And then there were four — and all from the same section.
The quartet of teams making up the WPIAL Class AAAA boys basketball semifinals all hail from Section 3 — New Castle, North Allegheny, Hampton and Seneca Valley.
“It’s something that is really hard to do, but at the same time, I’m not surprised that our section is so well represented,” said New Castle coach Ralph Blundo. “Before the season, I think all four coaches, including myself, felt there was a chance it could happen.”
Seneca Valley (17-7) will face undefeated New Castle (24-0) in one semifinal at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Ambridge High School while North Allegheny (21-3) and Hampton (20-4) will decide the other half of the title game at the same time and date at Chartiers Valley.
SV coach Victor Giannotta touted the section during the preseason, remarking that a team that misses the playoffs from Section 3 could contend for a title in any of the other three Quad A sections.
“There’s no surprises in high school basketball,” he said Monday. “As a coach, you know the rosters of the other teams and kids are playing together on AAU teams during the summer. You know what teams are bringing back.”
New Castle and Hampton played for the WPIAL Class AAA title last season, with the Red Hurricanes winning 57-44.
Both teams made the jump to Quad A this season, but remained favorites to claim a district title.
“Class doesn’t really matter in basketball,” said Giannotta. “If you’re good, you’re good. It doesn’t matter if you are (Class AA, AAA, AAAA).”
Other than its monopoly of the semifinal brackets, the best evidence of Section 3’s prowess can be found within the four teams’ records. Against opponents not in their section, New Castle, North Allegheny, Hampton and Seneca Valley are a combined 39-1 this season. That lone defeat was suffered by the Raiders in a tipoff tournament against Mars, which is playing in the Class AAA semifinals tonight.
After placing fourth in Section 3, the Raiders have knocked off two section champions during their current postseason run — Central Catholic (72-41) and Upper St. Clair (44-34).
“We all have a lot of respect for each other,” said Giannotta of the four coaches remaining in the tournament. “And our teams all deserve to be here.”
Giannotta’s top priority is to put his team in position to knock off the powerhouse that is New Castle. The Hurricanes won both meetings against the Raiders this season, 79-45 on Jan. 4 and 75-52 Jan. 29.
“We have to do a better job of keeping them off the backboard,” said Giannotta. “In the first two games, they got too many offensive rebounds. If that doesn’t change, we have no chance.”
Despite the scores of the first two meetings, Blundo is prepared for a battle.
“The sign of a good team and a good coach is when that team gets better as the season goes on,” he said. “That’s what I see when I look at Seneca Valley.”