South Xtra: TJ rates as contender in Class AAA

Brad Everett's High School Basketball Notebook

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Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States.

The Thomas Jefferson boys basketball team hopes to soon be No. 1.

In what appears to be a fairly wide-open field in the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs, Thomas Jefferson is one of the teams who have a legitimate shot to win the title. The Jaguars have just two losses, won their section title, are senior heavy, and have won 13 games in a row.

"We work on getting better every game and one of our goals is to keep improving," Jaguars coach Dom DeCicco said. "We are playing well. We talk privately about some [other goals], but we just want to be able to compete in every game. Right now, we're just worried about our first [playoff] game."

The Jaguars (20-2) went 11-1 in Section 4 to claim their second title in a row and fourth in six seasons. During that time, the Jaguars are a tremendous 64-8 in section play.

DeCicco's starting five consists of all seniors -- Charlie Scharbo, Chase Winovich, Eric Fairman, Jason Horan and Zach Talley. Scharbo leads the team in scoring with 16 points per game.

"We're a senior-laden team," DeCicco said. "We have kids who know how to compete. They've been through the wars and they know what it takes to win games."

Making a deep run in the playoffs would be new, though. The Jaguars have advanced past the first round just once over the past nine seasons, the lone time coming last season when they were eliminated by eventual champion Montour in the quarterfinals.

WPIAL championship picks

When the WPIAL playoffs get underway, a total of 156 teams -- 77 boys and 79 girls -- will begin their quest for a title. Unfortunately, nearly all will fall short. Only eight teams will claim championship trophies at Duquesne University's Palumbo Center Feb. 28-March 1.

Here are one guy's predictions on who will ultimately have gold medals placed around their necks in a couple of weeks.

BOYS

Class AAAA: New Castle -- Sporting the only undefeated record among boys teams in the WPIAL and looking to win their third title in a row, the Red Hurricanes are the heaviest favorite in all classes, boys or girls. Malik Hooker has been on a tear and Anthony Richards is dynamite from 3-point range.

Class AAA: Chartiers Valley -- Several teams have a shot here, but when in doubt, give the edge to experience. The Colts are hoping to reach the final for the fourth time in five years. Matty McConnell had a quadruple-double last week and could be the best player in Class AAA.

Class AA: Seton-LaSalle -- If you parlay an excellent defense with a top-notch point guard, you've got to like your chances against just about anybody. The Rebels, who have lost only once, have one of the stingiest defenses in Class AA and are led by point guard Dale Clancy.

Class A: Lincoln Park -- It's almost assumed that Lincoln Park and Vincentian will meet in the title game. If they do, expect the Palumbo Center to be packed for a game that might see both teams score more than 100 points. Look for Lincoln Park's Maverick Rowan to have a big postseason.

GIRLS

Class AAAA: North Allegheny -- It's hard to pick against Mt. Lebanon, which most years is almost unbeatable in the playoffs, but North Allegheny stands above the rest in Class AAAA this season. Coach Sherri McConnell's team is fueled by a well-balanced offense filled with talent.

Class AAA: South Park -- The defending WPIAL and PIAA champs are on a roll. The Eagles have won 11 games in a row and boast the potent scoring tandem of Halie Torris and Allison McGrath. A possible showdown with Blackhawk would provide their biggest challenge.

Class AA: Seton-LaSalle -- Make it a clean sweep for Seton-LaSalle, which will have a pair of WPIAL champions. Arguably the WPIAL's most talented team, the Rebels will lean on Yacine Diop and Naje Gibson to navigate through a playoff bracket that includes unbeaten Burrell.

Class A: Serra Catholic -- Look for a rematch of last year's final, only this time Serra will down Vincentian to claim the title. Four Serra players started in the previous championship game, including the Sieg sisters -- Megan and Katie. The Eagles give up a little more than 30 points a game.


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