Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
Success in the WPIAL playoffs isn’t anything new for the Union High boys basketball team.
The Scotties are making their second-straight trip to the district playoffs and fifth in the six-year run for coach Dave Smialowski. Union has won at least one playoff game in each of those years except one (2010).
Quigley Catholic is striving to reach those heights. The 13th-seeded Spartans, who are competing in the WPIAL playoffs for the third straight year, are bidding for their first playoff win in program history.
The fourth-seeded Scotties (16-5) will attempt to continue those postseason trends when the teams battle at 8 p.m. tomorrow at Aliquippa High School in the opening round of the WPIAL Class A playoffs.
“It definitely helps to have that success,” Smialowski said. “The playoffs are a different level. If you lose in the first round, your season is over.
“You have to approach it with mental toughness. If you get down, how are you going to respond to it? I think our guys being in the playoffs before really helps. But Quigley has had success lately, too.”
First-year Quigley Catholic coach Joe Kirschner said this is “the first time in a long time” the program finished at .500. The Spartans are 11-11.
“We have a great group of seniors,” Kirschner said. “They lead by example. They’ve been working hard since they were sophomores. Now it’s their turn to take that next step.”
One of Quigley Catholic’s 11 wins this year came over top-seeded Lincoln Park, 62-54, in late December. It was before Elijah Minnie was eligible to play for the Leopards.
“Quigley Catholic is a quality team,” Smialowski said. “They’ve won some big games this year. That win over Lincoln Park is a nice win to have.”
The Scotties won the last meeting against the Spartans, 55-45, in nonsection action last season at home. The schools competed in Section 1-A in Smialowski’s first season (2007-2008) at the helm of Union before Quigley Catholic was realigned into Section 4-A the next season.
Jay Fyda and Nate Lieb pace Quigley Catholic’s offensive attack.
Fyda, a 6-foot senior guard, leads Quigley Catholic at 19.4 points a game. Lieb, also a 6-0 senior guard, is next at 19.1.
“He can shoot the 3,” Smialowski said of Fyda. “He can take you off the dribble and he can score a number of different ways.
“Lieb seems to get out on the break a little. He can shoot the 3, also, and he can take you off the dribble. Fyda is more of a pure scorer in the half court, though.”
Smialowski noted a concern for the Spartans’ sharpshooters.
“We have to concentrate on them a little bit,” he said. “They are two guys we’d have to focus more on. We’ll play our game, we’re used to doing it. I’m a firm believer of going out and doing what we do best and that’s what we’ll do.”
Markel Peace, a 6-foot-1 senior forward, paces Union in scoring at 18.5 points a game.
“He’s one of their best shooters and he’s probably one of their better all-around players,” Kirschner said. “He can get to the basket pretty well. We’ll defend him like we’ve defended any other top shooter. We’ll have to play contain defense.”
Benjamin Young, a 5-11 junior forward, is next for the Scotties at 13.6 markers a contest.
Joe Salmen, a 6-0 senior guard, runs Union’s offense. Salmen is averaging 12.4 points a game.
“Young is athletic,” Kirschner said. “Salmen is a pass first kind of guy. He could get hot around the perimeter and he could hurt us from the outside.
“Salmen will penetrate first, though.”
Union is averaging 67.3 points a game and giving up 51. The Scotties scored over 70 points 10 times.
“We have to look to push the ball. Transition is our game,” Smialowski said. “The big thing is I told the kids it comes down to our halfcourt defense has to be solid. We can’t take chances.
“We’ll still press up like we do. But we have to make shots and run a solid offense and limit them to one shot.”
Quigley Catholic is averaging 58.9 points a game and surrendering 57.1.
“We have to take care of the ball and execute our offense,” Kirschner said. “We have to get the game into a half court game and we need to box out.”
The winner advances to meet the survivor of the Clairton-St. Joseph matchup Feb. 22.
(To watch this week’s edition of “Let’s Talk Basketball” on The Bounce, CLICK HERE.)