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5 things to watch in the opening round of the WPIAL girls basketball playoffs

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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Mars’ Tai Johnson scores next to Franklin Regional’s Noelle Boyd during their game Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, at Franklin Regional High School.

The 2019 WPIAL girls basketball playoffs opening round is an extended one. It begins on Friday and continues through Wednesday.

There are opening-round games in five of the six classes, with the exception being Class 6A. Only eight teams qualified so they all go straight to the quarterfinals.

Here are five things to watch for the 24 games that make up Round 1 of the Path to the Pete:

1. Fightin’ champs

A year ago, Mars reached the WPIAL Class 5A semifinals but lost to Oakland Catholic, dashing its WPIAL title hopes. The loss did not take the fight out of the Planets though as they won five straight in the state playoffs, including a 36-33 title game victory over Archbishop Wood for the school’s first PIAA basketball championship.

Now, to keep their state playoff hopes alive, Mars has to beat Woodland Hills in a Class 5A first-round game at Hampton on Tuesday.

The Wolverines won six of their final eight games to finish tied for third place in Section 3-5A.

2. Mirror image

Both Belle Vernon and Keystone Oaks finished in third place in their respective section, both have an elite scorer and both ended up with similar records at 14-8 and 13-8, respectively.

It’s the No. 8 vs. No. 9 seed on Monday in a Class 4A first-round game at Peters Township with a shot at top-seeded North Catholic at stake.

The Leopards have won seven of nine thanks to the play of senior Lindsay Steeber, who is averaging more than 16 points per game.

The Golden Eagles ended their season by winning three straight, with senior Gillian Piccolino averaging more than 21 points per game.

3. Silver linings

A year ago, Beaver was preparing for the Class 4A playoffs where it won a pair of games to reach the finals. It was there the Bobcats lost in heartbreak fashion to North Catholic.

East Allegheny also had great success a year ago, making it to the Class 3A title game where it battled, but fell to eventual champion Bishop Canevin.

This year, the Bobcats were in a three-way tussle with Neshannock and Avonworth before settling for a tie for second place, a 16-4 record and the No. 6 seed in 3A.

The Wildcats have enjoyed a talented 1-2 punch with Amaia Johnson averaging 22 points per game and teammate Abby Henderson scoring nearly 16 points per game as EA checks in with a 14-7 mark.

The two collide in one of the better first-round games Wednesday at Peters Township.

4. Quadrant doubleheader

It’s a scouting dream. The four teams squaring off in a Friday doubleheader at Peters Township can be found in the lower left corner of the top of the Class 2A bracket.

At 6:30 p.m., Serra Catholic takes on Sto-Rox. The Eagles were co-champs with No. 2-seeded Brentwood and finished with a 17-4 overall record and six straight wins. The Vikings needed a win over Northgate in their final section game to tie Aliquippa for fourth place.

At 8 p.m., Our Lady of the Sacred Heart faces Burgettstown. The Chargers were also co-section champs with Laurel in Section 1-2A and have won 12 of their last 13 games. The Blue Devils were on the outside looking in before winning four straight to clinch a playoff spot.

The two winners will meet in the Class 2A quarterfinals on Feb. 21.

5. Former ‘mates

Perennial power Vincentian Academy scrambled to make it to the playoffs this season, and now they will face a familiar foe in Leechburg.

The Royals square off against the Blue Devils on Tuesday at Hampton.

Last year, these two fought in out in Section 2-2A where Vincentian Academy finished first with a 14-0 record while Leechburg was second at 12-2.

The Royals won both head-to-head matchups, beating the Blue Devils at home 73-51 and winning at Leechburg 65-45.

Don Rebel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Don at [email protected] or via Twitter @TheDonRebel.