In almost every aspect imaginable, the Gateway boys basketball team lacks the profile of a traditional underdog.
The Gators are the two-time defending WPIAL Class AAAA champions who, with a talented cast of players, will be playing in the PIAA playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, making them one of the few Class AAAA programs to ever accomplish that feat.
If anything, the underdog designation is placed upon Gateway because its opponent in the first round of the state playoffs is one that will present an extraordinary challenge, one that no team has been able to solve this season -- that is, how exactly do you beat New Castle?
It's a task the Gators were faced with less than two weeks ago and while they weren't able to hand the Hurricanes their first loss of the season, coach Mitch Adams and his team will get a second chance Saturday at North Allegheny.
New Castle averaged 80 points per game in the regular season, a number indicative of a team that likes to play at a quick pace, something which has routinely overwhelmed opponents throughout the season.
"What New Castle does well is they pressure," Adams said. "They've played together for six, seven, eight years. They defend, they handle and they shoot it. Those are three things they do very, very well. Credit [New Castle coach] Ralph Blundo -- he's taught that to them."
As should be expected in postseason play, especially against a team that presses, much of the Gators' success will hang on the play of senior point guard D.J. Boyce, one of the team's star players and veteran leaders.
With Boyce's help, Gateway was able to play New Castle closely for much of the first half of their first meeting. But with his team trailing by six points, Boyce picked up his second foul and the Hurricanes went on a run that gave them a 45-31 lead by halftime. New Castle won the game, 87-55.
With anecdotes like that, Boyce's importance to the Gators cannot be overstated.
"We must have D.J. Boyce on the floor -- he's the driver of the bus, he's the airplane pilot," Adams said. "We need him."
Despite New Castle's impressive resume, Adams noted that the Hurricanes, like any other team at any level, are not invincible, even though just one opponent this season (Hampton) has come within 15 points of beating them.
Equipped with one of the rarities in sports -- a second chance -- the Gators are ready to make the most of the opportunity presented to them.
"There weren't too many good feelings in the locker rom after that game," Adams said. "Our kids wanted another opportunity and we'll get it Saturday at 3 o'clock at North Allegheny."
Top offense vs. top defense
The previous time the Allderdice girls basketball team left the court, it was after it fell in the City League championship Feb. 23 to Westinghouse, a 54-42 setback. The defeat, however, did not signal the end of the Dragons' season as they will tip off against Chartiers Valley Friday in the first round of the PIAA playoffs. For much of the season, Allderdice was carried by the high-scoring tandem of Sierra Fordham and Sydney Abernathy, who both averaged more than 20 points per game. But they will face one of their stiffest challenges of the season from the Colts, the WPIAL Class AAAA runners-up, who feature a stingy defense that gave up a little more than 37 points per game in the regular season.
Jayhawks look to regroup
After strong regular seasons, the boys and girls basketball teams at Jeannette were not able to make it to their respective WPIAL championships, but they both move on to the playoffs as some of the area's strongest Class AAA teams. Coach Adrian Batts and the boys team was dealt a surprising 53-49 quarterfinal loss to Apollo-Ridge, but they get another opportunity to continue their season with a first-round game against a West Middlesex team that won more than 20 games and went 2-1 against local teams this season (defeating Beaver and Perry while losing to Beaver Falls). The girls team, led by the WPIAL-leading scorer Ciara Gregory, will travel north to take on a 22-3 General McLane team at Edinboro University.
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @craig_a_meyer