Devin Whitlock

Darnell Graham/For the Observer-Reporter

Belle Vernon’s Devin Whitlock goes in for a layup during last week’s game against Ringgold.

The numbers for area high school basketball teams to advance to the WPIAL playoffs is down from years past.

The 19 to qualify – 10 boys teams and nine on the girls side – will start the second season as early as tonight. The first round will continue through next Wednesday, and there is plenty of things to watch.

Here are five things to watch as teams begin what they hope is only the start in their path to The Pete.

1. Will droughts end?

Something has to give at some point, right?

For the Burgettstown girls and Charleroi boys, could this be the year they get rid of what Cougars’ coach Bill Wiltz called an elephant on their back at Tuesday night’s pairings meeting?

Charleroi hasn’t won a postseason basketball game since 1997, and Wiltz knew the exact year before I finished my question to him after the brackets were released. The Cougars have lost 13 straight first-round games.

They won’t have to wait, either, playing Friday night against No. 10 seed Carlynton.

It’s been even longer since Burgettstown has won in the playoffs. The last time the Blue Devils won in the postseason, they came back from a nine-point deficit entering the fourth quarter to edge Northgate. That was March 2, 1993.

Burgettstown, the No. 7 seed, will play Riverview, ironically at Northgate, at 6:30 p.m. tonight.

2. Can teams stay hot?

There is a mad scramble for playoff-bound teams this week to find scrimmages. Whether that be to keep the momentum they built towards the end of the season or find footing from a rough road to the finish line of the regular season.

With how many local teams finished, the wait might be the most agonizing part.

Sixth-seeded South Fayette probably doesn’t want to wait until Monday night for its first-round game against No. 11 seed Franklin Regional. The Lions ended the season on a five-game winning streak, including a victory to knock section foe Trinity out of playoff contention and a non-section win over Bishop Canevin to conclude the regular season.

Peters Township is catching fire at the right time. After alternating wins and losses through most of January, the Indians have won three straight and will look to make it four Tuesday night in an eight-nine matchup against Hempfield.

The Monessen boys also have won three in a row. Washington has won six of its last seven. Charleroi is victorious in five of its last six.

But it’s not just on the boys’ side.

The Monessen girls also have won three straight, while the Charleroi girls are on a four-game winning streak.

Belle Vernon and Avella were on nice runs when the regular season concluded. The Leopards had won seven of their last eight games while Avella finished 5-1 down the stretch.

3. Not the full story

When Devin Whitlock transferred from Monessen to Belle Vernon last year, the power in the Mon Valley might have shifted.

It was just one year ago when Whitlock, a freshman at the time, was leading Monessen to the WPIAL Class A semifinals and the PIAA semifinals. Both playoff runs ended at the hands of Vincentian Academy.

Whitlock will now look to help Belle Vernon to its first semifinal appearance since 1998. The sixth-seeded Leopards have to wait until Wednesday to open the playoffs. They play No. 11 Derry at Fox Chapel (8 p.m.).

Belle Vernon’s 16-6 overall record is somewhat deceptive. It only lost two games in Class 4A, both against Uniontown. The other four losses all came out of the classification but each of them against teams that qualified for the playoffs.

Monessen hasn’t had the success past Greyhound teams have had, which includes having its 66-game section winning streak come to an end this season. The Greyhounds are 10-12 and the seventh seed in Class A. They will play 10th-seeded Union Saturday at North Hills (1 p.m.).

A losing record? For Monessen?

Nine of those losses were against teams in a higher classification, including eight with opponents that are still playing.

4. Second chance

Blowing a 17-point lead and not getting a blatant foul call that led to the game-winning basket in the final seconds was how last season ended for Peters Township.

The Indians and head coach Gary Goga were eight minutes away from upsetting top-seeded Pine-Richland in the WPIAL Class 6A quarterfinals.

A lot of those same Peters Township players are on this year’s team, so there might not be a group more excited to get a second chance at the postseason.

They are in a similar position this year. The Indians are again the ninth seed but will play Hempfield in the first round Tuesday at Mt. Lebanon (8 p.m.). A win over the Spartans and top-seeded Butler will await in the quarterfinal.

5. By the numbers

There are some oddities to what has and what could happen this upcoming week in the playoffs. Here are some numbers that stand out.

0 – The number of wins the Chartiers-Houston girls basketball team has against opponents with a winning record.

4 – The number of first-round games Washington has won in a row. The last time the Prexies lost in the first round was in 2015 against Neshannock. They look for more success when meeting the Lancers tonight.

7 – The number of one-possession games South Fayette played in this season. The Lions went 4-3 in those games, but at least coach Dave Mislan won’t blink twice if they face that at any point throughout the playoffs.

40 – The number that has been key to the Monessen girls all season. In games the Greyhounds have scored 40 or more points, they are a perfect 12-0.

Staff Writer

Luke Campbell has been handling a multitude of tasks since joining the Observer-Reporter in 2015, following his graduation from Waynesburg University. He graduated from Waynesburg with a bachelor’s degree in sports broadcasting and information.

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