Control can be a funny concept in basketball, with a team thinking it has plenty of it until it ultimately has none of it at all.
Such was the case for the Norwin boys basketball team in its WPIAL Class AAAA first-round playoff game against Upper St. Clair last Saturday.
With about 30 seconds remaining in the game, the No. 13 seed Knights looked to be in prime position to upset the No. 4 Panthers, who entered the game as winners of their previous 16 contests. It was at that moment, though, that things began to fall apart, a sequence that ended with Upper St. Clair's Jordan Grabowski draining a 3-pointer with 2.4 seconds remaining to stun Norwin and avoid what would have been the biggest upset of the playoffs' first weekend.
Given the circumstances and events that led up to the game's defining play, it was an exceptionally difficult way for the Knights to see their season end.
"It was the toughest loss as a coach I've ever been associated with, to be in a position that we were and to have the game in control," Norwin coach Lynn Washowich said.
After racing out to a 15-6 lead at the end of the first quarter, Norwin not only had a three-point lead with about 30 seconds remaining, but it had just rebounded a missed Upper St. Clair jump shot.
For the Knights, it was an advantageous situation -- in control of the ball in the final minute, when all it would take was one more point to make it a two-possession game.
The player who rebounded the ball was off balance, however, causing his attempted pass to an open teammate to sail out of bounds.
"If he gets the basketball, the game's over," Washowich said.
The Panthers responded with a basket that cut the lead to one and they immediately fouled a Knights player afterward, who went on to make one of two free throws.
Then, with the season on the line, Grabowski pulled up for a contested 3-pointer, with a player right in his face, and made the shot. Washowich said he was surprised the Panthers settled for a shot that far out, especially only being down two points, but it proved to be a play that ended his team's upset bid.
Despite the tough loss, there is the silver lining of next season for the Knights. Though they lose two talented seniors in forward/center Matt Stewart and foward Nicholas Idele, they return 10 players, a group headlined by the team's leading scorer, guard Curtis Perz, a sophomore.
Even though the loss came in painful fashion, Washowich said he will not forget the effort that his team gave, even though it came up short in the end.
"Our kids played so hard," Washowich said. "I think Upper St. Clair knew they were on the ropes. I told my kids in the locker room it was the first time in my 15 years of coaching that an opposing coach went into the stands and gave sympathy to my wife.
"We were so in control of the game. It just wasn't meant to be."
Playing an overtime game in the playoff opener would make some teams feel out of sorts. Not McKeesport. The Tigers felt right at home.
Playing in overtime -- and down-to-the-wire games, in general -- has been commonplace for McKeesport this season, and that experience paid off last Saturday when the No. 11 seed Tigers used overtime to upset No. 6 Bethel Park, 58-54, in a WPIAL Class AAAA first-round game at Baldwin last Saturday. In the regular season, McKeesport played three overtime games, going 1-2 in those contests. One of the losses was an 89-83 triple-overtime defeat at Central Catholic. Of McKeesport's past 11 games, eight have been decided by seven points or fewer.
Reaching new heights
Though each lost in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs last week, both the Latrobe girls and the Central Catholic boys basketball teams could take something from this season.
Despite losing their final six games after a 9-8 start, the Wildcats finished the season 9-14, giving them their most wins since the 2007-08 season, when they finished 14-11. It was a four-win improvement over their 5-17 campaign of a year ago.
While its season may have ended in a blowout, a 72-41 loss to Seneca Valley last Saturday, Central Catholic finished the season 16-6, giving the Vikings their best winning percentage since they went 16-5 in 2009-10. Senior guard David Urso played a large role in the team's success, leading it with 19.1 points per game in the regular season.
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @craig_a_meyer