East/South Xtra: McKeesport stalking playoff victims
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They might not hand out trophies for finishing in fourth place in basketball but it is good enough to gain entry to the WPIAL playoffs.
The McKeesport Tigers are postseason-bound and coach Corey Gadson isn't apologizing for being the fourth-place team from Class AAAA Section 2.
"It was a strong section from top to bottom," Gadson said. "There was a lot of good competition and a lot of close games. We had some good wins and we had some tough losses, but I really believe the competition has us ready for the playoffs."
McKeesport completed its regular season with a 14-7 record after defeating Section 4 runner-up Bethel Park, 58-51, Monday night. Coincidentally, the Tigers, who are seeded 11th in the 16-team field, will play Bethel Park again in a first-round game at 3 p.m. Saturday at Baldwin.
McKeesport had a 9-5 record in the section, finishing behind Central Catholic (16-5, 12-2), two-time defending WPIAL Class AAAA champion Gateway (15-5, 11-3) and Fox Chapel (15-6, 10-4). The Tigers split their two games with both Central Catholic and Gateway and lost twice to Fox Chapel.
The four losses were by a combined 11 points, meaning McKeesport wasn't that far from going undefeated in the section. It is also why Gadson wasn't concerned that his team had alternated losses and wins during its previous seven games -- going 3-4 in that span -- heading into the game against Bethel Park.
McKeesport figures to get a low seed in the playoffs because of its fourth-place finish. It is instructive to note, however, that the Tigers won eight games in a row before the 3-4 stretch.
"We've been playing good basketball," Gadson said. "We've been in every game. Who knows what might have happened with a couple of breaks. All the teams going to the playoffs from our section are strong and capable of making a deep run.
"Except for [undefeated] New Castle, I think you can throw a blanket over the rest of the field in Class AAAA. New Castle is going to be tough to beat, but I think the other teams are all capable of beating anyone."
McKeesport, which scrimmaged New Castle (22-0, 14-0) at the end of the first week of practice in November, has put together a good season despite losing its best player over the summer. Junior guard JaQuan Davidson transferred to Elizabeth Forward, where he is averaging 22.6 points a game.
The Tigers have made up for the loss of Davidson with a balanced scoring attack. McKeesport had four players score in double figures in three of their last five section games.
A perfect example of everyone getting into the act came in McKeesport's 63-61 loss to Gateway in its section finale last Friday night when 6-foot-4 senior forward Jamie Gadson led the Tigers with 16 points while 5-8 senior guard Damonje Walker and 5-8 sophomore guard Jordon Payne had 11 points each and 6-5 senior forward Matt Sutton added 10 points.
Jamie Gadson, the coach's son, is healthy again after being hampered by injuries earlier in the season. Mc-Keesport should also have 6-6 senior center Daryn Simmons back for the playoffs after he missed most of the second half of the section season with a bruised kneecap.
"We've had our share of adversity with some injuries but the great thing about it is that we've had kids come off the bench and make big contributions," Corey Gadson said.
"We have a lot of good players and we have the luxury of not having to rely on one person to carry the load."
First Published February 14, 2013 12:00 am