KeShaun "Champ" Hammonds and Constitution are coming off a runner-up finish in the PIAA 2A classification. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
CoBL Staff (@hooplove215)
The final segment of the 2017-18 Pennsylvania high school basketball season is upon us.
Six different brackets of 32 teams each get underway this weekend in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) state playoffs, the second year since the expansion from four classifications to six brought even more excitement to March in high school gyms around the Keystone state.
The CoBL staff will be going in-depth on each of the six classifications to preview the state tournament, with favorites, contenders, dark horses and players to watch.
Here’s a look at the Class 2A bracket (district-seed, record in parenthesis); all first-round games will take place Saturday, March 10. The full bracket, with times and locations, can be found here.
Math, Civics & Sciences (12-1, 14-13)
The Mighty Elephants lost in last year’s PIAA AA state semifinals to rival Constitution. But they got revenge by beating the Generals in the district title just last week. Junior Jihad Watson, a transfer from MLK, has been the leader for the Mighty Elephants this year, while senior Kwahzere Ransom, 6-3 senior Anthony McFall, Semaj Mills, and Zahir Jackson have all chipped in. If the Mighty Elephants are going to win the championship, they might have to face off against Constitution again in the state semifinals.
Constitution (12-2, 16-11)
Runner-up’s of last year’s 2A state championship game, Constitution enters this year’s tournament as the second seed from District 12. Rob Moore’s Generals return nine rotation players from last year’s run, starting with senior guard Jahmir Marable-Williams, a 6-1 slasher who can score around the basket with ease. Also returning is 6-3 sophomore KeShaun “Champ” Hammonds, 6-foot senior Hakim Hudson, and Damon Wall, a 5-10 transfer from Doane Academy (N.J.), has been a pleasant addition to the Generals’ attack.
Sewickley Academy (7-1, 21-4)
With a number of key veterans still in place and some youngsters really flourishing in expanded roles, Win Palmer’s Panthers could make a run at a second straight PIAA Class 2A crown. No one would be surprised. Hey, Sewickley just collared its second WPIAL title in as many years, defeating Section 3 playmate Our Lady of the Sacred Heart 63-59 despite holding a 21-point lead at one point. Nate Ridgeway, a 6-6 junior who landed on last season’s all-state team, popped a double-double (17 points/10 rebounds) in Sewickley’s title-game win, while slick 6-3 soph Isiah Warfield backed him with 16 points. Soph Isaiah Smith and senior David Groetsch also reached double figures for Sewickley — the 6-0 Smith banked 12 and the 6-1 Groetsch 11 — while 6-1 soph Jett Roesing (16.6) actually leads the Panthers in scoring. Additional depth comes from 6-2 senior Will Nocito and 6-0 senior Jared Washington. Spent all season ranked in the top five, so a return to Hershey would hardly be a stretch.
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (7-2, 22-3)
Came up just short in its bid for a WPIAL championship, falling 63-59 to a Sewickley Academy side that also prevented OLSH from hoisting WPIAL gold a year ago. One won’t find a single senior on the Chargers’ roster, yet Mike Rodriguez’s youthful club cranked out 19 consecutive regular-season victories before losing at Sewickley in a game that forged a tie atop the Section 3 standings. Donovan Johnson, a 6-6 sophomore scoring machine, leads OLSH at nearly 19 ppg yet there are others available such as 6-3 junior Ricco Tate, 6-1 junior Austin Wigley and 5-11 freshman Dante Spadafora who reached double digits in the WPIAL title game and can get buckets. So can 6-1 junior Daren DiMichele, the other part of OLSH’s starting five. More help comes from 6-3 junior Tyler Bradley, although he’s been playing on a tender ankle. Did reach the state semis a year ago — losing to Sewickley Academy — so do not rule out a possible fourth engagement between these fierce rivals.
Bishop Guilfoyle (6-1, 21-5)
Having already hoisted the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference and District 6 championships, Chris Drenning’s Marauders will turn their collective attention to making some things happen at the state level. And with a trio of double-digit scorers wheeling, dealing and finishing — 5-10 junior Luke Ruggery (21.0), 6-2 senior A.J. Labriola (15.7) and 5-10 senior Mike Scharf (10.8) — some really neat things might materialize for the Altoona-based school. While 6-2 senior Mark Conrad (6.7) and 6-2 senior Nick Scaramozzino (7.7) round out the usual starting lineup, Drenning won’t hesitate to plug 6-3 senior Charles Patterson and 5-10 sophomore Michael Montecalvo into a talented rotation that’s sporting an eight-game winning streak. Not the biggest group, but these guys canned 10 3-balls in the D-6 title game.
Coudersport (9-1, 22-3)
Two-time District 9 champs may not have a lot of size, but the Falcons can shoot it from deep. Geez, Brian Furman’s bunch buried 10 treys in their 66-46 rout of Ridgway in the D-9 final — the latter’s first loss of the season. Options No. 1 and No. 2 for Coudy are 6-0 junior Owen Chambers (24.8 ppg) and 6-1 senior Jared Green (17.2 ppg), a returning all-state selection. And while Chambers pocketed 27 points in the District 9 final, 6-3 senior Hunter Ricke tacked on 17 and 5-10 freshman Hayden Keck finished with 10. Reached second round a year ago, but was eliminated by Greensburg Central Catholic.
Holy Cross (2-1, 20-6)
Another state tournament fixture, Al Callejas’ sizzling Crusaders are returning to Class 2A play with a number of players who last season got off to a forgettable start in a second-round loss to eventual runner-up Constitution. It’s a guard-heavy group fueled by a trio of double-digit scorers — senior Pat Galvin (12.9), sophomore Kieran Burrier (11.2) and junior Tyler Mozeleski (10.3) — that collared its 17th consecutive victory in the District 2 title game. Juniors Tom Montefour and Declan Tokash, along with sophomore Caleb Callejas, also are dependable parts of the Holy Cross rotation. Hard to believe it’s been five years since powerful big man Josh Kosin and the Crusaders tumbled to Beaver Falls in the Class AA final.
The Dark Horses
Jeannette (7-4, 19-4)
As usual, Jeannette has plenty of high-octane personnel available even though veteran skipper Adrian Batts rarely had his projected rotation intact throughout the regular season and WPIAL playoffs. So, look out if these guys get on a roll. Junior A.J. Sharp dropped in 14 points in Jeannette’s 72-64 loss to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in the WPIAL semis, while 6-0 senior Robert Kennedy and 6-3 senior Tre Cunningham added 13 apiece. Kennedy led Jeannette to the PIAA Class A football championship in December, so he’s a handful. Junior Anthony Johnson, a 6-4 talent, and 6-1 junior Seth Howard also reached double digits, scoring 10 each.
Moravian Academy (11-1, 19-6)
Still juiced by its first District 11 championship — a 72-38 victory over Panther Valley — Moravian will look to add to its school-record win total when it opens state play this weekend. Steve Gabryluk’s Lions are led by 6-0 junior Jordan Holmqvist, a 1,000-point scorer who is averaging around 19 per game. Junior Peter Chiaradia (14.2 ppg), a 6-3 wing, also carries a double-digit scoring average while 5-10 sophomore Abe Atiyeh (9.4) is mighty close. Chiaradia, Holmqvist and Atiyeh shared 52 points in the win over Panther Valley.
Paul Robeson (12-3, 20-5)
Robeson, which is known for it’s studies in Health-Related Technology, has never made it past the first round of the state tournament. But this year’s team might have the talent to break the curse. Walter Hester, a 6-foot junior who leads the Huskies in scoring, and Troy Butler are both returning starters from last year’s team. Look for senior Robert Tucker, Davante Smith, and junior Nyaim Smith to help the Huskies advance past the first round.
Ridgway (9-2, 25-1)
Tony Allegretto’s Elkers may be fuming after dropping a 66-46 verdict to Coudersport in the District 9 championship game, a setback that spoiled Ridgway’s perfect record. Remarkably patient at the offensive end of the floor, these guys don’t yield many points typically and they don’t always score that many either. What they do with regularity is win behind a trio of seniors, 6-1 Johnny Mitchell, 6-1 Neil MacDonald and 6-3 Andy Breier, and 5-8 junior lead guard Daunte Allegretto. Advanced to the quarterfinal round last season, but tumbled to eventual state runner-up Constitution in a true intersectional matchup.
West Middlesex (10-1, 19-6)
Just one game over .500 in mid-January, Chad Mild’s remarkably balanced Big Reds have stitched together a 12-game winning streak since then and even collared a District 10 crown. Only one player — 5-11 senior Marshall Murray (11.8) — is averaging in double figures, but there’s four others who pocket seven points or more per outing in 6-2 senior Chase Staunch (9.4), 6-0 junior Jake Bowen (8.4), 5-11 junior Zach Long (7.6) and 6-1 junior Casey Mild (7.0). Murray and Bowen combined for 32 points in West Middlesex’s 52-44 victory over Cambridge Springs in the D-10 final. Young bunch, too, since Murray and Staunch are the only seniors.
Owen Chambers and Jared Green, Coudersport
Coudy’s Dynamic Duo has been plugged in since the start of the season, combining for some 42 points per game for a Falcons squad that claimed a second straight District 9 title. While the 6-1 Green landed on the all-state squad last season as a junior and is averaging 17-plus points per outing, the 6-0 Chambers is just a junior and checks in at 24-plus points per.
Donovan Johnson, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart
Just one member of an underclassmen-heavy lineup that starts no seniors, the 6-6 Johnson (18.8 ppg) is the younger brother of former all-state choice Cameron Johnson, who filled it up at OLSH before heading off to Pittsburgh and ultimately North Carolina. Has been bothered by several sore knees late in the season, the week between districts and states might rejuvenate the high-scoring youngster.
Nate Ridgeway, Sewickley Academy
After having some late injury issues, the 6-6 Ridgeway popped a double-double as Win Palmer’s Panthers defended their WPIAL championship by downing Section 3 playmate Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. An all-state selection last season as a sophomore, Ridgeway is the cornerstone of a Sewickley Academy starting lineup that starts just one senior.
Luke Ruggery, Bishop Guilfoyle
Already committed to nearby Saint Francis (Pa.), the 5-10 Ruggery is likely to reach 1,000 career points just by hitting his 21.0 points per game average in Guilfoyle’s state opener against Brockway. Especially since he’ll be sitting on 984 points heading into the weekend. While capable of manning the point and directing traffic, he’s also adept at putting the ball in the basket from all over the floor — as evidenced by his four treys in the District 6 final.
KeShaun Hammonds, Constitution
Only a sophomore, Hammonds is one of the more prolific scorers in the area. The quick 6-3 guard can fill it up in a hurry, which often results in his team coming out on top. He can shoot it from beyond the arc, as well as take it into the lane and score around the hoop. When he’s not scoring, look for “Champ” to dish the ball to his teammates for buckets.
First-Round Games to Watch
Moravian Academy (19-6) vs. Paul Robeson (20-5)
What’s neat about this matchup is the survivor could be able to generate plenty of momentum heading into a potential quarterfinal-round matchup against Constitution. Jordan Holmqvist is just a junior, but he’s already surpassed 1,000 career points. What makes the Lions difficult to defend is junior Peter Chiaradia and sophomore Abe Atiyeh also can finish. While Robeson is back in state play following a one-season absence,
Purchase Line (20-5) vs. Jeannette (19-4)
Purchase Line may have come up short in its quest for Heritage Conference and District 6 championships, but Steve Woodrow’s Red Dragons have some players who can bring it. Four players — 5-10 senior Melvin Sanchez (15.3), 6-3 junior Dominique Campbell (14.4), 6-2 senior Shamar Campbell (13.4) and 6-3 sophomore Jacob Barnett (12.7) — average in double figures and 6-0 senior Micah Kurka (7.0) isn’t far behind. Shamar Campbell also grabs 11-plus boards per game. Since Jeannette’s 6-4 Anthony Johnson was assessed two technicals in the WPIAL semis and ejected, he won’t be available for this game. Jayhawks still have plenty of talent led by senior guard Robert Kennedy, junior guard A.J. Sharp and senior forward Tre Cunningham. Since Adrian Batts’ bunch has been stewing over its loss to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart for nearly two weeks, a quick, energetic start is a strong possibility.