Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Preview of O-R basketball teams playing in state playoffs

Monessen senior Justice Rawlins
Class A Boys Basketball

7-2 Monessen (20-6) vs. 10-2 Erie First Christian (15-9), Friday at Chartiers Valley, 7:30 p.m.

After the Greyhounds’ devastating loss to Lincoln Park in the Class A WPIAL title game, they drew the PIAA’s newest boys basketball member. Erie First, which was formed in 1993, had its boys basketball team competing as a club sport until joining District 10 for the 2013 season.

Fielding a roster of foreign talent, the Eagles are an intriguing team heading into the Class A state playoffs. Much is unknown about EFCA, but that they do average an impressive 57.7 points per game and possess a weapon in the paint that few can match up against.

One week after facing an incredibly big Lincoln Park squad, when Monessen drives to the lane Friday at Chartiers Valley, senior center Olusola Sangoyami will be in the way. Standing at 6-foot-11, Sangoyami is averaging a team-high 12.8 points and 12 rebounds per game. When watching his game tape, you see an extremely athletic kid for his size. Weighing 270 pounds, it will be tough to move Sangoyami, who often collects his points on put backs and is rarely outrebounded by the opposition.

EFCA is new to the state playoffs and will likely have a smaller crowd on hand at CV. The key for the Greyhounds will be to limit the outside shooting of the Eagles’ deep roster, while getting Sangoyami into foul trouble. Outside of the big man, EFCA also has senior forward Augustine Mathias, who stands at 6-foot-6, and sophomore guard Vitally Tserger, who stands at 6-5. Once again, Monessen will match its athleticism up against a much bigger opponent, but after facing Lincoln Park, the Greyhounds and head coach Joe Salvino will find a way to combat the physically imposing competition.

Class AAA Girls Basketball

7-6 Trinity (17-7) vs. 7-2 South Park (21-5), Saturday at Moon Area High School, 5:30 p.m.

Trinity’s unexpected rise in 2013 has included the development of sophomore center Mary Dunn (12.6 ppg) and the rise of freshman guard Sierra Kotchman (12.7 ppg). The duo have been a main reason for the Hillers’ success in 2013, but another meeting against an incredibly tough South Park squad is lingering.

Trinity has lost to South Park three times this season, including the Eagles eliminating the Hillers in the WPIAL quarterfinals. South Park sophomore forward Allison McGrath is one of the best female players in Western Pennsylvania and is already garnering Division I interest with her ability to drive to the basket and excellent perimeter shooting.

Even if the Hillers fail to dethrone South Park, which won the state championship last season, it was a pivotal year for the program with the growth seen from Dunn and Kotchman. Entering the 2014 season, they will be a clear-cut contender for the Class AAA WPIAL title.

Class AA

7-6 McGuffey (20-4) vs. 6-1 Bellwood-Antis (23-3), Friday at Altoona Fieldhouse, 5 p.m.

McGuffey’s second-straight appearance in the PIAA playoffs is no surprise. Junior Sammie Weiss has been unstoppable this season and junior Rachel Czulewicz has emerged as the perfect complement. Czulewicz commands the offense and her outside shooting, mixed with Weiss’ inside game, makes the Highlanders a tough team to defend.

Unfortunately for McGuffey, they will run into a Bellwood-Antis team that lost just one senior from its state playoff team last season and is averaging 69.5 points per game. The Blue Devils have won 23 of their past 24 games.

Junior guard Ana Hollen paces BA with 16 points per game and freshman guard Karson Swogger has added 15.8 per game. The key for McGuffey will be to pressure the Blue Devils’ guards into unforced turnovers and will need a polished offensive game to overcome BA’s quick transition offense.

Class A

7-4 California (19-4) vs. 10-1 Kennedy Catholic (21-2), Saturday at Slippery Rock University, 4 p.m.

California’s girls basketball program is new to the state playoffs, while Kennedy Catholic has won its district for the 10th time in the last 14 years.

The Trojans fell in the WPIAL semifinals to Serra Catholic with unforced turnovers crippling their comeback attempt against the Eagles. They had 29 turnovers in the loss and will need to clean up the mental errors if they hope to gain the program’s first state playoff win. California has relied on a stout defense during its historic run to the WPIAL semifinals, but head coach Chris Minerd knows it will take more than that to defeat a team like Kennedy Catholic.

“We are wasting a lot of opportunities,” Minerd said. “Our defense is only going to take us so far. If you can’t score on offense, ultimately, the turnovers and missed free throws are under a microscope when you don’t score many points.”

Freshman Kylie Huffman is the Trojans’ leading scorer, but has been blanketed by multiple defenders throughout the players, which has put pressure on California’s guards to make open shots. That happened in the WPIAL quarterfinals when senior Tristen Conaway and freshman Jenna Miller combined for 32 points. They will need that type of guard play to upset the Golden Eagles on Saturday.

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