Uniontown was awarded a bye and a No. 4 seed on Tuesday at the WPIAL Boys’ Basketball Pairings Meeting.
The Red Raiders (20-2) won Section 3-AAAA for the second straight season at 10-0. Uniontown, who has a WPIAL-record of 49 section titles, is in the playoffs for the 69th time. Head coach Rob Kezmarsky has guided the Red Raiders to 10 section championships, but is looking for his team to go on a run and win the ninth District 7 title in program history.
“We are excited to be back in the playoffs,” Kezmarsky said. “We know that if we win two games we play at the Pete, and these kids would do anything to get to that point. We are going to work extremely hard to get ready for our first game.”
Uniontown plays the winner of Blackhawk (11-10) and Elizabeth Forward (7-13) in the quarterfinals on Feb. 22. The Cougars and Warriors meet on Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Peters Township High School in the first round.
“We have scouted Blackhawk and played Elizabeth Forward twice, so we know about both teams,” Kezmarsky said. “We are not concerned with the layoff because we have already set up two scrimmages with Hempfield and Thomas Jefferson, and when we had a 12-day layoff after our Florida trip, we had one of our best games of the year when we played Belle Vernon the first time.”
The Red Raiders have non-section victories over playoffs teams in Hempfield (12-10), Connellsville (8-14), Laurel Highlands (13-8), Ambridge (11-8), Washington (15-6) and section opponents Belle Vernon (16-6), Ringgold (13-9) and Elizabeth Forward (7-13). Uniontown’s two losses came in overtime to the Mustangs and Penn-Trafford (14-8).
“We have 20 wins, which is the most among 4A teams, and we played a lot of playoff teams in our non-section schedule,” Kezmarsky said. “We lost to a playoff team in Penn-Trafford in Florida, and that was our third game in a row, and we lost to a Laurel Highlands team that beat the top seed in 5A in Penn Hills.”
The Red Raiders feature a starting five of seniors in Billy DeShields, Ray Robinson, Jahmere Richardson, Isaiah Melvin and Bryant Grady. DeShields has 1,302 points in his career, which is fifth on the all-time scoring list at Uniontown.
Laurel Highlands is back in the playoffs after not qualifying a year ago, and is led by freshman sensation Rodney Gallagher, who is averaging 24 points per game.
The Mustangs qualified in third place out of Section 1-AAAAA and play Hampton (11-10) on Monday at 8 p.m. at Fox Chapel. The winner plays top-seed Penn Hills (18-4) on Feb. 21 in the quarterfinals.
The Talbots are coached by Frazier graduate Joe Lafko.
“I don’t know anything about Hampton at this point,” said Hauger on Tuesday following the release of the brackets. “We have some time to prepare for them, and I am fine with where we are at in terms of the seeding. We won some games against some solid teams, and lost some that weren’t as favorable, but right now all we can do is take it one game at a time.”
LH will be playing without starter Caleb Palumbo, who has to sit out of the playoffs due to the transfer rule.
“We can put in Nick Egnot against a team that is a bit bigger, and we also may be able to use another kid that can shoot,” Hauger said. “It really all comes down to matchups, and we have to be able to make some shots.”
Laurel Highlands has shown that it can play with, and beat, anybody, when it is on its game. The Mustangs defeated Penn Hills (18-4), who needed overtime to beat LH in the first meeting between the two, the Red Raiders, the Falcons, Thomas Jefferson (15-7), McKeesport (18-4) and Mount Pleasant (12-10).
Charleroi (16-6) tied the Prexies for the Section 4-AAA Championship and play Carlynton (14-8) on Friday at Peters Township High School in the first round at 8 p.m. Class AAA is a 16-team field, so there will be no byes.
The Leopards meet Derry Area (7-14) on Wednesday at Fox Chapel High School in the opening round at 8 p.m. The winner plays third-seeded Quaker Valley (17-5) on Feb. 22 in the quarterfinals.
“We have not seen much on Derry, and that is one of the few teams we haven’t seen,” Belle Vernon coach Joe Salvino said. “When I started coaching, we would go to these meetings and exchange film, now we have Hudl and all kinds of things to watch other teams, but you still have to put the ball in the basket and play good defense.”
Salvino wasn’t too concerned with the seed, as he has seen it all in his lengthy coaching career.
“I have coached teams that were the No. 1 seed and lost, so it is more of what we do than anything else,” Salvino said. “We feel that we have been playing better down the stretch, and obviously that is what you want to do. We are excited to be in the playoffs because everything gets more involved and all the teams are 0-0 now. We have scrimmages set up with Hampton and Hempfield, so the time off shouldn’t affect us. We will be ready to go.”
Monessen (10-12) qualified for the playoffs for a WPIAL-record 39th straight season, and the Greyhounds open up against Union (13-9) on Saturday at North Hills High School in the first round at 1 p.m. The winner plays second-seeded Bishop Canevin (17-5) on Feb. 20.
“The expectations at Monessen are to always be in the playoffs, and to qualify for the 39th straight year is a testament to the coaches and players that have come before me,” Monessen coach Dan Bosnic said. “Monessen is a special place to coach basketball, and I am very glad to be here. We really don’t look at seeds or anything like that. We just play where they put us and don’t worry about things we can’t control.”
Bosnic didn’t have a great deal of information on the Scotties when the brackets were unveiled Tuesday evening, but knows his team will be in for a challenge.
“Union plays in the same section as Vincentian Academy and Nazareth Prep, who are two teams that we played last year in the playoffs, so we know they are a quality basketball team,” Bosnic said. “We will look at some things later tonight, but we know that we have to be prepared on Saturday.
“Dawayne Howell and Marquell Smith are two of the players from last year’s team that made it to the final four in the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs, so we will rely on them for leadership and to help get their teammates ready to play that don’t have the postseason experience.”
The Greyhounds constantly challenged themselves in non-section play this season, as they faced teams that were not only in a higher classification, but solid squads as well.
“I have to give credit to Gina Naccarato, who is our athletic director and does a great job of putting together a challenging schedule for us,” Bosnic said. “We really believe that helps us come playoff time.”
The Rams play Ambridge (13-9) on Wednesday at Peters Township in the first round at 8 p.m. The winner meets top-seeded Highlands (19-3) on Feb. 22.
“They are bigger than us, so we are not sure how we match up,” Ringgold coach Phil Pergola said. “We are just going to go out there and play the best that we can. Once you get in the playoffs, everything is different. You really can’t look ahead because it’s one and done.”
The Vikings play New Castle (15-7) on Wednesday at North Allegheny in the first round at 8 p.m. The winner faces second-seeded Knoch (19-3) on Feb. 22.
Connellsville (8-14) battles Pine-Richland (14-8) at Fox Chapel on Wednesday at 8 p.m. in the opening round. The winner meets fourth-seeded Upper St. Clair (19-3) on Feb. 22.
Southmoreland (11-11) takes on Beaver Falls (13-7) on Friday at Mount Lebanon in first-round Class AAA action at 6:30 p.m. The Scotties closed the season by winning nine of their last 10 games.
California (12-9) meets Shenango (17-5) on Saturday at North Hills in first round play in Class AA at 2:30 p.m. The winner plays Jeanette (15-7) on Feb. 21.
Geibel Catholic (14-8) plays Leechburg (15-5) on Saturday at Thomas Jefferson at 1 p.m. in Class A action. The winner meets top-seeded Vincentian Academy (18-4) on Feb. 20.
West Greene (8-12) battles Imani Christian (14-8) on Saturday at Peters Township at 1 p.m. The winner meets Cornell (16-6) in the round of eight.
The championship games will be held Feb. 27-29 at the Petersen Events Center.