Robert Smith (above) and Bishop McDevitt made it to the PIAA State 3A semifinals last year. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
CoBL Staff (@jmverlin)
The two-time defending PIAA Class 3A champions –– and winner of the last three Class AAA championships under the four-class system –– Neumann-Goretti looked like it was on its way to a sixth consecutive state title last spring, until fellow Philadelphia Catholic League squad Bishop McDevitt pulled off a 60-57 win in the state quarterfinals, setting the stage for Lincoln Park to come out of the WPIAL and down central PA squad Trinity by one point in the state championship game.
But all of the above are back and just as dangerous, with a few other programs rolling into the final postseason bracket of the year with some good momentum and talented rosters who’ve won plenty of games this season. Two of them will make it to Hershey’s GIANT Center on Saturday, March 23 for the 2:00 PM championship game, and one will have a fun few weeks of celebrating afterwards.
Here’s a look at the PIAA Class 3A favorites as well as some other programs that could make a run at the final week of the postseason, with players and storylines to watch. (Thanks to Jake Adams of the Carlisle Sentinel and Brad Everett of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for their help with this preview).
Bishop McDevitt (12-3; 17-7)
A state semifinalist last year, McDevitt entered this season with high hopes under third-year head coach Will Chavis, with senior guards Robert Smith and Ahmir Harris plus super-versatile 6-4 wing/forward Jamil Manigo all returning, along with several other experienced seniors. But the Royal Lancers struggled somewhat out of the gate, losing four of their first six games overall and two of their first three Catholic League games (to Wood and O’Hara), and it looked like a promising year might be a letdown. But then McDevitt got rolling, ripping off a 10-game winning streak including beating Neumann-Goretti, Bonner-Prendergast and Roman Catholic right in a row, the last two on the road in one of the most challenging three-game stretches you can find in Pennsylvania. Though they lost to Ryan in the PCL quarterfinals, this is a McDevitt team that can do plenty of damage in states, with 6-8 sophomore Alassane Amadou chipping in as well as a variety of other role players alongside the stars Smith, a 6-0 guard with low-major Division I offers, and Manigo, who just picked up an offer from D-II West Chester.
Hakim Byrd (above) is one of three committed Division I seniors in the Neumann-Goretti starting lineup. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Neumann-Goretti (12-1; 22-4)
Yes, Neumann-Goretti lost two good seniors from last year in Rider freshman Chris Ings and athletic wing Ja’Cor Smith. But this year’s Saints seniors are loaded with D-I talent: 6-8 wing forward Jordan Hall (Saint Joseph’s), point guard Hakim Byrd (Marist) and 6-6 wing Cameron Young (Bowling Green). The junior class includes mid-major D-I target Hysier Miller, a 6-2 junior guard, 6-1 sharpshooter Chris Evans and versatile 6-7 junior forward Blaise Vespe, who arrived midway through his sophomore season and sat out last postseason. Also on the roster is 6-8 forward Che Evans, a San Diego State commit and Maryland native whose family moved up to Philadelphia for job-related reasons, but Evans had only played in one game this year as he deals with knee issues. The Catholic League champs have size, scoring ability across the board, and always play hard for head coach Carl Arrigale, who became the first PCL coach to ever win 11 league titles this spring.
Trinity (3-1; 21-3)
Two points. That’s how close the Shamrocks came to a state title last season, losing 73-72 to Lincoln Park in the 2019 Class 3A finale. But there may be no team more dangerous in this year’s bracket. Trinity is once again coming off a District 3 championship and has certainly proven itself — the Shamrocks hold a pair of wins against Class 5A favorite Milton Hershey and have lost just once all season long to teams not named Bishop McDevitt (Harrisburg). Point guard Chance Westry is more advanced than most juniors and seniors, and although his jump shot still needs work, the sophomore is the No. 26 ranked prospect in his class with offers from Syracuse, Michigan, Penn State and Florida, among others. Although this Trinity team doesn’t have the size of last year’s group, Aley Zangari is a solid shooting threat and fellow senior Marcus Beckett gives the Shamrocks a consistent third option.
Camp Hill (3-2; 17-7)
Although the Lions may not be thrilled with their record thus far, there’s no question they’ve been tested. Camp Hill, which made a district title game appearance for the seventh straight season, lost all three games it played against Trinity — including when the pair met for the District 3 championship — as well as its two matchups with Milton Hershey. Senior Jake Perry is a solid all-around player who committed to Franklin & Marshall in October, and 6-foot-5 forward Connor Trumpy scored his 1,000th career point against the Lions’ district title game loss. Camp Hill will have to do what it couldn’t last year and beat Bishop McDevitt (Wyncote), however, if it wants to advance in this year’s state tournament.
Lincoln Park (7-2; 21-5)
The reigning Class 3A state champions looked on their way to repeating as the kings of the WPIAL before getting upset by North Catholic in the title game. But the Leopards impressed throughout the season, only losing twice in 2020 before last week. They had to replace Keeno Holmes, last year’s star who graduated and is now playing at Allegheny College. Senior point guard Isaiah Smith is the biggest piece of this year’s group, but they also have a pair of 6-3 forwards in Andre Wilder and Dakari Bradford, as well as 6-6 center Tanner Mathos, giving Lincoln Park a deep group as it looks to go back-to-back.
Loyalsock (4-1; 26-1)
Playing under the state’s winningest high school coach in its illustrious hoops history –– Ron Insinger surpassed 1,000 wins last season and just keeps on chugging in his 46th season –– Loyalsock won its 21st district championship, getting back into the 3A state tournament. Loyalsock made it to the second round a year ago before losing to Philly’s Bishop McDevitt; two years ago, Trinity ended the Lancers’ season in the state quarterfinals. Last year’s group had four senior starters, led by Connor Watkins, who had 20 points in the state tournament loss to McDevitt (also known as the Lancers); back from that team is senior guard Aiden Gair, the only returning starter and a 6-3 guard with great range, who had 23 in the District 4 championship game against Central Columbia last week. Other key contributors include a pair of brothers who were mostly JV players last year, 5-8 junior point guard Idris Ali and 6-4 sophomore forward Saraj Ali, who had a double-double in the district championship. Another senior, 6-1 senior Rees Watkins, who missed last year with a broken hand, has been a key component now that he’s healthy.
North Catholic (7-1; 24-2)
Last year, the Trojans made it to the WPIAL final — only to lose to Lincoln Park. This time around, North Catholic got its revenge, capturing the District 7 crown with a 65-56 win a little more than a week ago. The Trojans challenged themselves throughout the non-league portion of their season, losing to West Chester East early on before late picking up wins against 6A sides Peters Township and Pine-Richland. Isaac DeGregorio, son of coach David DeGregorio, is one of the best shooters in western Pennsylvania and has NBA range, but the 5-foot-11 senior leaves the dirty work to 6-5 classmate Jake Tomer and 6-7 junior Andrew Ammerman. Both big men are solid prospects who could ultimately wind up playing at the Division II or III level.
First Round: Sat., March 7
Second Round: Weds., March 11
Quarterfinals: Sat.,, March 14
Semifinals: Tues., March 17
Championship: Fri., March 20