East Xtra: Juniors rate among area top scorers

Craig Meyer's high school basketball notebook

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When it comes to the top scorers in WPIAL boys basketball, schools from the Post-Gazette's East Xtra coverage area are fairly well represented, as five of the top 23 players in points-per-game come from the area.

But even among those five players, there's another point of distinction -- a surprisingly high number of them come from the junior class.

Four of the five top scorers in the East Xtra coverage area are in their junior season, a group that includes Hempfield Area's Kason Harrell (22.9 points per game), Jeannette's Julian Batts (22.2), Kiski Area's Mike Simmons (20.9) and Wilkinsburg's Isaiah Pete (20.3). All scoring averages are through Jan. 28. Obama Academy senior D.J. Porter -- the leading scorer of that group of five at 25.1 points per game -- is the exception.

While the talent in the class is noticeable from a statistical standpoint, it is also apparent to the coaches who watch these players on a regular basis.

"Absolutely," Hempfield coach Mark Marino said when asked if this is an exceptionally talented class. "It's guards who stick out in my mind. At this point, the junior class is guard-heavy at the top in terms of some very, very talented players."

As Marino pointed out, much of that scoring talent comes from the guard position as none of those four juniors is taller than Harrell at 6 feet 3. Harrell and Batts are ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the 2015 class by Pittsburgh Basketball Report, while Simmons is ranked 18th.

For Harrell, his ascent was somewhat anticipated. Last season, he averaged a team-best 16.4 points per game for a Spartans squad that finished 17-6. Nonetheless, his game has progressed as a junior. In Hempfield's previous six games before Tuesday, he averaged 28.5 points per game. After Tuesday's section-title-clinching victory against Kiski Area, the Spartans are 18-2 overall and 11-0 in Section 1-AAAA.

Like others in his class in the area, his future looks bright.

"He's an extremely hard worker and he's driven to get better," Marino said. "Those are two outstanding qualities that you ask for in your players. He possesses them both in extremely high quantity."

Wilkinsburg nears section title

With the help of the high-scoring Pete, the boys basketball team at Wilkinsburg has done well this season, winning 11 of its 18 games.

Only one game is left on its regular-season schedule -- Imani Christian. After defeating Saint Joseph Tuesday, the Tigers have claimed their first outright section championship since 2008, a strange distinction considering the Tigers have won a combined 62 games over the past four seasons.

Keeping it going

The Greensburg Central Catholic boys basketball team has found itself in the spotlight recently because of the suspension of coach Greg Bisignani following a directive from the WPIAL. But what's been perhaps more noteworthy has been the on-court play of the Centurions. With a victory Monday night against Riverview, they clinched their fifth consecutive section title.

They haven't been the school's only basketball team that has excelled this season. The Greensburg Central Catholic girls team, with a 10-0 record in Class AA Section 3 play through Tuesday, secured its first section championship since 2008.

Indians have come a long way

With an 11-8 overall record and 7-4 mark in Class AAAA Section 4, the Penn Hills girls team has clinched a spot in the WPIAL playoffs. While the team's record may not wow some people, the program's recent accomplishments possibly could.

Including this season, the Indians have made the WPIAL playoffs for a second consecutive year following a two-year span in which they went a combined 6-38. The two recent playoff appearances have come under the guidance of second-year coach John Tate.

Weekly watch

Norwin (15-5, 12-1 Class AAAA Section 1) at Penn-Trafford (16-4, 13-0), 6 p.m., Friday -- The Class AAAA Section 1 girls basketball championship has come down to the final week of the season between two teams that have separated themselves from the rest of the section. Penn-Trafford has won 12 consecutive games while the Knights have won their past nine. Penn-Trafford won the previous meeting between the two teams, a 45-39 road victory on Jan. 14 that was Norwin's last loss.

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG


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