BUTLER TWP — The pressure is off — sort of.
Butler takes a 13-game winning streak — and a berth in the PIAA Class 6A Tournament — into Wednesday night's WPIAL boys basketball semifinal against Upper St. Clair at Robert Morris University's UPMC Events Center.
“We know we have another game to play regardless of what happens in this one,” Golden Tornado coach Matt Clement said. “Still, everyone wants to win the WPIAL championship. We're no different.”
Butler (18-4) is looking for its third trip to the district title game in four years. The Tornado lost to Mt. Lebanon in the finals last year and to Pine-Richland in the 2017 title game.
The Panthers (20-3) have reached the WPIAL semifinal round for the first time since 2010. Upper St. Clair is riding a seven-game winning streak and last reached the finals in 2005, when it went on to edge Mt. Lebanon 57-55 to claim the championship.
Both teams won tight quarterfinal games to get to this point. Butler rallied from five points down late in the first overtime to nip Peters Township, 78-76, in two OTs. Upper St. Clair trailed Pine-Richland at halftime before escaping with a 62-59 victory.
These are also the two highest scoring teams in WPIAL 6A. The Panthers average 72.2 points per game, Butler 71.1.
“We're similar in a lot of ways,” Clement said. “We lost three games when Ethan (Morton) was out of the lineup. They lost two games with their best player out.
“They are an unpredictable team that can do a lot of things. They can run. They've got some jumpers. And you can't under-rate their defense. They held Pine down and that can get anybody's attention.”
USC coach Danny Holzer is 421-203 in 25 years of coaching. He is one of 12 active WPIAL boys basketball coaches with 400 career wins.
“I can see this being an up-tempo game,” Holzer said. “At this point in the year, you continue to do what got you to the semifinals.”
Clement and Holzer have coached AAU basketball together and are good friends.
“I've got a lot of respect for him and their program,” Clement said.
“They have a great team,” Holzer said of Butler. “Ethan Morton is a great player and a great kid, but they're not about him. All of those kids can play.
“We'll try to do the best we can against them.”
Butler ended the Panthers' season last year with a 75-70 win in the WPIAL quarterfinals. Morton had 32 points and 10 rebounds while Devin Carney had 12 points and Mattix Clement 11.
Morton sank eight free throws in the final 1:14, finally icing the win with two free throws with three seconds to play.
Upper St. Clair had five players in double figures. David Pantelis, now a junior guard, led the team with 16. Junior guard Luke Gensler added 10 points and four assists.
“He's a two-time first team all-section and probably their best all-around player,” Clement said of Gensler. “He's averaging between 14 and 16 points a game.”
Gensler is the Panthers' lone returning starter.
“We had four seniors who were really good last year,” Holzer said. “But that team had a lot of depth and a lot of talent coming back. I knew we had a chance to be pretty good.”
Andrew Casey, a 6-foot-4 guard-forward, is the son of former Major League Baseball standout Sean Casey and is headed to the University of Dayton for baseball. Junior guard Ethan Dahlem is quarterback of the football team, Pantelis a potential Division I football recruit at wide receiver.
Landon Rauch, a 6-4 senior forward, is the other starter.
“They're an athletic bunch,” Clement said.
“We've got a good mix of kids,” Holzer said. “Dahlem and Pantelis will play football in college, but they've never missed anything we do basketball-wise in the spring or summer.”
Tip-off is at 8 p.m. Wednesday, following the Central Catholic-Mt. Lebanon 6A semifinal at the same location.
Winner goes to the Petersen Events Center at the University of Pittsburgh for the 6A title game at 9 p.m. Saturday.