Though there are a handful of local teams still playing in the state tournament, the district's high school basketball season is nearly completed in the East Xtra coverage area.
What has ensued over the past three months have been hundreds of games, a countless number of points and, from both of those, a number of great memories. So with the season all but completed (as we write this, the Greensburg Central Catholic boys team and the Hempfield Area, Mount Pleasant, Burrell and Serra Catholic girls were still alive in the PIAA playoffs), the opportunity to look back on those moments is here.
Who were the area's best players, the ones who performed night in and night out, always leaving fans with the impression that something big could happen anytime they were on the court?
On the bench, who were the top coaches, the ones who helped guide their teams to the kind of heights few, if any, expected?
Who were simply the best, those who helped contribute to the game and sometimes leave those in attendance in awe?
The games may be just about over, but there's still some time to reflect on the season that was. It's something I'll try to do here with some awards -- the second annual "Craig's List" for basketball -- which will honor the top players and coaches in the East Xtra coverage area, those who made this season particularly memorable.
Boys Player of the Year: D.J. Porter, Obama Academy
This decision proved to be a particularly difficult one, but simply put, few players in the Pittsburgh area had as large of an effect on such a dominant team that Porter did. A 6-foot-5 senior guard, Porter averaged a team-high 21.9 points per game on an Eagles team that remained undefeated longer than any City League team had for the past decade (22-0 before losing to Allderdice in the league championship game).
Granted, Obama didn't end up winning the City League championship, but that shouldn't diminish what Porter, a Division I prospect, accomplished this season.
Honorable mention: Kason Harrell, Hempfield Area; Julian Batts, Jeannette; Brian Graytok, Greensburg Central Catholic
Girls Player of the Year: Maria Palarino, Penn-Trafford
Palarino wasn't the highest-scoring player in the East Xtra coverage area, but it's hard to top the resume that she compiled this season. She led the Warriors in scoring at 17.9 points per game and was the central figure on a team that was able to win the first WPIAL championship in program history.
Most importantly, she was able to come through when her team needed her the most. A 5-11 junior forward, she scored a team-high 21 points in the WPIAL Class AAAA championship victory against Hempfield, a game in which Penn-Trafford ended the game on a 31-5 run to come back from a 15-point deficit.
Honorable mention: Monica Burns, Hempfield; Sierra Fordham, Allderdice
Boys Coach of the Year: Ron Richards, Plum
There wasn't anything that could be considered a significant turnaround in the East Xtra coverage area, so I figured I would go with the next-best thing -- a coach who took a struggling team and turned it into a contender.
This season, Richards did just that, helping orchestrate a seven-win improvement for the Mustangs, one that included a five-win improvement in section play. And what came with it was a first-place finish in Class AAAA Section 2 for a team that one year before was .500 and tied for fifth place in the section.
Honorable mention: Craig Mankins, Greensburg Salem; Mark Marino, Hempfield; Brad Midgley, Franklin Regional
Girls Coach of the Year: Meghan Ziemianski, Burrell
Giving awards to coaches can be tricky sometimes because of a critical question: Is it better to reward someone for getting a lot out of a team that wasn't that great or should you honor someone whose team was simply dominant?
For basically the entire season, the latter of those two applied to Ziemianski. The Buccaneers were the last WPIAL girls' team to remain undefeated, carrying a 25-0 mark into the WPIAL championship game. Though they ultimately lost that contest to an uber-talented Seton-La Salle squad, what her team was able to accomplish was remarkable.
Honorable mention: John Tate, Penn Hills; Brian Brozeski, Norwin; John Giannikas, Penn-Trafford
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG