Jeannette coach Adrian Batts said he doesn't pay too much attention to other sections in the WPIAL, but he's certain about one thing -- that his Jayhawks are among a strong set of teams.
"I know that right now, our section is pretty tough," he said.
It's a point that's certainly a valid one as Jeannette is one of three teams in Class AA Section 3 that is still right in the mix for the section's top seed for the WPIAL playoffs. Along with Greensburg Central Catholic and Serra Catholic, it is shaping up to be a close race to the finish for three teams that are very much in contention.
Three games separate the top team in the section, Greensburg Central Catholic (17-1, 9-0) from the third-place team, Serra Catholic (12-4, 5-3), with Jeannette (15-2, 8-1) just a single game behind the first-place Centurions.
The Jayhawks defeated Serra, 63-56, Tuesday night.
Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic have been playing one another for years and have been consistently successful in that period. But what has added to the conference's competitive nature has been the addition of Serra Catholic, a perennial Class A power that moved up to Class AA this season.
Thus far, the Eagles have more than held their own, having already reached double digits in wins. For opposing coaches, Serra Catholic's inclusion has been a valuable one.
"Serra has a great program, a great tradition and certainly an excellent team this year," Greensburg Central Catholic coach Greg Bisignani said. "They've made our conference a lot more competitive."
In some respects, the race to finish first in the section may seem moot, as the top four teams in the section qualify for the WPIAL playoffs, where a team's success for that season will be truly measured.
For coaches and players, however, there is some value in the final section standings, with Section 3 being no exception.
"It's always one of our goals as a team to win the section [title] and it gives you a little bit of motivation and confidence going into the playoffs," Bisignani said. "I do think it's important, but it's not imperative."
As fate (or the WPIAL schedulers) would have it, Jeannette and Greensburg Central Catholic will play on Feb. 8, in what will be each team's final section game of the regular season. The Centurions won the previous meeting between the teams this season, a 65-61 victory at Jeannette, but just last season, they won on the road against the Jayhawks only to drop the rematch at home -- in the final game of the regular season, no less.
Regardless of what has happened in the past, the two teams will know exactly what to expect when they take to the court, likely with the section title on the line.
"No matter if this was a section game or just a regular game, it's going to be a war," Batts said. "They know that and we know that."
No panic at Gateway
The Gateway boys basketball team, the two-time defending WPIAL Class AAAA champion, lost for the third time this season last Sunday, dropping a 59-56 decision to Upper St. Clair at the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Classic. But anyone who sees the Gators' record as an indictment of their championship prospects might want to reconsider.
Through 15 games this season, Gateway is 12-3 overall, which is actually better than its 11-4 record at the same point last season and is just one game off from their 13-2 mark two seasons ago.
The Gators are 9-1 and in first place in Class AAAA Section 2.
There's a pair of top girls' games with potentially big implications to keep an eye on next week:
• Greensburg Salem at Indiana, 7:30 p.m. Monday -- The two teams are caught in a three-team race along with Uniontown in Class AAA Section 3, with the loser likely seeing its section title hopes greatly diminished. The Golden Lions are led by two of the WPIAL's top scorers in Jayne and Clair Oberdorf, but will be tested by a Little Indians defense giving up fewer than 40 points per game.
• Plum at Fox Chapel, 6 p.m. Tuesday -- With just three games left in their season, the Mustangs are just behind the Foxes in the Class AAAA Section 2 standings, with a win potentially giving them a much-needed upper hand. The game will feature two of the area's top scorers in Fox Chapel's Erin Mathias and Plum's Krista Pietropola.
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