B-A, Valley could be on collision course
By Michael Boytim
Last season, the Mirror’s coverage area had two teams make the high school state basketball championship games in Hershey, and Bellwood-Antis claimed the school’s first title.
The Lady Blue Devils are a good bet to make it back to the PIAA finals, but what about the other 16 teams from the area (around 35 percent of the total eligible teams the Mirror covers) that have qualified for interdistrict play?
Class 2A girls
We’ll start with the bracket most likely to feature local flavor throughout March.
Bellwood-Antis may go on a similar run to the state championship, but the teams and locations will certainly be different. The Lady Blue Devils landed in the upper bracket, sometimes referred to as the Eastern side of the tournament. That means no games against WPIAL, District 10 or other District 6 teams until the state championship game.
B-A will begin with what should be a relatively comfortable game against a Windber team that just suffered a lopsided loss to Everett, a team Bellwood has beaten twice. From there, Bellwood will likely roll into the PIAA semifinals, possibly against the winner of District 11 champion Mahanoy Area and Old Forge, the District 2 runner-up that has traditionally done well in the state playoffs.
If Bellwood makes it back to the state final, coach Jim Swaney has already said he’s hoping Inter-County Conference foe Juniata Valley is there waiting for them.
The Lady Hornets are a good bet to beat first-round opponent Laurel, but they’ll likely be tested by District 10 champion West Middlesex in the second round. A win there would likely set up an all-District 6 quarterfinal against Penns Manor.
The Lady Comets have struggled against Bellwood-Antis the past few seasons because B-A has so many players that can shoot from distance well. Juniata Valley’s Hayden Taylor is an excellent long-range shooter, and freshman Avery Taylor has connected on some big shots, but that could be a good game.
Juniata Valley’s defense could be the best in this bracket, though, and it should help it survive.
Our Lady of Sacred Heart, the WPIAL champion, plays District 6 fourth-place finisher Blairsville in the first round. The winner of that game should give some clues as to whether District 6 is as dominant in this bracket as it was a year ago when three of the final four were from D6.
Everett also has the ability to win some games but faces the unique challenge of Serra Catholic in the first round. Serra is coached by Bill Cleary, who has won more than 620 games. His team is down this year and needed a OLSH upset of Bishop Canevin to get into the state playoffs, but don’t count Serra Catholic out.
With all that said, I’ll go with Juniata Valley getting past Canevin in the semifinals and meetings Bellwood-Antis for a fourth time in the championship game, a possibility that was mentioned way back in the Mirror’s Winter Heat season preview.
SUBHED: Class 1A girls
The Bishop Carroll Catholic girls have also landed in the upper portion of the PIAA bracket and will take on Veritas Academy in one of the most lopsided, on paper, matchups of any bracket in the first round.
Assuming the Lady Huskies can get past District 4 champion Lourdes Regional, which has had success traditionally in this half of the bracket, they’ll likely cruise into the state semifinals. That’s where they’ll likely meet Jenkintown, the defending Class 1A PIAA champions.
Jenkintown has lost just one game this season and certainly showed grit last year when it rallied from nine down with less than four minutes to play to knock off Juniata Valley. Both the Lady Hornets and Lady Huskies play tough defense, but Bishop Carroll’s is different. The defenders are longer at BC, and that could pose a problem for the smaller Jenkintown. The question with BC is, can it score enough points and avoid turnovers itself?
If so, there may be another District 6 team heading to Hershey.
Tussey Mountain should beat Purchase Line, which up until this season had not won a playoff game of any kind since 1994, and has the potential to win a few games on the opposite side of the bracket from Bishop Carroll.
SUBHED: Class 3A girls
Penn Cambria, Central Cambria and Tyrone are all in the same side of the bracket.
The Lady Panthers have an excellent chance to win their first PIAA playoff game ever against Washington. From there, it really depends on how the officials will call Penn Cambria’s games. The Lady Panthers have a swarming defense, but if they run into the wrong crew, foul trouble could lead to issues.
Central Cambria is probably thrilled to be playing someone other than Bishop Canevin in the first round. It has lost to them three years in a row, and the Lady Devils have a good chance to knock off Brookville in their opener. Central Cambria has the talent to go past the second round, but it will have to finally get things to fall its way, something the snakebit Devils have struggled with.
Tyrone has a tough draw with the WPIAL champion, but if the Lady Eagles get hot from outside, they can be dangerous.
SUBHED: Class 6A girls
Altoona ran into some bad luck with its opponent. The WPIAL doesn’t play consolation games, so the teams that get a higher seed get those because the team it loses to goes on to have success in the tournament. So while Norwin may be a better team than Bethel Park, Bethel Park got the higher seed, because it lost to WPIAL champion Peters Township.
Altoona lost to Norwin in its season opener, but that was without Olivia Hudson. Hudson was playing her best basketball of the season when the Lady Lions last played, so that could be enough to make up a 10-point difference from December.
An extended run will really depend on how Hudson, Bridgid Fox and Caranda Perea play against teams that are less familiar with the Lady Lions.
SUBHED: Class 5A girls
Hollidaysburg usually beats teams with tough, tenacious defense, but the Lady Tigers will have to beat another team that plays the same way. Penn Hills likes to keep the score down, which could help Hollidaysburg hang close enough to steal the game, but a long run for Hollidaysburg seems unlikely.
SUBHED: Class 4A girls
Huntingdon has an extremely tough draw here against Central Valley, but the Lady Bearcats are young and can use this experience in the state playoffs to fuel some future success.
SUBHED: Class 4A boys
Undefeated Huntingdon is one of just two teams in the PIAA boys playoffs that has yet to experience a loss. There are certainly some teams that will try and change that early in the state playoffs.
Highlands will get the first shot. Huntingdon’s pair of wins in last year’s state tournament were both by one possession, and this game will likely come down to that as well.
A win here likely means a matchup with District 10 champion Hickory, which has only one loss. If the Bearcats match last year’s performance and win two games, WPIAL champion New Castle will likely be waiting in the quarterfinals.
Bedford’s Jace Growden will have to continue his incredible play as of late for the Bisons to oust Grove City in the first round, but New Castle looms in the second.
SUBHED: Class 1A boys
Juniata Valley and Bishop Carroll Catholic both play District 9 teams in their openers, and District 6 has traditionally had the advantage in those matchups.
If Bishop Carroll makes it to the second round, familiar state playoff opponent Monessen could be waiting. WPIAL champion Nazareth Prep could be waiting for the Huskies if they make it to the quarterfinals.
Juniata Valley may take on Shanksville-Stonycreek and star Dawson Snyder in the second round. Shanksville was upset by Shade in the District 5 final and has traditionally done well in this tournament.
SUBHED: Class 2A boys
Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic’s Luke Ruggery will get the chance to play on the college floor he’ll call home at Saint Francis, but he should have at least one more high school game following that before it’s time to join the Red Flash.
Sto-Rox, BG’s first round opponent, has size, which could hurt the Marauders. But with wins over bigger schools like Richland and Forest Hills, Bishop Guilfoyle has proven it can play against bigger teams.
There is no second-round bulldozer like BG ran into last year against Constitution, but a quarterfinal matchup with either District 10 champion Farrell or WPIAL runner-up Serra Catholic will be a challenge.
SUBHED: Class 3A boys
Lincoln Park, which has had plenty of success against District 6 teams in the past decade, is a very tough challenge for Bellwood-Antis. But for the Blue Devils to be in the state playoffs after starting the season with a 63-18 loss at Tyrone, is an incredible achievement.