Emotions were swirling at an all-time high around the gymnasium at Peters Township High School last Friday.
Before the last section game of the season, the Indians recognized seniors J.C. Brush and Nick Parello before they stepped onto their home court for the last time in their high school careers.
But once the lead official tossed the ball in the air to begin the game, all focus was turned to one goal -- qualifying for the WPIAL playoffs.
The game against neighboring rival Canon-McMillan (11-11, 7-7) was serving as a de facto one-game playoff for the fourth and final seed in Class AAAA Section 4.
The Indians (11-11, 8-6) avenged a nine-point loss against the Big Macs on Jan. 14 with a 44-41 nail-biter to extend their season for at least another week.
"It was exciting and a great atmosphere," ninth-year Peters coach Gary Goga said. "You can't ask for anything more. It was nice for the seniors on senior night to get them a win in their last home game. The magnitude of the game was big. We have a lot of respect for [Canon-Mac] and they are a good team, so we feel good about winning."
In fact, that game felt like the second playoff game for the Indians in the same week. Earlier in the week, the Indians took a must-win 41-40 thriller at Baldwin to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Even with the playoff-type atmosphere his team has endured over the past week, Goga believes all that will be wiped clean once the actual playoffs begin. The Indians will play Hampton (19-3), the No. 2 seed, in a first-round game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Fox Chapel Area High School.
"We approached these from a preparation standpoint as playoff games," Goga said. "We knew we had to win both games."
"That wears off. The playoffs are big enough. We are going to have a good week of practice. Anything can happen when you are in. We are just glad we are in."
The Indians scheduled themselves one last test before entering the one-game elimination chamber, facing off against Class AAAA Section 2 playoff bound Fox Chapel.
The Foxes, who won a similar "in-or-go-home" game at Central Catholic last Friday, defeated Peters Township, 70-65, Monday.
"That is always a good game," Goga said. "You want to have a good game there before you go into the playoffs."
Before they even knew who their first-round opponent would be, Goga and the Indians only knew one way to prepare, and that was to focus on themselves.
"It doesn't matter who you play," Goga said before Tuesday night's pairings meet. "We can't control that and I don't care who we play. I am just glad that we are in."
So are the players led by their leading scorer, Brush, a 6-foot senior guard. Also stepping up for the Indians is a strong junior class led by 6-5 guard Tim Swoope, 6-0 guard Rylen Faloni and 6-5 guard Conor Freeley.
Freeley was a big contributor in the final game against Canon-Mac, scoring all of his team-high 14 points in the second half.
For the players, it is a nice feeling to get back to the playoffs after missing the postseason last year. For the upperclassmen, it is a chance to make their own run after watching the team two years ago make it to the quarterfinals.
"Making the playoffs two years ago doesn't have an effect," Goga said. "None of the guys we have now had a big impact on that team. It is a new team and new group of kids. What happened in the past is the past and this year is this year."