Looking back at the WPIAL quarterfinals and City League championship, and looking ahead to the semifinals, I'm Just Sayin ...
After watching New Castle's Malik Hooker in a number of games over the past few years, he will do one or two things in some games that show off his marvelous athletic ability and just make you go "What? Did you see that?"
He's one of the few athletes around here who pull off that eye-opening play that makes your jaw drop. You don't always see it on the football field from this Ohio State football recruit. You see it more in basketball. Now, it isn't necessarily a dunk or a basket. It might be a steal. But yesterday against Bethel Park, Hooker had one of those plays.
It's when someone gets "MALIK-ED." It was a dunk against Bethel Park. Check it out. He is almost outside the lane when he starts the dunk.
Next up for Hooker and New Castle is Kiski Area in the semifinals.
I know basketball isn't as strong in this area as it was in the 1950s, 60s or 70s. But still, I don't think people really fully appreciate the run New Castle is on. To be going for a third consecutive championship with an undefeated record is hard to believe. The Red Hurricanes might not win a state title and they aren't as good as some of those great teams in the 60s or 70s, but their record the past three seasons makes them a one-of-a-kind team - at least on paper.
A Cavalier attitude
Kiski Area is undoubtedly the surprise team of the WPIAL playoffs. The Cavaliers were the No. 12 seed for the Class AAAA bracket. Now the Cavaliers are in the semifinals and they have done it under first-year coach Joe Tutchstone.
Tutchstone has done a marvelous job, but look for the joy ride to end against New Castle. Facing Plum and Gateway and facing New Castle are totally different things.
More New Castle
New Castle senior guard Anthony Richards (pictured) set the school single-season record for 3-pointers with his 87th in yesterday's game against Bethel Park. He was already the career leader at New Castle. He's the last of three Richards brothers at New Castle and his father, Dave, is an assistant coach. I wonder if Anthony also leads the WPIAL in floor burns? He is the "Charlie Hustle" of WPIAL basketball.
By the way, an interesting read in the New Castle News from Larry Kelly about some inner workings of the New Castle basketball team.
Was there anything more impressive in the quarterfinals yesterday than Aliquippa's comeback and fourth-quarter run? Aliquippa trailed Avonworth at one point, 31-10, but won, 82-71. Aliquippa scored outscored Avonworth, 37-18, in the fourth quarter.
Section 3 supremacy
After having four teams make the semifinals last year, three Section 3 teams made the semifinals this year. What North Allegheny did to Section 1 champ Hempfield (82-59 win) makes you wonder how some top teams in other sections would have fared in Section 3.
But Section 3 won't be nearly as strong next year with Hampton and New Castle moving down to AAA. Neither New Castle or Hampton will be as good as this year's teams, either. Overall, I don't see Class AAAA being particularly strong next year. Sure, there will be some good teams, but it will lack the depth of strong teams.
Colleague Paul Zeise points out some interesting statistics about North Allegheny. North Allegheny is 43-8 the past two years, but 41-0 against all teams other than New Castle and Hampton. North Allegheny is 2-8 against those teams - 0-5 against New Castle and 2-3 against Hampton.
North Allegheny plays Hampton in Wednesday's semifinals.
Fabulous 5 stuff?
The Post-Gazette Fabulous 5 doesn't come out until after the state playoffs, but it's never too early to debate who should be on the Fab 5? To me, there are three locks and I won't name them. After that, nothing is clear.
Is it the shoes?
Allderdice winning the City League championship will hit coach Buddy Valinsky in the wallet.
"It's going to cost me," Valinsky said. "I told them if we win and make the state playoffs, I would buy them all new shoes. So I guess I have to get them."
Valinsky has been great for Allderdice, who beat Obama, 55-54, in the title game yesterday. (Pictured are Allderdice players showing emotion after the game). Valinsky has done an excellent job with the Dragons and they are a young team with a bright future.
Valinsky used a junk defense on Obama's D.J. Porter and Porter scored only 11. The defense was a cross between a diamond-and-one and a 3-1 chaser. It had some history with Valinsky.
"I played it against the James Hairston kid in the state playoffs in 2003 and we beat Connellsville, so I thought I'd use it again," Valinsky said. "It's different than a box-and-one most people play. We have three people up front and a guy down low."
Allderdice will have to wait two weeks to play in the PIAA playoffs and the Dragons will have an interesting first-round game. They will play the WPIAL runner-up.
It was a tough loss for Obama. The Eagles hadn't lost all year. Not only did they drop the City League title game, they also did not qualify for the PIAA playoffs.
Two for the semis
For four schools, the semifinals will bring double the fun. North Allegheny, Seton-LaSalle, Greensburg Central Catholic and Vincentian all have their boys and girls teams in the semifinals.