Road to Hershey could be tougher
Last season, all four District 6 Class 2A teams that made the state playoffs won in the first round, and Bellwood-Antis, Blairsville and Penns Manor all made it to the PIAA Class 2A semifinals.
Of course, Bellwood-Antis won the state championship, leading many to speculate, including myself, that the Lady Blue Devils could meet Class 2A newcomer Juniata Valley in this year’s championship game given the teams are on opposite sides of the bracket.
However, the first weekend of this year’s tournament didn’t go quite as well.
Blairsville and Penns Manor both lost by lopsided scores, though the Lady Comets were in their game for the majority of the contest. Meanwhile, Bellwood-Antis and Juniata Valley both trailed at halftime, and the Lady Hornets needed a heroic effort from Hayden Taylor to defeat WPIAL fourth seed Laurel, 43-40.
Both remaining District 6 teams have grown accustomed to long PIAA runs, and perhaps that led to an assumption of victory in the first round. I’d say both are still favorites, but maybe it’s too early to book a room in Hershey.
Here are some more observations from the first weekend of the state playoffs.
Huntingdon improved its record to 25-0 by topping Highlands in the first round of the PIAA Class 4A boys tournament and showed plenty of maturity doing it.
For a team to make it this long undefeated, it has to show up with the same intensity every night, something that can be tough, especially when a team has had success in the past and knows it is superior to its opponent (see above).
The Bearcats did that throughout the year and were tested in a different way Friday. Highlands lost control and had a player ejected just two minutes into its game. Several small scrums followed that one, but Huntingdon didn’t even get a warning during the contest. At this time of year, any ejection to a starter could be devastating, as the player would have to sit out the next game.
When a program is as good as the Bishop Carroll Catholic and Monessen boys have been, it’s not too surprising to see them matched up again in the state playoffs. The Huskies won the last contest in 2014.
But both BC and the Greyhounds are longtime Class 1A teams.
Everett and Bishop Canevin’s girls programs were both Class 3A last season and met in the second round of the playoffs. They both dropped down to Class 2A this season, and the Lady Warriors went from playing in the District 5-6 tournament to being back as a District 5-only representative this year. Yet they meet again.
Everett nearly knocked off the Lady Crusaders last season before Canevin went on to play for the state championship. Strangely enough, prior to this year, Bishop Canevin had played Central Cambria three years in a row in the first round. Each one of the Central Cambria games and last year’s Everett game was close, but the Lady Crusaders have won all four. Kaitlyn Maxwell will likely see that Canevin has to sweat it out again.
Of the 128 PIAA basketball games played Friday night, only 26 were decided by less than 10 points.
A couple things play into this. Games like Windber-Bellwood-Antis girls and Huntingdon-Highlands boys were one possession games during the second half, but when one team pulls ahead by five or six late in a game that will end the other team’s season, the fouls rain down.
The Tussey Mountain-Purchase Line girls game was Saturday, but that contest was a prime example. It was a four-point game in the fourth quarter until Purchase Line started to foul, and the Lady Titans made 10 free throws in the final four minutes to make the final score 56-38.
This isn’t to say there aren’t problems with the amount of teams that make the state playoffs due to the new six-classification system. If the Bishop Carroll girls played Veritas Academy 100 times, BC would win all 100, and likely by a large margin.
Perhaps in some of the lower classifications, a first-round bye for teams from traditionally strong districts would serve the tournament better than filling out the bracket with teams that shouldn’t be still playing.
Michael Boytim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 946-7521