North Xtra: Rare years for Mars, Deer Lakes

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The words that have been uttered only a few times ever in the world of WPIAL boys basketball: Mars and Deer Lakes are section champions.

The two schools are having outstanding seasons and finished at the top of their respective sections, a rarity for both programs. Mars (19-3, 12-0) won the Class AAA Section 1 championship outright, just the second section title in school history (the other came in 1987 and it was shared with Springdale).

Deer Lakes (16-6, 8-2) shared the Class AA Section 1 title with Burrell. It's the Lancers first section championship since 1992 and third in school history.

Mars, the No. 2 seed in Class AAA, opens the playoffs Tuesday against the winner of Friday's preliminary-round game between Steel Valley and South Park.

Deer Lakes plays Shady Side Academy at noon Saturday at North Hills.

Cheswick rolling in SWCAC

Cheswick Christian is enjoying its best season in a decade.

The Chargers (17-6) are 11-0 in the Southwest Christian Athletic Conference East Division and have clinched their first regular-season championship since winning back-to-back titles in 2001-02 and 2002-03.

One of Cheswick Christian's strengths is quality depth. The Chargers have a solid eight-player rotation, a rarity in a league full of schools with extremely small enrollments. Cheswick Christian will graduate only 14 seniors this spring.

"We have sort of been able to wear down most teams," said coach Todd Rosio, who is in his 19th season as Cheswick's coach.

Senior Tyler Knupp, who resides in Penn Hills, leads Cheswick Christian in scoring with 12 points per game. Brothers JaJuan (a junior) and Antoine (a sophomore) Malloy, South Side residents, are two of the other key contributors.

The SWCAC playoffs begin Tuesday and conclude with the championship game Feb. 23 at Penn State New Kensington.

WPIAL championship picks

A total of 161 teams -- 80 boys and 81 girls -- in four classifications have seen their WPIAL championship hopes extend to the postseason, but only eight will finish with gold medals around their necks March 1-2 at Duquesne University's Palumbo Center.

Here are one guy's predictions on who will ultimately lift the championship trophies two weeks from now. (Note: If these picks are all correct, there will be six repeat champions).

BOYS

Class AAAA: New Castle -- It's been awhile since a Class AAAA team has been so heavily favored. In fact, New Castle, the Class AAA champ last season, might be the best team from Western Pennsylvania since DeJuan Blair led Schenley to the PIAA title in 2006-07.

Class AAA: Mars -- This class is wide open, but look for Mars, which had never had a team advance past the first round until last season, to finish on top. The Planets have a solid backcourt and an excellent big man in 6-foot-8 Josh Goetz.

Class AA: Beaver Falls -- The Tigers' guard tandem of Elijah Cottrill and Drew Cook is the best in Class AA and will carry the team to their second WPIAL title in a row. Each of the Tigers three losses this season came to potential champions -- New Castle, Montour and Lincoln Park.

Class A: Lincoln Park -- Make it back-to-back titles for Lincoln Park, too. Lincoln Park was already a good team with sharpshooting freshman Maverick Rowan leading the way, but the Leopards went from good to great with the midseason addition of 6-9 center Elijah Minnie.

GIRLS

Class AAAA: Mt. Lebanon -- The talent gap between the top five teams is small, but Mt. Lebanon's experience will be the difference. The past three seasons, the Blue Devils played in 25 postseason games -- going 23-2 -- and won a pair of WPIAL and PIAA titles.

Class AAA: Hopewell -- In what is a deep, talented pool of contenders, the thought here is that the WPIAL's best player, Hopewell's Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, will put the Vikings on her back and lead them to a title just as she did last year when she scored 35 in the final.

Class AA: Seton-LaSalle -- This discussion begins and ends with Seton-LaSalle, which is looking to win its third WPIAL title in a row. The Rebels have won 63 consecutive games against WPIAL teams, winning all but one of them by at least six points.

Class A: Serra Catholic -- Call this the Upset Special. Nearly everyone is expecting a rematch of last year's final -- Vincentian vs. North Catholic -- while Serra Catholic is flying under the radar. The Eagles have the top scoring offense and defense in Class A.

hsbasketball


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