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Upset in WPIAL semis, GCC boys take aim at PIAA title | TribLIVE.com
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Upset in WPIAL semis, GCC boys take aim at PIAA title

Kellie B. Gormly
| Tuesday, March 7, 2017 5:36 p.m
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Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Greensburg Central Catholic's Jack Liberatore takes a shot as OLSH's Ethan Harrell defends during the WPIAL Boys Class 2A semifinal game at Fox Chapel High School on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017.
gtrGCCNeshboys5022517
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Greensburg Central Catholic's Ben Hertzog (14) looks for room around Neshannock's Maxwell Nigon (12) during the second quarter of a WPIAL Class 2A playoff game on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, at Fox Chapel High School. Greensburg Central Catholic leads 24-21 at halftime.
gtrGCCNeshboys3022517
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Greensburg Central Catholic's Neal McDermott (11) grabs a defensive rebound during a WPIAL Class 2A playoff game against Neshannock on Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, at Fox Chapel High School. Greensburg Central Catholic leads 24-21 at halftime.
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Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Greensburg Central Catholic's Asa Klimcock looks to pass as OLSH's Donavan Johnson tries to steal the ball in the WPIAL Boys Class 2A semifinal game at Fox Chapel High School on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. OLSH won the game, 54-49. They advance to the title game at the Petersen Events Center.

Like college teams in March Madness brackets, WPIAL basketball teams adopt the “survive and advance” mentality in the district playoffs.

But there always is that safe-space cushion — the PIAA playoffs — to fall back on. It’s a second chance at a title for some and a chance at a second title for others.

Greensburg Central Catholic (23-1) entered the WPIAL playoffs as the No. 1 seed in Class 2A but was upset in the semifinals by upstart Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, 54-49.

Now set to make their eighth consecutive appearance in the PIAA boys basketball playoffs, the Centurions have regrouped and, with so much more to prove, have their sights on another postseason run.

The Centurions open the state bracket at 4:30 p.m. Saturday against District 10 runner-up West Middlesex (11-15) at Sharon High School.

This time, there is no cushion waiting to break the fall.

“States is a different kind of game,” GCC senior swingman Ben Hertzog said. “It’s win or you’re actually done.”

GCC knows a better start can set the tone, not only for its PIAA opener but also for the state playoffs as a whole. Fifth-seeded OLSH solved the Centurions by lassoing early momentum. GCC felt the defeat mostly was self-inflicted.

“We got down early and didn’t take good shots,” Hertzog said. “We took the most 3s we’ve taken all season. But still, we were right there at the end. I think if we started off better we’d have had a better result.”

Down 31-14 to OLSH at halftime, GCC rallied to make it close in the second half with a 14-0 run that cut it to 33-28. It got within 44-43 with just over two minutes left — and 48-46 with 59.3 to play — but could not overtake the Chargers.

“Too little, to late,” GCC coach Greg Bisignani said. “We came out frazzled and uptight, and it spiraled out of control. We battled back, and I’m proud of the kids for that.”

GCC was back to work this week, refocusing on its next opponent and trying to pack away the semifinal slip-up.

“It’s a second season now and (the WPIAL semifinal loss) doesn’t matter now,” Bisignani said. “We feel like we can beat anybody on our side of the bracket.”

Senior-led GCC scrimmaged Class 6A Latrobe on Tuesday at St. Vincent for a tune-up.

“We’ve had enough time,” Hertzog said of getting over the loss. “We took a couple days off and had a tough practice Saturday. It was probably one of the hardest practices we’ve had all year. We ran for a good while.”

The GCC girls team also took part in the practice as they prepare to play McConnellsburg on Friday night in their PIAA opener at Pitt-Johnstown.

The GCC boys have played West Middlesex twice in the state playoffs: in 2013-14 (second round) and 2014-15 (quarterfinals). The teams split, with GCC winning 73-57 and losing 49-44. Both games were at North Allegheny. Saturday’s game is deep in enemy territory; West Middlesex is about five miles from Sharon.

“We’ve got a two-hour bus ride,” Bisignani said.

Hidden behind an unsightly record, West Middlesex is a formidable opponent that likes to lull opponents into half-court sets and keep the score low.

GCC likes to run but may have to run more set plays than usual Saturday.

“The style of play is different up there (in District 10),” Bisignani said. “You could put in a shot clock, and it would not affect the WPIAL. But it would in other districts.”

Another difference: Bisignani said the games are called more closely in District 10, which houses schools from Erie and four other counties.

“That plays a role, no doubt,” Bisignani said. “The games are called closer. Here, they let you play a little more.”

Only two WPIAL boys teams have won a PIAA playoff game in each of the last seven seasons: Beaver Falls and GCC.

GCC advanced to the PIAA championship game in 2010-11 and has reached the third round four times under Bisignani.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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