WPIAL playoffs preview: New Castle boys still team to beat

Boys Class AAAA

The seeds: New Castle first, Hampton second, North Allegheny third, Plum fourth.

Leading scorers: Kason Harrell, Hempfield (23.9); Malik Hooker, New Castle (23.3); Matt D'Amico, Fox Chapel (22.7); Ryan Luther, Hampton (22.1); Mike Simmons, Kiski Area (20.7); Zach Snyder, Seneca Valley (18.9); Johnny David, Mt. Lebanon (17.2).

The winner will be: New Castle. No WPIAL team has defeated the Red Hurricanes the past three seasons, so it's hard to go against coach Ralph Blundo's team. They might not be as talented offensively as the team was last year, but their defense seems to carry the Red Hurricanes to wins in close games. Senior guard-forward Malik Hooker (Ohio State football recruit) is one of the top players in any classification and could be the difference in close postseason games. Hooker and senior guard Anthony Richards are both 1,000-point career scorers and have played in 19 postseason games in their careers.

Sleeper: Fox Chapel. The Foxes had to win their final section game to qualify, but this team is 17-5. Matt D'Amico, Brian Papich and Billy Urso make for an excellent guard trio, and guard play is vital at playoff time. D'Amico and Papich are both 1,000-point scorers.

The scoop: Three teams from Section 3 are the top three seeds. ... Hempfield is an intriguing team. The Spartans have size and one of the best juniors in Western Pennsylvania in Kason Harrell, but haven't performed well in the playoffs recently. The Spartans have won or tied for the section title three of the past four seasons but lost in the first round each time. Still, some coaches in Class AAAA were a little surprised when Hempfield got the No. 6 seed. ... It was said to be a down year for Section 4 teams, but maybe Upper St. Clair or Bethel Park has enough to make some noise. ... Hampton has Pitt recruit Ryan Luther, but the key for the Talbots likely will be how well the supporting cast plays. ... North Allegheny's fortunes could rest on how well it shoots 3-pointers. The Tigers could play Hempfield in the quarterfinals. ... Fox Chapel-Bethel Park is a good first-round matchup between the No. 8 and 9 seeds.

Boys Class AAA

The seeds: Chartiers Valley first, Central Valley second, Thomas Jefferson third and Elizabeth Forward fourth.

Leading scorers: Matty McConnell, Chartiers Valley (21.8); Dustin Sleva, Montour (21.0); Jordan Pratt, Uniontown (20.6); Daylon Carter, Ambridge (20.3); Mike Miara, West Allegheny (20.0); Stephon McGinnis, Ambridge (19.9); Owen Nearhoof, Mars (19.0); Ryan Maha, West Mifflin (19.3); Dan Wanker, South Park (17.4); Charlie Scharbo, Thomas Jefferson (16.6).

The winner will be: Central Valley. In the previous three years of the school's existence, the Warriors haven't gotten past the quarterfinals. But this could be the year they reach the top of the ladder. The Warriors played New Castle and Hampton in non-section games.

Sleeper: Montour. The Spartans are not as good as the teams that won WPIAL titles two of the past three years, but still good enough to make a playoff run. The style of coach Adam Kaufman's teams works extremely well come playoff time. But not having Devin Wilson at point guard as they did the past three years makes a difference.

The scoop: It's hard to go against Chartiers Valley, which is trying to make it to a championship game for the 10th time under coach Tim McConnell. Cousins Matty McConnell and Jerrad Tuite make for a terrific one-two punch at guard. ... Uniontown has only one loss, but it seems many wonder about the Raiders because they play in Section 3, whose representatives have been 1-4 in the playoffs three consecutive seasons. Uniontown was seeded No. 5. ... Watch for Elizabeth Forward. Although the Warriors finished second to Thomas Jefferson in Section 4, they have enough talent and size to compete for the title. Elizabeth Forward was seeded ahead of Uniontown. ... Knoch has allowed 40 points a game, the best in the WPIAL. Knoch, Indiana and Mars tied for the Section 1 championship, and Knoch was seeded fifth, Mars sixth and Indiana seventh. ... West Mifflin will be without Ryan Maha because of a knee injury.

Boys Class AA

The seeds: Seton-LaSalle first, Greensburg Central Catholic second, Aliquippa third, Beaver Falls fourth.

Leading scorers: Julian Batts, Jeannette (22.0); Kyle Olander, Shady Side Academy (20.3); Dasonte White, Summit Academy (20.0); Taymon Russell, Northgate (18.2); Cole Novotney, Brownsville (17.8); Brian Graytok, Greensburg Central Catholic (17.5); Ernie Burkes, Neshannock (17.0).

The winner will be: Greensburg Central Catholic. Now that coach Greg Bisignani has served his three-game suspension for allegedly making contact with an official, the Centurions seem ready to win the first WPIAL title in school's history. This team already had some talent, and the addition of a few transfers the past three years might have put the Centurions over the top.

Sleeper: Beaver Falls. It might seem strange to call the two-time defending WPIAL champs a sleeper, but the Tigers finished second in their section and lost point guard Elijah Cottrill for the season to a knee injury. Nevertheless, this young squad can't be overlooked. Donovan Jeter is one of the best freshmen in the WPIAL, and he came on strong over the final month of the season.

The scoop: No. 1 seed Seton-LaSalle will be tough to beat. The Rebels' only loss was to Class AAA Montour. Seton-LaSalle's balanced offensive attack makes the Rebels tough to defend and senior Dale Clancy is a standout point guard. ... Quaker Valley is another team to watch. The Quakers have only two losses, both to Avonworth. Plus, coach Mike Mastroianni has been known to work some playoff magic before. He has won WPIAL titles at two schools -- Quaker Valley and Bethel Park. ... Avonworth beat Quaker Valley for the Section 6 title, the first for Avonworth in 40 years. But Avonworth enters the playoffs on a down note, losing its final two games of the regular season to Northgate and Shady Side Academy. The losses might have hurt the Antelopes' seed because they dropped to No. 6. Neshannock was a third-place team but was seeded No. 5, ahead of Avonworth.

Boys Class A

The seeds: Lincoln Park first, Vincentian second, Monessen third, Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic fourth.

Leading scorers: Nick Miller, Western Beaver (30.1); Cameron Johnson, OLSH (27.8); Brandon Lawless, Carmichaels (26.2); Ryan Wolf, Vincentian (25.3); Derrick Riggleman, Mapletown (25.2); Maverick Rowan, Lincoln Park (23.4); Ben Young, Union (21.5); Isiah Pete, Wilkinsburg (20.3); D'Shawn Adair, Wilkinsburg (18.4); Clintell Gillespie, Monessen (18.1); Dom Robb, Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic (18.0).

The winner will be: Lincoln Park. Many WPIAL observers talk about Vincentian's offensive attack (91.3 points per game), but Lincoln Park isn't far behind at 83.4. Four of the five Lincoln Park starters average in double figures -- Maverick Rowan (24.1), Elijah Minnie (15.5), Ryan Skovranko (13.4) and Antonio Kellem (12.9). Fifth starter Nelly Cummings also is close to double figures at 9.6. Plus, Lincoln Park has size that isn't seen often at the Class A level. Minnie is 6 feet 9, Rowan 6-7 and Skovranko 6-6.

Sleeper: Monessen. The Greyhounds are talented, and they played a tough non-section schedule that included four Class AAAA playoff teams. Monessen is the only team to beat Class AAA Uniontown and is in the playoffs for a WPIAL record 33rd consecutive time.

The scoop: Many people are anticipating a championship game between Vincentian and Lincoln Park. The way the two teams score, it would be a fun game to watch. ... Our Lady of the Sacred Heart was blown out twice by Lincoln Park, but with senior point guard Cameron Johnson, OLSH can play with just about any other team in Class A. ... Western Beaver's Nick Miller led the WPIAL in scoring this season. In fact, the top six scorers in the WPIAL over the regular season were all from Class A teams, and five are in the playoffs. ... Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic is a team to watch. The Trojans lost two three-point games to Vincentian and lost to Seton-LaSalle by 51-50. Plus, with the 6-6 Dom Robb, the Trojans have an inside presence most Class A teams don't have.

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