Lots of interesting matchup in tonight's WPIAL Class AAA final between South Fayette and Montour but I'm not sure if the Spartans will have an answer for Mike Lamberti.
Following the Lions' semifinal win over New Castle, Lamberti credited fellow senior Josh Patterson as the main reason for South Fayette's state championship run last year.
True, Patterson was a key cog but Lamberti put together the type of postseason run that a state champion needs and he's doing it again in these WPIAL playoffs.
In short, Lamberti is a big-time player who plays his best in the big games.
I expect the 6-6 forward to have another one tonight at the Palumbo Center. He knows how to use his size on both ends of the court but it's his basketball smarts that makes him such a tough matchup. If Montour collapses its defense tonight, Lamberti will gladly take the mid-range jumper.
* Fort Cherry junior Beka Bellhy certainly jumped into the conversation for Observer-Reporter Girls Player of the Year with her efforts this postseason.
Rochester had no answer for Bellhy in the second half of Wednesday's semifinal and her play lifted the Rangers to their first WPIAL championship game appearance and the first for Fort Cherry since 1961, when the boys won PIAA and WPIAL titles.
* Monessen continues to impress with its depth and balance.
Coaches like to say they can play eight, nine or 10 guys and have little to no dropoff. For Joe Salvino at Monessen, it's the truth. Salvino has stated this group might be the deepest he's coached.
Heck, I think it's the deepest team I've seen.
Can anyone else a Class A team playing up in Class AA ran 11 quality players into a game like Monessen does?
That said, balanced teams often need a go-to guy in tightly contested postseason games. Monessen has several candidates but it's been center Cam Johnson, a potentially dominant 6-7 senior, the past two rounds.
* South Fayette may be without starting guard Nick Elder, who suffered an ankle injury against New Castle in the semifinals.
Elder returned to that game after the injury. He's a key contributor to South Fayette's tough man defense and is capable of putting up 10-15 points when the Lions need him to score. If Elder does not start against Montour, he likely won't play until the PIAA playoffs.
* Fort Cherry junior point guarrd Jessie Merckle was sent home from Thursday's practice. Merckle has a cold but played Wednesday. Fort Cherry coach Bob Miles thought some extra rest would be good and he said Thursday night that he can't imagine Merckle missing the game.
* Following Monessen's win over Wilkinsburg, Salvino told reporters that he does not expect leading scorer Jaisen Irwin back before the PIAA playoffs. Irwin has missed Monessen's three WPIAL playoff games for disciplinary reasons.
Again, it's a credit to Monessen's depth that the Greyhounds advanced to the WPIAL championship for the first time since 2002.
* Who would have guessed that little McDonald, Pa. would become such a basketball hotbed?
Not only is Fort Cherry in the WPIAL finals, but South Fayette's mailing address is also McDonald.
Here's an idea if both win the WPIAL: a fire truck parade starting in Cuddy and ending in Hickory with a quick stop in Cecil for ice cream.
* Boys basketball attracts a larger following at most locales in the WPIAL but The Varsity Letters has come away impressed with the student section at Fort Cherry, a group of vocal followers of the girls basketball team.
It's not common to see a unified student section at a girls basketball game. Not sure if the guys have much affect on the game, but it adds an element to watching and makes it feel more like a playoff game.
* It's time to take a look back at my championship game predictions made when the WPIAL released the pairings. Feel free to check the February archive for validation.
In boys TVL went with Gateway over Chartiers Valley, South Fayette over West Mifflin, Greensburg Central Catholic over Monessen and Rochester over Lincoln Park. That's six of the eight finalists - with the right finalists picked in Class AAAA and AA - picked before a game was played.
As Deuce Skurcenski would say, "Not too shabby."
The TVL girls picks were Mt. Lebanon over Bethel Park, New Castle over Chartiers Valley, Seton-La Salle over Deer Lakes and Monessen over Fort Cherry. That's only three finalists out of eight though TVL believes props are deserved for picking Fort Cherry.
* Time for championship game predictions.
Gateway over Chartiers Valley (Got to stick with the original pick though gut feeling says go with CV.)
South Fayette over Montour
GCC over Monessen (Again, sticking with the original pick.)
Vincentian Academy over Lincoln Park
Mt. Lebanon over Shaler
Blackhawk over Ambridge
Seton-La Salle over Jeannette
North Catholic over Fort Cherry