In covering three WPIAL basketball championship games this weekend – Boys Class AAA, Girls Class A and Boys Class AA – it's amazing the varying spectrum in how teams deal with defeat.
The Fort Cherry girls trailed North Catholic by double figures for the vast majority of its championship loss. A late, wild and almost unbelievable rally by Fort Cherry in a game where both teams had to put starters back into the game with under 15 seconds remaining certainly added some excitement to what had been a lackluster contest.
Following the game, the Fort Cherry players headed back to the locker room and it was easy to see the pride on their faces. The Rangers came this close to erasing a 20-point second-half deficit and were one missed open three-pointer from making it a one-possession game with six seconds remaining.
Fort Cherry already had the talent to make a respectable run in the PIAA playoffs. The comeback should only add to the team's collective confidence.
South Fayette, meanwhile, took it's loss to Montour hard. In talking with the team throughout the season, I thought the players put a little too much emphasis on winning the WPIAL, but, then again, there's absolutely nothing wrong with establishing championship goals and embracing them.
That said, the Lions played surprisingly poorly and clearly showed their frustration on the court. They forced way too many shots and rather than run a highly productive offense that can tear up a defense with mid-range jumpers, players looked to draw fouls. The calls didn't come maybe, in part, because it became obvious that's what they were trying to draw.
It was odd to watch South Fayette play like that but, credit Montour. The Spartans executed their game plan well and deserved to win.
The question remains, can South Fayette refocus from a humbling loss to dedicate itself to winning another state championship or at least making another memorable run?
* Here's one word for Monessen's run to the WPIAL Class AA championship – amazing. Here's another – team.
The Greyhounds' thorough 63-43 win over top-seed Greensburg Central Catholic was proof positive that team basketball works at the WPIAL level. Monessen played the entire tournament without its leading scorer but big man Cam Johnson played big throughout the WPIAL playoffs. Nick Bolias, who has rapidly evolved as a player over the past year, was excellent on both ends of the court. Jalen Madison made big shots in the championship and handled GCC's pressure. Earl Pinkney did a lot of the dirty work but, unlike a lot of glue guys, Pinkney can score.
When Monessen needed a three-pointer, it was guys like Jeff Francia or backup Trae Cook providing them.
Monessen embodies team basketball. Credit coach Joe Salvino with getting his players to believe in the system and the players with making it work.
*Fort Cherry started four juniors in the WPIAL championship game. The first player off the bench is a freshman. Something to think about.
* Very impressed with the play of Rangers junior Carolena Gasbarra against North Catholic. With her height and ability to run the point if needed, Gasbarra must be a matchup nightmare for opposing coaches.
* Spoke with South Fayette senior Mike Lamberti following the Lions loss and though Lamberti was obviously upset with the way he played – he made four of 19 shots – he shouldered the blame for the loss. Haven't come across many players at that level who have done that.
* Some readers are likely familiar with the name Tom Drakeley. He's a former head coach at Trinity, a current assistant coach for the men's team at Washington & Jefferson College and an occasional analyst on broadcasts for WJPA. Drakeley is also one of my favorite guys to talk local basketball with because he studies the area closely and always has a strong opinion backed up with facts.
We got a chance to chat a few minutes before Fort Cherry tipped off Saturday and Drakeley praised Rangers head coach Bob Miles for some of the pregame drills he has players run. It was an interesting perspective.
* Speaking of Miles, following the conclusion of our post-game interview, as Miles headed inside the locker room, he stopped and said, "Beka Bellhy has certainly distinguished herself this postseason."
Yep, she sure has.
* How about this? Not one No. 1 seed in the boys tournaments won a WPIAL title. South Fayette and Greensburg Central Catholic lost in the title game. Shaler and Rochester didn't make it that far and won't participate in the state playoffs.
* With Ed Dalton officially accepting the Trinity football position and the recent hire of Rich Piccinini at Peters Township, that leaves one local opening.
Frank Gray recently resigned at Avella. Word is Gray got heat from parents who said he didn't win enough.
If true, that's - as Dusty Rhodes used to say - shameful daddy.
* I can't recall the last time a position was opened as quickly as the one for Burgettstown boys basketball. The Blue Devils season ended on a Saturday and the position was opened two days later.