North Xtra: North Allegheny's PIAA run halted by an old nemesis

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It doesn't take long to figure out that North Allegheny High School boys basketball coach Dave DeGregorio has a keen awareness of just how important numbers are in his sport.

"We went 22-5 this year, and we've been 44-10 the past two seasons," said DeGregorio, less than a week after his Tigers saw their season come to an end last week with a 64-54 PIAA Class AAAA second-round loss to Section 3-AAAA rival New Castle at Ambridge Area High School.

That was the same New Castle team that beat his team two other times this season in section games. This year's PIAA playoff loss to the Red Hurricane virtually mirrored the second-round 57-46 setback the Tigers suffered a season ago.

"The past two seasons, all of our losses came against New Castle and Hampton," he said. "All three of our teams were in the state rankings for most of the season, and all three of us made it to the [WPIAL] semifinals. When we went to the state tournament, it was like a mini-WPIAL tournament. The past two seasons, it's been lights out."

Following this season, however, both New Castle and Hampton will be competing in Class AAA at least for the next two seasons. But DeGregorio doesn't envision any easy nights for his team or any other Section 3-AAAA member.

"As far as I'm concerned, their leaving will have no impact on my team," he said. "Central Catholic is coming over [from Section 2], and that's a well-coached team. Our section will continue to be a very good section."

What will change immensely is a Tigers starting lineup that featured four seniors, and six upperclassmen on a 21-player roster.

The coach doesn't envision a big problem filling the void left by the graduations of Elijah Zeise, Mike Carter, Joe Mancini and David Haus.

"We typically graduate five or six seniors," he said. "The class behind the seniors has to step up, and we've always seen it as a process. The challenge to the next class is to get to the level of the departing senior class, and they've always done that."

What will continue to be a staple of a DeGregorio-coached team is its balance. This year, four starters -- Zeise (11.0), Carter (10.1), Mancini (12.6) and the lone returning starter, Cole Constantino (12.2) -- all averaged in double figures. Haus, the fifth starter, averaged 8.4 points per game.

"[Haus] didn't show up so much in scoring, but he led us per game in assists (3.5), steals (3.26) and rebounds (6.9)," DeGregorio said.

That emphasis on balance will continue.

"It's enjoyable, and it's difficult to stop," he said. "If multiple guys can score, and if you can get multiple guys involved with what you are doing, that makes you a better team.

"We expect to have the same approach next year. We had good players this year, and we'll have good players again. I'm very optimistic about next season. We have a lot of players coming back, and I expect it will be an extremely competitive team."

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