAA.  The Indians have lost in the championship game three years in a row, including the past two in Class AAA.  Peters Township decided to move up to face tougher competition.  It did not slow them down.

Last season, the Indians lost 2-0 to North Allegheny at CONSOL Energy Center.  With the game tied 0-0 entering the third period, it was a shorthanded goal that lifted the Tigers over Peters Township.  With just under 12 minutes remaining and the Indians on the power play, North Allegheny capitalized on a turnover in Peters Township’s zone to take a 1-0 lead.

North Allegheny forward Joe Griffin added another goal with just over three minutes remaining to seal the win for the Tigers.  The devastating loss has not stuck with the Indians.

Peters Township is currently tied for first place in Section 1-AAA with a 9-2 record.  The Indians have allowed just 23 goals in 11 games and are fighting off Bethel Park for the top spot in the section.  Peters Township took a big step to separate them as one the league’s top teams when they defeated the Blackhawks, 4-2, during a Nov. 14 matchup.

Once again, it is Adam Alavi who is pacing Peters Township’s offense.  After scoring 23 goals last season, Alavi has 20 points in just 11 games for the Indians.  His combination of speed and playmaking ability makes him one of the top players in Class AAA, despite not being ranked within the top ten in point leaders.

Peters Township’s success has not come without adversity.  The Indians dropped a close game to Seneca Valley (7-5) on Jan. 7, 3-1.  Peters Township tied the game 1-1 with Evan Opeka’s goal five minutes into the third period.  Seneca Valley answered with two unanswered goals in less than two minutes to clinch the win.

The Indians will need to overcome the late lapse quickly as they face Pine-Richland on Tuesday at the Iceoplex.  The Rams have one of the league’s top scoring threats, Nicholas Matelan, who has scored 16 goals to go with 10 assists in just 11 games for Pine-Richland.

With Peters Township’s strong goaltending and a lineup that features three lines of forwards who can compete with any team in the state, the Indians are a true contender to claim the Penguins Cup that has eluded them for the past seven seasons.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Riggleman drops 51 to power Maples; South Fayette making noise in Class AAA

Dereck Riggleman saved a historic performance for when Mapletown needed it the most.

Riggleman scored 51 points to power the Maples (1-0, 4-5) past Geibel, 66-60, to claim third place in Section 3-A on Thursday night.  Riggleman entered the game just 30 points shy of 1,71000 for his career and the 51 he dropped against the Gators made him Mapletown’s all-time leading scorer.

Mapletown needed a historic performance from their top scorer to gain ground in a section that features Monessen and Carmichaels.  Both teams will ultimately battle for the section title, but Riggleman and the Maples could sneak into the Class A WPIAL playoffs by securing wins like last night.

The Maples trailed Geibel, 49-48, entering the fourth quarter when Riggleman’s offensive output lifted them past the Gators.  Geibel (0-2, 1-8) is certainly no powerhouse, but Riggleman’s record-setting performance gave the Maples a boost when they needed it the most.

It will be interesting to see how Mapletown matches up against Monessen (1-0, 6-4) when they face each other tonight.  Facing one of the top teams in Class A will certainly test the Maples one night after a thriller on the road.

·         The McGuffey girls’ team has shown inconsistency as of late; struggling to put away inferior opponents late in games.  On Thursday night, the Highlanders faced Wash High with first place in Section 5-AA on the line.

Sammie Weiss and Rachel Czulewicz ensured that McGuffey would not let the Prexies hang around.  Weiss and Czulewicz combined for 47 points and 20 steals to defeat Wash High, 71-37.  Weiss finished with 26 points and Czulewicz had 21.

Great players rise to the occasion and take over games.  That is what Weiss did and she reinforced the sentiment that she is one of the best female basketball talents not only in Washington County, but in the entire Pittsburgh area.

Her combination of speed, perimeter shooting and savvy play in the post makes her a tough matchup for opposing teams.  While she doesn’t tower over opponents in size, she uses a strong basketball IQ to exploit the weakness of her opponent.  The 2012 Observer-Reporter Player of the Year is certainly making a case to claim the honor for the second-straight year.

·         One team that has not been receiving much buzz is South Fayette’s boys’ basketball squad.  I guess the dramatic championship run the football team had is tough to match, but it is impossible to ignore the Lions’ incredible start to the season.

Like their football team that won the Class AA PIAA State Championship, South Fayette (4-0, 7-1) is winning with a solid defense.  The Lions have allowed a Class AAA-best 40.1 points per game and their lone loss came against Allderdice during a holiday tournament.

South Fayette will look to make their case as the top team in Section 5-AAA tonight when they travel to Montour.  A win would set up a battle with Chartiers Valley on Tuesday night for first place in the section.  Could the Lions’ basketball squad continue the magic the football team showed during its historic run to Hershey?  Tonight will be a good indicator of where head coach Rich Bonnaure’s squad stands.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Too early to hit the panic button for Wash High

The voices of Wash High’s critics just grew louder.

Despite the Prexies’ 9-1 start to the season, including a perfect 4-0 record in Section 4-AA play, many pointed to the strength of Wash High’s competition as the reason for the fast start.

Seton-La Salle (4-0, 10-0) soundly defeated the Prexies on Thursday night, 66-32, behind a balanced scoring performance and a major size advantage.  The doubters unanimously stood up and voiced their opinion on Twitter.

Seton-La Salle’s front court featured senior Levi Masua (6-5) and senior Malik White (6-4).  White was tenacious on the boards during the first quarter of Thursday night’s game and scored 11 points in the first half.  Wash High entered the game with physicality and rebounding as their strength.

Seton-La Salle’s big men went head-to-head with the Prexies’ front court and won.  The matchup was not in Wash High’s favor and that was apparent from the tip off.  Masua came off the bench to score 12 points and the Rebels’ defensive effort seemed effortless.  They clogged the passing lanes and did not let DeQuay Isbell or Quorteze Levy drive to the basket.

In the opening minutes, the Prexies showed confidence by knocking down shots and keeping the ball on the perimeter.  It worked as they tied the game 10-10 with 2:19 remaining in the first quarter.  As soon as Seton-La Salle’s physical play took over, Wash High began showing poor shot selection and made errant passes that the Rebels turned into easy points in transition.

After a 21-0 run in the final 4:33 of the first half, it was obvious that Seton-La Salle is not your typical Class AA team.  The Rebels have an incredible point guard in Dale Clancy, who is averaging 18 points per game, and two post players that make Seton-La Salle tough to matchup against.  I can’t imagine any team being able to put together a starting five with that much talent.

That being said, should Wash High be concerned?  Not one bit.  The Prexies have shown they can beat a tough opponent.  They defeated West Allegheny and Elizabeth Forward at the West Allegheny Tournament.  Wash High started the season with nine wins in ten games.  The timing of the Seton-La Salle game left much to be desired.

The frigid temperatures delayed the game until Thursday and the Prexies’ matchup with Seton-La Salle came just five days after Wash High faced Quaker Valley.  When the Prexies are playing to their strength and are receiving strong perimeter shooting from Nate Swart, Wash High is a tough team.  They play a relentless brand of defense that coaches around the area would love to see from their own squads.

While it’s too early to hit the panic button, the next eight days will be interesting.  The Prexies play Peters Township, a Class AAAA opponent, and two section rivals within that time period (Burgettstown and Bishop Canevin).  The competition will give Wash High a chance to bounce back from back-to-back debilitating losses against tough opponents.

I will say this: when Seton-La Salle plays the Prexies on Jan. 31 at Wash High, they will be seeing a much different team than the one they faced on Thursday night. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Big Macs earn critical win over Moon; Frazier spoils the Mikes' undefeated season

Canon-McMillan’s 52-43 win over Moon was an important one for the Big Macs.  The victory elevates head coach Rick Bell’s squad into the WPIAL playoff picture in Class AAAA as the third place team in Section 4.
The Big Macs (3-1, 7-4) defeated the Tigers in the same fashion they have competed with opponents all season – with clutch scoring from Alex Hammers, Costa Karanikos and Sam Bohn.
Hammers had 12 points for Canon-McMillan in the 52-43 victory, while Karanikos and Bohn each added 10 points for the Big Macs’ fourth straight win.  Canon-McMillan held a 33-30 lead heading into the fourth quarter and pulled away in the final eight minutes with a 19-point outburst.
The win came at a great time for the Big Macs.  They have three-straight road games looming on the schedule with trips to Mt. Lebanon (2-2, 3-7) on Jan. 10, Baldwin (2-3, 3-9)on Jan. 21 and Upper St. Clair (3-0, 8-3) on Jan.24.  Luckily for Canon-McMillan, they have the benefit of facing the Panthers only once this season and with other teams struggling within the section, the Big Macs are certainly in the playoff picture.
·         Frazier pulled as big of an upset you will see in a non-section matchup in early January.  Well, that might be a bit of a stretch, but the Commodores spoiled an undefeated season for Carmichaels on Wednesday night with a 66-52 victory. 
Charles Manack dropped 20 points on the Mikes’ defense, which has allowed a section-best 47.6 points per game.
The Mikes have not slowed down (9-1) during the first ten games of the season; averaging 62.8 points per game with senior Brandon Lawless leading the way.
Despite the loss, the Mikes are loaded with veteran talent.  Mark your calendars for Jan. 14 when Carmichaels will host Monessen (1-0, 6-4) battle for the top spot in Section 3-A.
·         Brownsville defeated Charleroi, 67-51, on Wednesday night to claim first place in Section 5-AA.  The Falcons ( 4-0, 5-4) have started the season quickly behind the play of Ryan and Cole Novotney.  Brownsville’s big win over the Cougars and the intriguing win from Frazier make this section one to watch.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Charleroi's matchup with Brownsville highlights Wednesday night's slate of games

Wednesday marks the end of the coldest temperatures Pittsburgh has seen in 20 years and the return of high school basketball after a brief hiatus.

There are 41 WPIAL boys’ basketball games on the schedule for Wednesday night.  The most intriguing game in Washington or Greene County is between two Section 5-AA opponents.  Charleroi (3-0, 5-3) will travel to Brownsville to take on the Falcons (3-0, 4-4) to claim the top spot in Section 5-AA at 7:30 p.m. 

After starting the season with back-to-back home losses, Charleroi has won five of their last six games behind a balanced scoring effort.  Ryan Konek leads the Cougars with 16.3 points per game, while three other players are averaging double figures – John Arnold (16 ppg), Matt Indorante (15.4 ppg) and Evan Anderson (13.7).  The most intriguing player in Washington County is Arnold, a 6-7 forward for the Cougars.  Coaches have called him an x-factor for Charleroi with the insurmountable size advantage he has against competition.

During the successful road to begin the season, Charleroi is averaging a section-high 61.6 points per game, while allowing 53.4 per game on the defensive end.  Tuesday night’s section bout against Frazier was postponed for Charleroi, so the Cougars will face an athletic Brownsville team Wednesday and a Jefferson Morgan team on Friday that has struggled to start the season.

What Brownsville has lacked defensively, they have made up for offensively and more.  The Novotney Brothers - Cole and Ryan - have paced the Falcons on offense.  Cole is averaging a team-high 20.5 points per game and Ryan has contributed 16.8 per game for Brownsville, which is coming off back-to-back losses against South Park and Monessen.  The remainder of Brownsvilles’s starting five, who are also all seniors, are averaging double figures.  Nick Despot is putting up 15 points per game, Deshawtae Bell 11.8 and Daquan Woods 11.5

While the Falcons scored 77 points in their last game played, due to postponements, they have not played a game since Dec. 23.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Prexies making noise in Section 4-AA, Mikes' roll continues

Frigid winter weather has delayed several pivotal section matchups in high school basketball this week and with just over a month remaining in the regular season, many teams are looking to inch their way up the standings to secure a berth in the WPIAL Playoffs.

Washington High School’s Section 4-AA game against Seton LaSalle, which was scheduled for Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., had both teams battling for the top spots in an extremely competitive section.  The Prexies (4-0, 9-2) are coming off a 68-44 victory over Fort Cherry on Friday that shot them to the top of the standings. The Prexies followed the emotional victory with a non-section matchup against Quaker Valley at the Chuckie Mahoney Tournament on Saturday. 

Wash High fell to Quaker Valley, 60-40, one day after having inconsistent offensive spurts against a banged up Fort Cherry squad.  Wash High and Seton LaSalle will face off for first place on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. 

In a year that many saw as a transitional season for the Prexies’ boys’ basketball team, Wash High has established themselves as one of the top teams in Class AA.

During last year’s playoff run, Wash High relied on Josh Wise’s offensive output, but this season, the Prexies are succeeding on offense by a committee of talent.  While sophomore guard Nate Swart leads Wash High with 16.2 points per game, three other players are averaging double figures – DeQuay Isbell (12.8), Dupree Jenkins (11.6) and Quorteze Levy (11.1).

The offensive numbers are impressive, but it is the Prexies’ relentless effort on defense that has them on one of the program’s best starts in recent memory.  Isbell and Levy are tenacious forces in the lane for Wash High, while Jenkins has the ability to play against the opposing team’s best guard.  Jenkins’s combination of speed and athleticism make for a tough matchup when opposing teams face the Prexies.

·         Canon-McMillan (2-1, 6-4) has overcome as much adversity as any program in the area has seen.  The Big Macs’ have played with heavy hearts since junior Luke Blanock was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma.  Along with Blanock, Canon-McMillan has lost players to both injury and academic issues.  The result has left head coach Rick Bell with a seven-man rotation in an extremely difficult Section 4-AAAA.

The Big Macs have responded by winning four of their past five games and have lost close games to Beaver Falls and Chartiers Valley in the past two weeks.  The spark for Canon-McMillan has come from Alex Hammers and Sam Bohn.  Hammers is averaging 17.4 points per game, while Bohn has chipped in 16.3 for the Big Macs.

·         Carmichaels (1-0, 9-0) remains the lone undefeated team in Washington or Greene County and the reason is not limited to Brandon Lawless.

While Lawless is averaging an impressive 36.7 points per game, the Mikes are getting help from a veteran roster that is playoff-tested.  Three other players have averaged double figures for Carmichaels, all of which are seniors.  Cory Fuller has averaged 12 points, Ty Aeschbacher 10.9 and Justin Newman has added 10 points per game for the Mikes.

More help has arrived.  Senior point guard Ty Cole, a two-year starter for head coach Don Williams, has returned after missing the start of the season because of mononucleosis.  Cole returned this past weekend and dropped a combined 38 points in wins over Avella and West Greene.