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PIAA Quarterfinal Preview: Sat., March 18

03/16/2023, 10:30pm EDT
By Josh Verlin & Andrew Robinson

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin) &
Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3)

The second half of the PIAA quarterfinals take place on Saturday, with boys games in the 2A, 3A and 6A classifications, while girls’ 1A, 4A and 5A games take place. There are nine games featuring teams from Southeastern PA, all taking place relatively close, so there are plenty of good options for those looking to take in a game (or two…or three) on Saturday afternoon.

Here’s a look at all nine:

Boys 2A: (1-1) Dock Mennonite (25-2) vs. (2-1) Holy Cross (21-5)
East Stroudsburg South HS, 12 PM

Defense is supposed to travel in the postseason and the Pioneers will need that to be the case when they head north to clash with District 2 champ Holy Cross. It’s not that Dock can’t score, but Mike Fergus teams are always built on their defense, something the Pioneers showed in their second round win over Sankofa Freedom.

Saturday’s tilt will be a first for any of Dock’s current players, who reached the state quarters in 2020 but didn’t actually get to play the game and haven’t been back until now. Their production starts with senior Nathan Lapp, an athletic 5-foot-11 combo guard bound for the baseball diamond at Millersville who also just broke the school’s scoring record last round. Wing Tony Martin is a tough defender and can get hot from the outside, Hoyt Bultje is an excellent rebounder and Vaughn Martin is an under the radar scorer and poised foul shooter.

Holy Cross meanwhile has quarterfinal experience, the Crusaders reaching the last eight just a year ago. Al Callejas’ crew went to the wire with Constitution last season, so seniors like Hayden Hosie (6-1), Logan Tierney (6-1) and recent Wilkes commit Gabe Gonzales (6-3) will be prepared for the stage.

West Point commit Jacen Holloway (above) and the Tide are the defending PIAA Class 3A champions. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Boys 3A: (12-3) Devon Prep (13-12) vs. (3-1) Trinity (23-3)
Governor Mifflin, 4:30 PM

The defending 3A champs, Devon Prep came into the state tournament with a sub-.500 record after playing a tough non-league schedule in addition to their Catholic League slate, but proved with wins over the likes of Imani Christian, North Catholic, Rutgers Prep and more that they were a quality side. They’ve displayed that once again in the PIAA playoffs despite only playing one game between Feb. 12 and March 11, beating Saucon Valley (77-50) and Mid-Valley (82-52) to advance to face the District 3 champion Shamrocks in the quarterfinals. Jason Fisher’s group leans heavily on its top three of senior wings Jacen Holloway and Lucas Orchard, both about 6-4, while junior point guard Ty Mishock is a three-year starter who’s having a strong year; sophomore Zane Conlon (6-5) and senior Shane Doyle (6-3) round out the starting five. 

Trinity, which has only one loss this calendar year — to a 6A quarterfinal squad, State College — has been one of the state favorites all season long, with roster size few schools in any classification can match. It starts with 6-10 senior Mike Bednostin and 6-7 senior Adelphe Cisse, two scholarship-level college recruits though it’s sophomore guard Owen Schlager, another future scholarship recipient, who leads the team in scoring at over 20 ppg. Trey Weiand, a 6-4 senior wing, and freshman guard Reece Brown round out their main scoring options, and head coach Larry Kostelac has a number of bench options to turn to as well. If Trinity dominates the glass, Devon Prep will need one of its best shooting days of the season to compensate.

Boys 3A: (12-1) West Catholic (17-10) vs. (11-1) Executive Education (22-4)
Schuylkill Valley HS, 1 PM

This should be a great one between two teams who have every reason to think they’ll be in Hershey in a week. Executive Education has won the last five District 11 Class 3A titles — an impressive feat, considering the program is only five years old. But Ray Barbosa’s Raptors had never been further than the second round (in a year with a 32-team bracket) until this season, and a 33-point win over North Penn-Mansfield on Wednesday is a good sign that they’re good enough to go a good bit further. EECHS features 6-11 senior Moustapha Sanoh, a lanky Rider commit and one of the state’s best rim protectors, plus 5-10 junior Rylan Muniz, 6-4 sophomore Gabe Hornberger, 5-10 sophomore Elias Lopez and 6-9 junior Lamine Sanoh, Moustapha’s younger brother. 

But West Catholic will no doubt be a far tougher challenge, the Burrs featuring a couple Division I prospects of their own in Zion Stanford and Adam ‘Budd’ Clark. Stanford, a 6-4 wing, is pledged to Temple; Clark, a 5-10 point guard, just decommitted from Coppin State following a coaching change there. Miguel Bocachica has also been getting strong contributions this season from senior guard Amyr Walker (6-2) and senior wing MJ Branker (6-5), while senior guard Shemar Wilbanks-Acqui, one of their leading scorers this season, hasn’t played in the state playoffs.

Jaida Helm (above) and the Crusaders are the 2023 PCL champions.
(Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Girls 4A: (12-1) Lansdale Catholic (25-2) vs. (11-1) Allentown CC (26-3)
Governor Mifflin, 3 PM

A rematch of a really good second round game last year happens with a trip to the semifinals at stake. Lansdale Catholic has started a little slow in both state games so far and it hasn’t mattered one bit, the Crusaders’ impressive offense just piling up points at a rate Bishop McDevitt and Jersey Shore couldn’t keep up with. The bench has gotten a chance to close out both games too, a nice luxury for a team that relies heavily on its first five.

PCL MVP Gabby Casey had a double-double in the first round and dropped in 29 on Wednesday, the St. Joe’s recruit leading the charge for a team set on winning its first title. Olivia Boccella simply won’t cool off either, the junior sniper raining in five threes against Jersey Shore and starters Jaida Helm and Nadia Yemola have hit double-figures in both PIAA games. Sophomore Sanyiah Littlejohn hasn’t needed to score, but her defensive prowess will be needed against ACC, much like it was last year.

A year ago, the Vikettes’ Molly Driscoll torched LC in the first half and that was with a separated shoulder. The standout junior is healthy this year, fresh off a 19-point effort in Wednesday’s win over District 3 power Delone Catholic. She gets help from seniors Madi Szoke and Lauren Egan, juniors Abbey Koforth and Sammy Roth and sophomore Milly Wolf while first-year coach Kathy Davidowich has her team playing excellent defense.

Girls 5A: (1-1) West Chester Rustin (26-3) vs. (11-1) Bethlehem Catholic (19-8)
Schuylkill Valley HS, 3 PM 

The Golden Knights are hoping they got their big scare out of the way. If they haven’t, at least they know how to fight out of it. On the heels’ of Wednesday’s stirring rally past Abington Heights — Rustin trailed by seven at the start of the fourth quarter — where Laine McGurk did that thing where’s she’s really, really good at basketball and hit the game winner, Rustin will continue its drive toward a state title against a Becahi program that knows a lot about winning in March.

McGurk, the Drexel-bound senior wing, has been magnificent so far with a 29-point outing in the first round and 32 of the Knights’ 49 on Wednesday including the go-ahead jumper with 15 seconds left. Ask her, or coach Lauren Stackhouse, however and they’ll probably point to the team’s defense. A tenacious group that loves to press full court, with Ava Panetta pestering the ball, Lola Flynn able to swoop in for takeaways and Riley Stackhouse and Elizabeth McGurk able to handle all sorts of matchups, the Knights’ defense turned things around on Wednesday after totally discombobulating Susquehannock in the team’s lopsided first round win.

While a deep state run is new territory for Rustin, it’s become the standard for the Golden Hawks under coach Jose Medina. Bethlehem Catholic is no stranger to District I either, having used rugged defense to get by Upper Moreland and Gwynedd Mercy Academy, although Rustin brings a different kind of test. Becahi is typically paced by junior guard Cici Hernandez, who only had five points in the second-round win over GMA, but have good forwards in Kendra Rigo, a 5-foot-11 senior stretch four with outside range and good post skills alongside fellow post Akasha Santos; junior guard Yarian Fernandez is a Moravian commit. Medina favors playing a deep rotation and its a safe bet the Hawks will rotate plenty of defensive looks as a return favor to Rustin.

Bishop Shanahan's Sam Blumenthal (above, left) and the Eagles have Archbishop Wood in their quarterfinal matchup. (Photo: Dan Hilferty/CoBL)

Girls 5A: (12-1) Archbishop Wood (22-5) vs. (1-3) Bishop Shanahan (24-5)
Norristown HS, 2:30 PM

Playing in a state quarterfinal is all anyone on Archbishop Wood’s roster has known, the Vikings in the elite eight for a 10th straight year while this is some new ground for the Eagles, Shananhan’s run ended in the first round by Cardinal O’Hara last year. Different round, different PCL opponent but same idea as the Eagles need to get past a state power to keep their own Hershey goal alive in the midcard of a tripleheader at Norristown. The number three could go a long way to deciding this one, as both teams like to take and make three-point shots.

Wood’s senior class wants a three-peat and they’ve been playing like it. It’s almost safe to write in senior Deja Evans for a double-double already, the 6-foot-2 Albany recruit giving Wood a definite advantage under the backboards against a smaller Shanahan squad. Kara Meredith has been bringing it on both ends of the court and senior Delaney Finnegan will most certainly have her clamps sighted on one of the Eagle’s top options on the perimeter

Junior Sam Blumenthal is a battler, the 5-foot-10 forward likely to match up with Evans while the Eagles’ array of guards will look to keep the ball moving against Wood’s defense and find open shots. Faith Ambrose, Abby Wolf, Alexa Bojko and Alyssa Brown are cut from a similar mold as smart, poised ballhandlers that can all knock down threes consistently.

Boys 6A: (1-2) Spring-Ford (27-3) vs. (6-1) State College (25-2)
Mechanicsburg HS, 1 PM

Three of the four 6A boys’ games involve at least one local team, and all three of them should be high-level contests. This one is the only one that isn’t local, as Spring-Ford will drive two hours west and State College two hours south to meet up in the middle of the state. Spring-Ford’s won a couple tough games so far, beating Central York in the first round and then holding off Hempfield 43-39 in the second round, Joe Dempsey’s squad handling its first state playoff experience like a more veteran group. Junior guard E.J. Campbell (6-1) continued his strong postseason with 15 points against Hempfield, while 6-3 sophomore guard Jacob Nguyen added 11. S-F’s at its best when it’s getting production from 6-4 senior Zach Zollers, 6-4 sophomore Tommy Kelly and 6-0 senior point guard Caleb Little as well.

The biggest key for the Rams will be slowing down the Little Lions’ Braeden Shrewsberry, a 6-2 shooting guard committed to play for his dad Micah at Penn State next year; Braeden had 26 points in State College’s 10-point win over Pittsburgh Central Catholic in the second round. Senior Ryan Perks, junior Isaac Dye and senior point guard Lake Black provide more scoring on the perimeter, while 6-7 senior Kevin McKenna gives them some size inside. State College has only lost one game since mid-December and comes into the weekend on a 10-game winning streak, as the program hunts for its first title since winning the old AAAA classification in 2003.  

Coatesville senior Jeremiah Marshall (above, right) had 16 points in a second-round win over North Penn. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Boys 6A: (12-3) Archbishop Wood (18-8) vs. (1-9) Coatesville (20-9)
Norristown HS, 1 PM

The opening game of that Norristown tripleheader features two teams that love to get up and down the court, and both will put no fewer than players on the court who can get their own shot and aren’t afraid of playing a physical, in-your-face style. Wood features the best player on the court in Jalil Bethea, the 6-4 combo guard hitting close to 50% of his 3-pointers on the season on nearly 200 attempts, all while continuing to improve his ball-handling, shot-creating, passing and more. John Mosco has a number of other exciting guards to turn to as well, including junior Josh Reed, senior Gus Salem and sophomores Carey ‘Deuce’ Maxey and Milan Dean Jr,. with sharpshooter Michael Green coming off the bench; in the middle is 6-8 Carson Howard, an East Stroudsburg commit who brings them rebounding and athleticism.

Coatesville, under the direction of head coach John Allen, is going through a major bounce-back after missing out on the entire postseason — league, district and state — a year ago, a year in which its head coach stepped down midway through the season. Allen, who led Coatesville to a state championship in 2001 before a standout career at Seton Hall, has infused his Raiders with his energy and unselfishness, led by senior guard Jeremiah Marshall, juniors Dion Kennedy and Zuri Harris, sophomore Amon Fowlkes, and a host of reserves and role players, including 6-7 freshman Larry Brown, who gives them a paint presence. They’ve got the athleticism and attitude to hang with Wood, but the Vikings have the edge in outside shooting and the ‘been there’ factor. 

Boys 6A: (12-1) Roman Catholic (25-3) vs. (11-1) Parkland (20-9)
Norristown HS, 4:30 PM

The defending PIAA 6A champs, Roman didn’t face Parkland a year ago, as the Trojans got knocked out in the first round, ending the District 11 champs’ state run before it could even really get started. But Andy Stephens’ group is now in the quarterfinals for the first time since 2016, the year before the PIAA went to six divisions; they lost to eventual champ Roman that year, by 13. They’re coming off a couple wins over District 1 teams — Henderson and Garnet Valley, by 17 and 16 points respectively — to earn the matchup with the Cahillites. Roman had a much closer call in the second round, needing to come from behind in overtime to beat Lower Merion by four, Xzayvier Brown capping off a 27-point outing with a 3-point play off a steal in the final minute.

Brown is one of two St. Joe’s-bound players on the Hawks, the 6-3 point guard ready to team up yet again with 6-7 wing forward Anthony Finkley, a terrific passer and improving shooter who plays more of a point-forward role with the ball in his hands. Those two, along with 6-7 Shareef Jackson and 5-9 junior Rob Cottrell, were all in the top six during the regular season; Jackson’s brother Sammy Jackson, a 6-4 freshman, and sophomore guard Sebastian Edwards have moved up into the rotation as two of the Cahillites’ wings are ineligible for state playoffs due to transfer regulation. Parkland counters with star guard Nick Coval, a 6-2 junior and sharpshooter with a dozen Division I offers, the MVP of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, plus senior guard Matthew Ray (5-9), senior Joey Gerbasio (6-1) and junior Luke Spang (6-0). 

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