There's still hope for the Gateway High School boys basketball team.
Despite losing decisively to New Castle last weekend and getting eliminated from the WPIAL Class AAAA bracket, the Gators still have a shot at qualifying for the PIAA tournament.
They need New Castle to keep cruising past opponents and win the WPIAL Class AAAA championship on Saturday.
Because the WPIAL is awarded five spots in the state's Class AAAA bracket -- one for each semifinalist and another for whichever team lost to the eventual WPIAL champion in the quarterfinals -- Gateway's chances of continuing its season hinges on the Red Hurricanes capturing the WPIAL title.
"We still get to go to practice and get our time in the gym," Gateway coach Mitch Adams said. "We'll be able to benefit from this extra practice time and see what happens."
Top-seeded New Castle (24-0) ended Gateway's three-year run of appearances in the WPIAL title game following an 87-55 quarterfinal victory Feb. 23 at Ambridge. The Red Hurricanes played in the semifinals Wednesday night against Seneca Valley (17-7), while North Allegheny (21-3) and Hampton (20-4) faced one another on the other side of the bracket.
"We're not dismissing Seneca Valley, even though New Castle beat them twice during the regular season," Adams said, "but we still like our chances."
The two-time defending WPIAL champion Gators (16-6) entered the WPIAL tournament as the No. 10 seed and beat Kiski Area, 56-45, in the first round on Feb. 20. Star guard D.J. Boyce scored a game-high 23 points with eight steals against Kiski Area.
Boyce, a 5-foot-11 senior, found himself in foul trouble against New Castle and was held to just four points.
"D.J. has been our rock all season," Adams said. "He's had a tremendous career at Gateway, making three trips to the WPIAL title game and winning two championships for the program. He's won 83 games in his high school career and that says a lot."
Gateway trailed New Castle, 27-26, with 5:40 remaining in the first half. The 'Canes, however, went on an 18-5 run down the stretch to take a 45-31 advantage at the half and never looked back.
"It was a competitive game for a quarter and a half," Adams said. "Then we had a charge call go against us, D.J. picked up his second foul and we turned the ball over three times. You can't do that against a good team, but you especially can't do that against a great New Castle team. This is a very, very talented group New Castle has right now."
Senior guard Jordan Landfair paced Gateway with 16 points against New Castle, and junior guard Delvon Randall followed with 11 points.
"If you give New Castle a big man to go with the players they have, they can compete with anyone in the country," Adams said. "They have quickness; they can shoot well and defend. They do everything you need to win games.
"[New Castle coach] Ralph Blundo has done a great job turning that team into one of the elite programs in the WPIAL."
Not only would New Castle present Gateway with an opportunity to compete in the state tournament, but it also would give the Gators a second shot at facing the 'Canes. The first round of the PIAA tournament, which tips off March 9, would pair the No. 1 and No. 5 seeds from the WPIAL against one another.
"This time, my game plan might be a little different. Maybe we can kidnap their bus driver or do something to keep them from getting to the game," Adams joked.
"We would hope that the second time seeing them, they don't shoot the ball as well. We had hands in everyone's faces and they still shot well. We also don't want to turn the ball over.
"Still, I relish the opportunity to play them again."
First Published February 28, 2013 5:00 AM