It was a basketball playoff game, but C.J. Brown had football season on his mind. The standout Seneca Valley quarterback kept thinking about how his senior season was so disappointing and how it ended without making the WPIAL playoffs.
"Football kind of motivated me for this game," Brown said. "I didn't want to lose in the first round of the basketball playoffs."
He made sure of it himself.
Brown, a 6-foot-3 forward, had a double-double last night and was the difference in the game as Seneca Valley defeated Fox Chapel, 49-38, in a WPIAL Class AAAA first-round game at North Hills.
Brown finished with 18 points, 14 rebounds and two dunks, and propelled Seneca Valley to an historical win. It marked the first time Seneca Valley won a first-round playoff game, but it had won two preliminary-round games, one in 1984 in an open tournament and the other two years ago.
"A lot of people know me as a football player, but anyone who knows me knows that I've always liked basketball first," said Brown, who will attend the University of Maryland on a football scholarship. "This is great winning this game. This has been a season of firsts for us."
A week ago, Seneca Valley (15-7) won its first section title. Now a first-round playoff win.
"C.J. Brown might not be a Division I college hooper, but he's definitely a Division I athlete. He's one of the best athletes we've seen around," said Fox Chapel coach Ben O'Connor.
Brown's effort helped Seneca Valley overcome a poor shooting game. Although Dan Rohm came off the bench to make four of seven 3-pointers and score 12 points, the rest of the Seneca Valley team shot 28 percent (11 of 39) from the field.
"That's because we played in North Hills' gym. We never can shoot here," said Seneca Valley coach Victor Giannotta, with a laugh.
But Seneca had Brown.
"I don't want to discredit our team, because we are a team," Giannotta said. "But at times, C.J. willed us to want to win that game."
While Seneca Valley didn't shoot well, with the exception of Rohm, Fox Chapel was worse, making only 30 percent (15 of 50). Senior guard Harrison Smith scored a team-high 15 points, but made only 5 of 19 shots. In Smith's defense, he has played the past few weeks with an injured right (shooting) shoulder. Fellow guard Alex Vargo was held to nine points.
"We're not a great shooting team," O'Connor said. "But to Seneca Valley's credit, they did a good job on Harrison, and they shut Alex down pretty good. He was not able to get into the paint very much."
Smith and 6-6 center David Martin picked up their second fouls in the second quarter and headed to the bench with Fox Chapel leading, 15-10. Fox Chapel scored one point the rest of the half and trailed, 19-16, at halftime. Fox Chapel came back from an eight-point second-half deficit and sliced the lead to 35-33 with 4:32 remaining.
But Christian Durbin hit a 3-pointer, and Brown converted a three-point play with 2:24 left to put the Raiders ahead, 41-33.