Gateway coach Mitch Adams blamed a late-season slide on his team's health.
And Adams credited an impressive showing in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs Wednesday night to his team's health.
You can stop sending the get-well cards to Gateway after the Gators defeated Upper St. Clair, 68-50, in a Class AAAA first-round game at Baldwin. This certainly didn't look like the Gateway team that lost five of its final seven regular-season games.
The losses put Gateway (14-9) into the playoffs as the No. 11 seed, but the Gators overpowered No. 5-seeded Upper St. Clair (16-7), the Section 4 champ.
"This is the first time since Dec. 15 we had everyone healthy," Adams said. "I'll tell you what, I'll play anybody with a healthy team, and we're a healthy team now."
Senior guard Delvon Randall led Gateway with 21 points. Senior center Tom Kromka was a brute on the inside and scored 17 points. Senior point guard Shamari Thomas, who missed the past six games because of a concussion, scored 17.
"We've had two bad backs, a broken nose, a concussion that kept our point guard out six games," said Adams, whose team earned a quarterfinal berth for the fifth consecutive year. "No one takes that into consideration."
Upper St. Clair coach Danny Holzer's worst fears were realized.
When he first saw the Class AAAA brackets, he cringed because he knew of Gateway's potential. He was worried most about Gateway's rebounding ability and athleticism. Upper St. Clair tried to pack in its defense, hoping to stop drives and keep Gateway off the boards.
"I think their athleticism just overwhelmed us," Holzer said. "I thought we played hard, and you can talk all you want about blocking out, blocking out. But they still were able to get inside, get enough shots and get enough put-backs, and we couldn't overcome it."
Gateway led, 12-9, after the first quarter, but took control of the game by outscoring Upper St. Clair, 21-12, in the second. Gateway made 9 of 11 shots from the field in the second quarter.
"Almost everything was in the paint," Adams said. "When we're in the paint, we're pretty good."
Andrew Wheeler led Upper St. Clair with 12 points, all on 3-pointers. J.J. Conn and Connor Gallagher added 11 each. Upper St. Clair shot 32 percent from 3-point range (6 for 19). Still, the Panthers came back and scored the final six points of the third quarter to make it 45-35.
Upper St. Clair's Thomas Steve had a 3-pointer rim out to start the fourth quarter. Gateway's Thomas hit a 3-pointer 38 seconds later, and Upper St. Clair didn't get closer than 11 the rest of the way.
"Gateway has the type of athletes that they can play with someone like New Castle," Holzer said. "Whether they would beat them, I don't know about that. But they can play with them."
For more on high school sports, go to Varsity Blog at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh.