If the WPIAL basketball semifinals were a party, Class AAAA would be a private affair for Section 3 only.
Class AA would have some unexpected guests crashing the gig.
Those are some of the top storylines for the semifinals, which will be played tonight and Wednesday. The winners advance to the title games this weekend at the Palumbo Center.
In Class AAAA, the semifinals take on historical significance because it's a "four-3" affair. New Castle, North Allegheny, Hampton and Seneca Valley are four teams from Section 3 that have all made it to the semifinals. This is the first time in the history of the WPIAL playoffs that four teams from one section made the semifinals.
"To have all four in the semifinals from our section isn't surprising," said New Castle coach Ralph Blundo, whose team won Section 3. "Three of our section teams were the top three seeds [New Castle, North Allegheny and Hampton], but I think some people still wondered how strong the section was.
"That's not saying there weren't other good teams out there, but the teams in our section were very, very good. I thought Pine-Richland was one of the best teams we played this year and they didn't even get in the playoffs."
Meanwhile, the popular question for the Class AA party might be, "Who are these guys?" Burrell and Apollo-Ridge are teams without much basketball history, but both have made it to the semifinals. It is only the second semifinal appearance for Burrell. The other was 1979, when the Bucs, led by Joey Meyers and Brian Sharick, made it to the Class AAA title game before losing to Beaver Falls.
Coincidentally, Myers' daughter, Natalie, is a freshman starter on the Burrell girls team that is in the semifinals for the first time since 1994.
The story of the Apollo-Ridge boys is similar to Burrell. This is only Apollo-Ridge's second semifinal appearance. The other was 1988, when Apollo-Ridge lost to Carlynton, 43-42, on Mike Kozy's late basket for Carlynton.
"We're not surprised [to be in the semifinals] because we feel like we've beaten good teams all year," said Burrell coach Rob Niederberger. "We thought we had a team coming back that was pretty good. Last year in Triple-A we played in the same section with Hampton and Mars and did OK."
Apollo-Ridge and Burrell both come from Class AA Section 1. Burrell tied Deer Lakes for the section title, and Apollo-Ridge finished third.
"I know what people think looking at the section from the outside. People always think the section is garbage," Niederberger said. "But there is something about this year. The teams are good. ... I got this [Burrell] job two years ago, and it was a disaster the first year. We won four games. I started preaching about winning a section, winning the WPIAL, getting to Hershey. These guys looked at me like I was nuts. But the kids have worked hard and all of a sudden they bought in."
Here is a look at the WPIAL semifinals tonight and Wednesday:
New Castle (24-0) has defeated Seneca Valley (17-7) this season by 34 and 23 points. But Blundo is wary of Seneca Valley because of its size and style. New Castle plays Seneca Valley Wednesday at Ambridge.
"They're completely different than most teams because of their length, their size and the zone defenses they play," Blundo said. "[Seneca Valley coach] Victor Giannotta has done a good job evolving that team with what they do well. We have a lot of respect for what that team has done and we know it's going to be a great challenge."
In the other semifinal Wednesday, North Allegheny (21-3) meets Hampton (20-4) at Chartiers Valley. The teams split two games in the regular season, and two keys in the rubber match will be North Allegheny's 3-point shooting and how well Hampton handles North Allegheny's defensive pressure.
North Allegheny averaged 10 3-pointers a game during the regular season, but Hampton has a size advantage on North Allegheny.
Mars is a new face in the semifinals, making it for the first time in school history. The Planets (21-3) face Montour (20-4) tonight at Moon.
Montour's team is guard-oriented and led by senior point guard Devin Wilson. Kevin Scuilli and Rob Julian also are good 3-point shooters. Mars has 6-foot-8 senior center Josh Goetz, but don't underestimate Mars guards Mitch Buzzard, Owen Nearhoof and Garrett Ashbaugh.
Montour is trying to make the title game for the second time in three seasons.
In the other semifinal tonight, No. 1 seed Chartiers Valley (21-3) takes on Beaver (19-3) at North Allegheny. One of Chartiers Valley's losses this season was to Beaver, 59-55, in early January.
Both teams have a presence in the middle -- Chartiers Valley's Spencer Casson and Beaver's Aaron Barlow -- but guard play has been the key so far for both teams in the playoffs. Beaver never has played in a WPIAL title game. Chartiers Valley is trying to make it to a championship for the ninth time since 1996.
Quaker Valley (20-4) defeated Burrell (18-6), 53-39, in the second game of the season. Wednesday, they meet in the semifinals at North Allegheny.
"[Quaker Valley coach] Mike Mastroianni does such a good job, I honestly don't know what he will throw at us," Niederberger said. "The last time, they played us man-to-man and we were pounding them. He went to a 2-3 zone defense in the second half, and we weren't ready for it. They're a tough matchup, but at the same time we have some tough matchups for them."
In the other semifinal at North Allegheny, Apollo-Ridge (18-7) takes on Beaver Falls (21-3). One of Apollo-Ridge's top players is sophomore point guard Tre Tipton, but Beaver Falls has one of the best backcourts in the WPIAL with junior Elijah Cottrill and senior Drew Cook.
Though this is only Apollo-Ridge's second semifinal appearance, this is Beaver Falls' ninth semifinal appearance in Doug Biega's 14 years as coach. Biega needs only two wins to reach 300 for his career (his record is 298-91).
All of Clairton's basketball players were members of the football team that finished the season on a 63-game winning streak. Those football players will face one of the top Class A basketball teams in the state tonight when Clairton (15-6) plays Lincoln Park (19-5) at Keystone Oaks.
Lincoln Park is the defending WPIAL champion and is led by 6-8 junior Elijah Minnie (21 ppg) and 6-5 freshman Maverick Rowan (24 ppg). Rowan has 74 3-pointers this season. Kentucky coach John Calipari showed up at Lincoln Park's practice Sunday.
In the other Class A semifinal at North Hills, Vincentian (23-1) and North Catholic (16-5) meet for the third time this season. Vincentian, which averages 83 points a game, beat North Catholic twice, 91-82 and 80-68.