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Inexact science: New Castle, Wilkinsburg 26-0, but not favorites

Tuesday, February 26, 2002

By Mike White, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Winning a WPIAL championship is cause for a celebration. This year, New Castle and Wilkinsburg are looking to throw the perfect party.

New Castle Coach John Sarandrea
-- "We don't talk too much about being undefeated."
(Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)

Both teams head into the semifinals with perfect records. New Castle is 26-0 and plays Kiski Area in a Class AAAA semifinal, 8 p.m. tomorrow, at Duquesne University's Palumbo Center. The game was originally scheduled for Ambridge, but was moved yesterday.

Wilkinsburg also is 26-0 and plays Beaver Falls in a Class AA semifinal, 8 p.m. tomorrow, at North Allegheny.

Should New Castle and Wilkinsburg would go on to win titles, they put themselves into the WPIAL record book.

Since Class AAAA was formed in the 1983-84 season, only one team has won the WPIAL title with an undefeated record. That was Norwin in 1986.

In Class AA, no team has won the championship with a perfect record since Washington in 1985.

But it seems not much has been made about the two teams' run of perfection because they might not be the favorites to win titles. Uniontown is the WPIAL's No. 1 seed in the Class AAAA playoffs and the Red Raiders have been the Post-Gazette's No. 1-ranked team since the preseason. New Castle is the WPIAL's No. 2 seed and has been ranked No. 2 since the preseason.

In Class AA, defending champion Sto-Rox is the WPIAL's No. 1 seed and has been the PG's No. 1 team since the preseason. The WPIAL seeded Wilkinsburg second for the playoffs and the Tigers were No. 4 in the most recent rankings.

"The undefeated record has kind of been low-profile, and I'm glad about that," New Castle Coach John Sarandrea said.

Sarandrea has won four WPIAL titles, but never with an undefeated team. His 1998-99 team was considered his best, but the Hurricanes had a loss during the regular season to Rice, N.Y., which was ranked No. 3 in the country when it beat New Castle.

"We don't talk too much about being undefeated," Sarandrea said. "It's not like it's taboo. But we've always considered it icing on the cake. The cake is whatever championship you can grab, whether it's the section championship, or the WPIAL or PIAA, if you're fortunate."

Wilkinsburg Coach Art Griffiths said he has not talked to his team about going undefeated.

"To be honest, I wish we would've lost early in the season once," Griffiths said. "But once we get toward the end of the regular season, you don't want to lose one so that you can get one of the first four seeds in the playoffs. I don't hear too much said about our record. I don't know why."

But getting to the championship will not be easy for New Castle or Wilkinsburg. Kiski Area gave New Castle a tough game in the Blackhawk tournament in December, before losing, 74-67.

Kiski Area was impressive in an 85-61 quarterfinal victory against North Hills.

"They clicked offensively like I've seen few teams do, and I mean that," Sarandrea said of the North Hills game. "I've said all along that Kiski Area is the real deal."

Both teams like to play a fast-paced offense and Kiski Area's Joey Tutchstone has developed into one of Class AAAA's best point guards.

"He's hard to match up with because he's 6-3," Sarandrea said. "This should be one of the best games of the year, in my opinion. You have two teams that like to go up and down the floor. Neither one of us keeps possession of the ball for real long without shooting it. But I like being in games like this."

The WPIAL scheduled the game for Ambridge because Palumbo officials originally said its facility was not available. But WPIAL Executive Director Larry Hanley said Palumbo officials called the league office yesterday, offering their facility. So the league moved the New Castle-Kiski Area game because a large crowd is expected.

Wilkinsburg's opponent, Beaver Falls, also likes to play a fast-paced game. Beaver Falls has scored 80 points or more nine times this season, although it has averaged only 56 points in two WPIAL playoff games.

"We have to keep them from getting a lot of easy baskets," Griffiths said. "They get them either on offensive rebounds or their fast break. We can't be shooting bricks because that means they're going to be getting rebounds and getting out fast."

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