New Castle, North Allegheny and Hampton have dominated talk about not only Class AAAA, but the entire WPIAL this season, and the trio backed up the hype by each winning their first 10 games and at one time all being ranked in the top 10 in the state.
But now, with little fanfare, another team from that vaunted Section 3 is emerging as a darkhorse contender to finish high in the section and perhaps make a run in the WPIAL playoffs.
Seneca Valley is quietly having a strong season. The Raiders are 10-3 overall, 5-2 in the section after a 46-27 victory against Butler Tuesday. Seneca Valley has won four in a row and six of its past seven games, and suddenly finds itself right there with the "Big Three" in the section hierarchy.
"Those teams deserve to be talked about," Seneca Valley coach Victor Giannotta said. "For us, it's a marathon, not a sprint. You can't get too high or too low. I guess you could say we're the best of the misfit toys."
Seneca Valley opened some eyes last Friday by handily winning at Hampton, 57-35. The Raiders led by two points at the half and then outscored Hampton, 33-13, in the second half. The Raiders held the Talbots' top two scorers, Ryan Luther and David Huber, to a combined 12 points.
"What helped us was that they played North Allegheny a few days earlier," Giannotta said. "Any section win on the road is an accomplishment. Does it give us breathing room? No. But it was a big section win because they're all big."
Seneca Valley has a nice one-two punch with 6-foot-5 senior guard Easton Bazzoli and 6-3 senior forward R.J. McCauley. In the win against Hampton, Bazzoli scored 20 points and McCauley added 18. Bazzoli leads the Raiders in scoring with around 15 points per game.
The Raiders' only section losses were at North Allegheny, 55-49, and against New Castle, 79-45.
"I think this team is getting better. It's a pretty mature group," Giannotta said. "But we still have a long way to go."
Mastroianni hits milestone
When the Quaker Valley boys basketball team edged Avonworth by two points on Jan. 4, it marked the Quakers' first Class AA Section 6 win of the season.
But there was an even bigger achievement attained that night.
Quaker Valley coach Mike Mastroianni picked up his 350th career victory.
It's an impressive feat for a coach who wasn't even aware it was happening, and once he did, was quick to deflect any praise to some of those who have joined him on the bench over the years.
"Quite honestly, I wasn't even aware of it," Mastroianni said of the milestone win. "I've been [coaching] for quite a while and I've been fortunate to have a lot of good assistant coaches."
Mastroianni is in his 21st season as a head coach, the past 14 at his alma mater, Quaker Valley. Since the triumph against Avonworth, the Quakers have won four more games, upping Mastroianni's career record to 354-171 (.674).
Mastroianni is doing another fine job this season. Quaker Valley lost its top four scorers from last season's team that advanced to the PIAA semifinals, yet the Quakers have quickly reloaded and have the look of a team that could play deep into the postseason. Quaker Valley (11-3, 4-2) is one game behind Sto-Rox in Section 6.
Winners of six in a row and eight of nine, Quaker Valley has surrendered only 43.6 points per game. That's the top mark in the section and among the best in Class AA. The Quakers have held their past five opponents to fewer than 40 points.
Here are couple boys games to keep an eye on this week.
Friday: McKeesport at Fox Chapel, 7:30 p.m. -- These teams -- along with Gateway and Central Catholic -- are battling to win the Class AAAA Section 2 title. McKeesport has won nine in a row, while Fox Chapel has dropped four of its past six games. Mc-Keesport is looking for revenge falling to Fox Chapel, 55-53, in overtime Dec. 14. In that game, Fox Chapel's Billy Urso scored on a putback just before the buzzer to give the Foxes the win.
Tuesday: North Allegheny at Shaler, 7:30 p.m. -- It's been a tough season for Shaler (7-7, 1-6). The Titans, though, have been competitive in the majority of those games. They also have one of the WPIAL's top scorers in Geno Thorpe. North Allegheny saw its perfect season come crashing down in last Friday's 45-point loss to New Castle, so going on another lengthy winning streak is on the Tigers' minds.