The Fox Chapel boys and girls basketball teams came up a little short in their attempts at making it to the WPIAL championship games, but both teams should be among the favorites to accomplish the feats next season.
With lineups dominated by underclassmen, the Fox Chapel boys and girls advanced to the WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinals before being eliminated last week. The boys were defeated by North Allegheny, 79-61, and the girls were knocked out by Mt. Lebanon, 45-42.
Both teams still could qualify for the PIAA tournament. Only the top five finishers in WPIAL Class AAAA qualify, so the Fox Chapel boys will be rooting for North Allegheny to win the championship, and the girls will be pulling for Mt. Lebanon to capture the title.
Fourth-year coach Zach Skrinjar guided the Fox Chapel boys to a first-round win against Hempfield, the program's first playoff victory since 2007. The Foxes (17-7) were involved in a heated battle for the Section 2 title that came down to the final week of section play. The Foxes eventually finished third behind section champion Central Catholic and Gateway.
Juniors Matt D'Amico and Brian Papich form one of the top guard tandems in the WPIAL. D'Amico averages 22 points per game and was the seventh-leading scorer in the WPIAL during the regular season. Papich averages 15.1 points and scored a game-high 23 in the first-round win.
The Foxes, who have only one senior on their roster, boast another talented guard in Billy Urso, a sophomore who has scored in double figures regularly this season.
The Fox Chapel girls have made one of the most dramatic turnarounds in the WPIAL. A year after going 3-19 and finishing next-to-last in Section 2, the Foxes are 18-6 and were section co-champions. The Foxes, who are guided by fourth-year coach Meghan Meabon, held defending WPIAL champion Mt. Lebanon to four first-quarter points in their quarterfinal matchup, but fell just a little short of pulling off what would have been a sizable upset.
Erin Mathias, a 6-foot-3 center, has had a breakout junior season after missing her entire sophomore season with a knee injury. Mathias, who has already accepted a scholarship to Duke, averages 17.1 points per game.
The Foxes start two freshmen -- Kayla Slovenec and Taylor Cohen -- and sophomore Alanna Palumbo is one of their top players off the bench.
This was the first time since 2006 that both the Fox Chapel boys and girls won a WPIAL playoff game.
Luther scores big
Hampton's Ryan Luther has had some big scoring games this season, but he had never had the type of quarter or half that he did in the Talbots' WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinal win against McKeesport.
Luther scored 18 points in the second quarter and went into halftime having already scored 24. He finished with 31 points in leading Hampton to a 71-63 win. The Talbots (20-4) played North Allegheny (21-3) in Wednesday night's semifinals.
Hampton coach Joe Lafko was understandably impressed with the play of his star junior, who averages 21.5 points per game.
"Ryan played an exceptional first half. I told him that's the best first half I've seen him play all season long. Probably the best first half he's played in his career," Lafko said. "He did everything he's capable of doing. He played an exceptional second quarter and overall first half."
The Talbots, in general, put together an outstanding half of basketball. They shot nearly 70 percent from the field and led McKeesport, 50-28, at halftime. McKeesport allowed more points in the half than it had in six full games this season.
North teams thrive
This has been a banner year for high school boys teams in the North Xtra area as far as deep WPIAL playoff runs go. Of the 16 teams advancing to the semifinals among the four classes, seven were from the North Xtra area. No more than six had made it that far dating back to the 1997-98 season.
This season's seven semifinalists were North Allegheny, Hampton and Seneca Valley in Class AAAA; Mars in Class AAA; Quaker Valley in Class AA; and Vincentian and North Catholic in Class A.
North Xtra area boys teams went 7-1 in quarterfinal games (Fox Chapel was the lone team defeated), but girls teams from the same area went just 2-5. Only Class A powers Vincentian and North Catholic advanced to the semifinals, while North Allegheny, Fox Chapel, Hampton, Deer Lakes and St. Joseph were all eliminated.