A few deep, random thoughts ...
Peters Township boys soccer coach Bob Dyer - easily one of the best coaches in Western Pennsylvania - talked about the concerns high school coaches have, even when that team is rife with talent, tradition and a fill trophy case, following a 2009 playoff game.
Dyer mentioned that the easiest of games can concern a coach because, "You don't know if his girlfriend broke up with him in sixth period or he failed a pop quiz and now his week is ruined."
Sounds silly. For coaches, it's not. The psyche of a high school athlete is a fragile one.
What's this got to do with the WPIAL basketball playoffs? Well, in the case of Monessen's unbelievable loss to Laurel in the Class AA preliminaries, a lot.
For those unfamiliar, Monessen led by one with less than a second remaining when Cam Johnson was intentionally fouled. Johnson missed both free throws. Monessen went to inbound with .6 seconds remaining. Rather than throwing the ball to midcourt, the inbounder threw it to his left. Laurel stole the ball and made the game-winning shot.
Now, can a player steal a basketball, gather himself and shoot a jumper in .6 seconds? Absolutely not. That basket should have never been allowed.
But the play goes to show that you'll never know how a 16-year-old kid will react to pressure.
* Speaking of pressure, Washington nearly wilted under it during the final minutes of regulation in Wednesday's overtime victory over Freeport. Again, you'll never know how kids will react to these situations.
Luckily for Washington, Troy Wilson and Zach Barnes, in particular, played with the necessary calm and smarts during overtime to get the Prexies a quarterfinal contest against North Catholic. Wash High also returns to the PIAA playoffs with the victory.
If Washington is to beat North Catholic - something I have predicted on this blog - it has to return to the style of play that carried them to the Section 5 title. Against Freeport, Washington rarely made the extra pass and took far too many forced shots.
When Washington played team basketball - late in the first quarter, the third quarter and the first few minutes of overtime - the Prexies were clearly the better team and I believe that if the Prexies put together a string of efforts like it had at Monessen, they can win the WPIAL.
* After a 32-point win over Laurel, South Fayette rolls into the quarterfinals against Beaver Falls. The Lions have shrugged off a mid-season skid and have won six straight. Five of those wins have been by 19 points or more.
A couple people asked why I picked South Fayette to win the WPIAL Class AA title when the pairings were announced. One reason is because, one through six on the roster, South Fayette is the most talented team in the classification.
I'll always take the team with the best talent when it's combined with toughness and good coaching. South Fayette has all those things.
* Aliquippa lost its first-round game to Jeannette. The result may surprise some but, to local basketball aficionados, it does not. Zach Hooks, a transfer from Charleroi, played major minutes for the Quips. I'm not sure Hooks would make my all-district team if he had stayed in Charleroi.
* Speaking of the all-district team, Peters Township's Craig Wolcott and Trinity's Josh Valentic are shoo-ins and serious considerations for Player of the Year.
Valentic, a relentless worker on the offensive end, will face the ultimate test Friday against Chartiers Valley. The Colts are know to start their press as soon as the opponent walks off the bus.
* Here are a couple observations from the playoffs:
1. Free-throw shooting is at an all-time low. I've seen some terrible performances at the line. There's no excuse.
2. Officiating has been nearly as bad as the free-throw shooting.
* As Pitt marches toward another appearance in the NCAA Tournament, there's growing sentiment that people should never count out a team coached by Jamie Dixon.
Time to say the same thing about Gary Goga.
Goga demands his players have mental toughness, play with smarts and ultimate defensive effort. Peters Township's lack of size has led to a few losses this year but with the way the Indians shoot, can anyone say they have no chance Saturday against North Allegheny?
* Fort Cherry girls coach Bob Miles also deserves recognition for the job he's done.
The Rangers were anything but a playoff regular a decade ago. Now, FC has a chance to make its second PIAA playoff appearance in the past five years with a win Saturday against Monessen.
Unlike previous Fort Cherry teams, which had a standout scorer, these Rangers take turns leading the offense. Fort Cherry is 16-4 and the majority of the top players are sophomores.