The book on the 2012-13 season closed last March, but the opening chapter of the 2013-14 season has played out just as it did last winter.
Class AAAA Section 3 — likely the most talented section in the WPIAL — is the central character and, as we begin the new year, the plot is beginning to thicken.
“The section is equally as strong as any we’ve had since I’ve been involved,” said Hampton coach Joe Lafko, who is in his 18th season. “As you go into the new year, New Castle is undefeated, North Allegheny is undefeated and Hampton is undefeated.”
In other words, it’s déjà vu all over again. New Castle (8-0), Hampton (10-0) and North Allegheny (9-0) are a combined 27-0. Last year at this time, they were also 27-0. They are the Post-Gazette’s top three teams in Class AAAA and all are ranked in the top 10 in the state.
In addition to the terrific trio, Seneca Valley (6-3) has been solid and teams such as Pine-Richland (4-5) and North Hills (5-5) have shown glimpses of potentially making runs at a playoff spot.
“There’s no doubt it’s the best section in Quad-A,” North Allegheny coach Dave DeGregorio said.
Last season, New Castle, Hampton, North Allegheny and Seneca Valley all made it to the WPIAL semifinals. New Castle, which went 14-0 in the section, topped Hampton in the title game for the second season in a row.
Could we see a repeat of last season?
“I would be surprised only because it’s a hard thing to do,” DeGregorio said. “There are still a lot of good teams in the other sections. Could it happen? Sure, it could happen again. Four of these teams could do it.”
Some of the numbers so far are staggering. Hampton (83.2 points per game), New Castle (80.8) and North Allegheny (79.2) are the three highest-scoring teams in Class AAAA. Seneca Valley (70.3) is fifth. Hampton is giving up the second-fewest points in Class AAAA at 46.2.
Hampton has won each game by at least 21 points and has beaten its three section opponents by an average of 43. New Castle has won all but one game by at least 17 points, and North Allegheny has double-digit victories in all but one game — a 71-69 win Dec. 20 at Seneca Valley.
Section play resumes tonight and there will be some excellent matchups in the coming days, beginning tonight when New Castle hosts Seneca Valley. Next week, North Allegheny travels to Hampton Tuesday and to New Castle Friday. Seneca Valley hosts Hampton next Friday.
Luther getting his dunks
Just like every team, Hampton keeps individual statistics for a variety of different categories. This season, they’ve added one more.
Said Lafko: “We’ve added a new chart to our statistics and that’s “Dunks by Ryan.”
“Ryan,” of course, is 6-foot-8 guard-forward Ryan Luther, a senior standout who has signed with Pitt. Luther has been terrific in the early going. He’s one of the WPIAL scoring leaders with 24.4 points per game and is filling the basket in a variety of ways — including dunks.
“He’s dunking a lot more this year,” Lafko said. “I’d say he’s averaging 2½-3 a game.”
Mancini a 3-point machine
North Allegheny loves the 3-pointer, as the Tigers have attempted and made more than the majority of WPIAL teams in recent seasons. This season is no different, and the Tigers have one of the best sharpshooters around in Joe Mancini.
Mancini, a 5-10 senior guard, has been lighting it up from 3-point range. In just nine games, he has made 40 3-pointers. Mancini has connected on at least three in all but one game and made a season-high nine against Pine-Richland.
“He’s shooting about 50 percent [on 3-point attempts], too,” DeGregorio said. “I can’t say I’m impressed because he’s doing what we expected him to do. I’d put him in there with Dan Lavelle and Jack Counahan as the best three shooters we’ve had.”
Here are a few boys games to keep an eye on this week:
Quaker Valley vs. Washington, Saturday, Chuckie Mahoney Classic at Burgettstown, 7 p.m. — Quaker Valley (9-0) hasn’t been tested yet, but the Quakers could be in a for a fight against surprising Washington (8-1), which upset previously undefeated Elizabeth Forward Saturday.
Gateway at Fox Chapel, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. — If Section 3 is the toughest in Class AAAA, then Section 2 might be second. These teams figure to be in the section championship hunt right down to the finish.