Gateway girls basketball advances to WPIAL semifinals; boys defeated in first round
In playoff basketball, every possession seemingly takes on greater importance, especially in games that come down to the wire. The Gateway boys and girls teams experienced that firsthand last week, as they played in contests that were determined at the final buzzer.
The girls hung on to knock off No. 2 seed Thomas Jefferson, 57-54, in the WPIAL Class 5A quarterfinals Saturday, but the boys had their season ended by No. 8 Hampton, 52-50, in the Class 5A first round last Tuesday.
For the girls, the victory marked their second win over the Jaguars in the past month. Gateway also ousted its section foe Jan. 23, another game that came down to the final possession.
Although the teams finished the regular season with identical 19-3 records, Thomas Jefferson had one more win in the section and, as a result, earned the second seed. Gateway was given a seventh seed despite entering the playoffs on an 11-game winning streak.
Third-year coach Curtis Williams turned the seeding into a positive, however.
“We use that as motivation,” he said. “Our girls felt like we didn’t get much respect all year.”
After ousting Ringgold, 39-28, in the first round, the Gators battled the Jaguars in the rubber match. The Gators faced a three-point deficit after the opening quarter but outscored the Jaguars in each of the final three quarters.
Lexi Jackson, a 6-foot-3 sophomore center, paced Gateway with 19 points and 19 rebounds. Senior guard Lauren Edwards added 15 points, and junior Mary Kromka chipped in with 13 points and made several clutch plays in the second half.
“This was just a team effort. That was about the only way we were going to be able to beat TJ: everybody chipping in,” Williams said.
The Gators faced the No. 6 seed and defending champion Chartiers Valley on Wednesday in the semifinals, a game that ended too late for this edition. The Colts, with their dynamic duo of Megan McConnell and Mackenzie Wagner, pose another significant challenge for the Gators, Williams believes his team is trending in the right direction.
“Honestly, I don’t think we’re playing our best basketball yet. We’re getting better. We’re executing better than we have earlier on,” he said. “I think we’re still on the incline. We haven’t plateaued yet. That’s a good thing.”
For the boys, the season came to an end earlier than they had hoped. The Gators, who earned the No. 9 seed after a third-place finish in the section, could not find their offensive rhythm for most of the night against Hampton.
Gateway fell into an early deficit, and its frantic fourth-quarter comeback fell short.
“They were making shots all night. We missed our first nine 3s,” Gateway coach Daryn Freedman said.
With the Gators’ perimeter threats struggling, the Talbots focused their attention on Gateway senior John Paul Kromka. Kromka, a 6-foot-8 center, often was double- or even triple-teamed in the paint. Despite that, Kromka paced the Gators with 22 points, and Freedman designed a play for him in the final seconds with a chance to tie.
The Gators, trailing by two points with 1.8 seconds left, inbounded to Kromka, who got off a shot off that just missed as the buzzer sounded.
“He got a good look. I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Freedman noted. “We thought it was the right play, and it just rolled out.”
In addition to Kromka’s effort, junior guard Courtney Jackson contributed 15 points, senior Trenell Scott came off the bench and made a pair of 3-pointers to spark the Gators’ surge in the fourth quarter and reserve LJ Farrish came up with multiple steals.
Despite the tough loss, Freedman applauded the effort his players, who nearly erased a nine-point deficit over the final few minutes.
Freeman also reflected on the performance of the Gateway defense throughout the season. The Gators allowed the fewest points per game in the Class 5A. Additionally, he highlighted the contributions of his three seniors, who played their final game.
“John Paul (Kromka) had a great career. Mark Bozicevic surprised a lot of people. He did things people didn’t think he could do. He became more of a complete player this year. Trenell Scott had an interesting career but had some really nice games this year,” he said. “They provided good leadership in each of their own ways.”
Sean Meyers is a freelance writer.