The WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals have some recognizable faces. Three of the four teams have 10 semifinal appearances between them over the previous 10 seasons.
Then there is the new guy with the Cavalier attitude who crashed the party.
The Kiski Area Cavaliers are an unlikely semifinal participant when you consider their history and playoff seeding. Kiski Area has played in the semifinals twice in school history and the previous time was 12 years ago. They also were the No. 13 seed in this 16-team Class AAAA bracket.
Kiski Area plays New Castle in a semifinal game Wednesday at North Allegheny. Hampton plays North Allegheny in the other semifinal at Chartiers Valley.
Over the past 10 years, Hampton has made five semifinal appearances, New Castle three and North Allegheny two. So, exactly how did Kiski Area get here with, of all things, a first-year coach? But that coach does know a thing or two about winning basketball at Kiski Area. The previous time Kiski Area reached the semifinals was 2002, and the Cavaliers’ standout point guard was Joe Tutchstone, the same Joe Tutchstone who is in his first season as coach.
“I’m enjoying every minute about this,” said Tutchstone, 30, who was a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Fabulous 5 selection in 2002. “I’m trying not to take anything for granted because you never know if you might get back this far again or when this opportunity might arise again.”
Kiski Area knocked off No. 4 seed Plum in the first round and No. 12 Gateway in the semifinals. But Tutchstone prefers that you don’t call his Cavaliers a Cinderella team.
“I think even our kids can’t believe they are in the final four,” said Tutchstone, a Kiski Area assistant for six years before becoming the head coach. “But I hate to say we’re a Cinderella team because of how hard these kids have worked. It’s by some luck and chance that we’re this far, but I don’t want to discredit what they’ve done and how hard they worked.”
In some ways, Kiski Area might have been blessed with a No. 13 seed because the Cavaliers didn’t have to play any of the top three seeds (New Castle, Hampton and North Allegheny) — all from Section 3.
“It bothered us to get the No. 13 seed because we thought we were better and deserved better,” Tutchstone said. “But, if you can go the first two rounds without having to through the top three seeds, that’s nice.”
Kiski Area has been led all season by 6-foot-2 guards Mike Simmons and Joe Brungo. Simmons averages 23.5 and had 37 in the quarterfinals against Gateway. Brungo averages 15.6.
“A lot of our wins didn’t look pretty, but this isn’t the BCS in football. You don’t have to win with style,” Tutchstone said.
The previous time Kiski Area made the semifinals it also played, coincidentally, New Castle. Kiski Area lost, 70-66. New Castle was considered the favorite in that 2002 game, but New Castle is considered a heavy favorite this time.
New Castle is trying for a third consecutive WPIAL title with an undefeated record, and the Red Hurricanes have blown out just about every WPIAL opponent this season. They have won two WPIAL playoff games by 19 and 27 points.
“Trying to handle their pressure is key, and, if you do turn it over, you have to try and limit their quick baskets,” Tutchstone said. “Everyone knows what you have to do against them. But actually going out and doing it is a different story.”
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.