Defending champion Sewickley Academy holds off Jeannette to reach state semifinals
Championship teams rarely are fazed by momentum swings. When the tide turns and leads evaporate, the best ones manage to stabilize and finish.
That’s what Sewickley Academy did against fast-charging Jeannette on Saturday afternoon.
With a 15-point advantage trimmed to three and the Jayhawks primed to take their first lead, defending state champion Sewickley Academy stayed the course, withstood the charge and downed Jeannette, 64-56, in a PIAA Class 2A quarterfinal playoff game at North Hills.
The third time was not the charm for Jeannette, which also lost to Sewickley Academy in last year’s WPIAL quarterfinals and the Class A semifinals two years ago.
“They weren’t going to back down,” Jeannette coach Adrian Batts said of the Panthers. “That is a very good team. They have six good basketball players. I am not making excuses. I wasn’t upset. Our guys gave a great effort.”
Sewickley Academy (24-4) advances to the semifinals for the third consecutive year.
Jeannette, in the quarters for the first time since 2008, is done at 21-5.
But the Jayhawks didn’t go without a fight.
They used a 14-3 run to get to within 54-51 with 3 minutes, 11 seconds to play after a corner 3-pointer from senior Tre Cunningham.
The shot recharged the Jeannette side of the gym.
But fouls mounted for Jeannette, and the Panthers shielded themselves with a composed effort in the final minutes to win their 14th consecutive playoff game dating to last season.
“When we play together we have fun; it’s a great atmosphere,” Panthers senior swingman Nate Ridgeway, who scored a game-high 18 points, including two dunks. “Jeannette has a lot of big bodies and was the most physical team we played all year.”
After sophomore Isaiah Smith (16 points) fouled out for the Panthers with 2:45 left, Jeannette junior Anthony Johnson was hit with his third charge and fifth foul with 2:30 to go and took a seat at the end of the bench.
That’s when the Panthers boarded their Jett. Junior Jett Roesing connected on a 3-pointer from the wing — his only field goal — and made two free throws to give Sewickley a 60-52 lead with 48 seconds left.
“One of these days we’ll find a way to beat them,” Batts said. “We had some defensive lulls early and dug ourselves into a hole. Our pressure was good I thought, but we couldn’t get it done.”
The Panthers, who have won back-to-back WPIAL titles, held off Ridgway on Wednesday night, 44-41. The test helped to sharpen their resolve in the quarters.
Their coach also threw around the word “fun” to describe how his team played.
“We didn’t have fun in that game,” coach Win Palmer said of Wednesday’s nail-biter. “I thought we had fun today. Both teams had fun. Jeannette’s crowd supported them beautifully when they came back. I thought our guys handled their emotions really well. Our guys are very confident.”
Senior David Groetsch scored 12, and sophomore Isiah Warfield had 10 points, 11 rebounds and five assists for the Panthers, who made seven 3-pointers,
“David has been through the wars,” Palmer said.
Sewickley Academy jumped out to a 13-4 lead and took a 19-8 advantage thanks to four first-quarter 3-pointers. The Panthers spread the floor and made Jeannette close out on shooters.
The Jayhawks had some success driving to the basket and cut the deficit to 22-17 on a coast-to-coast score by senior Robert Kennedy with 5:12 left in the second quarter.
But the Panthers went on a 10-3 run, which included a Ridgeway dunk, and Isaiah Smith made a layup to push the advantage to 34-22 just before halftime.
Palmer said the Panthers are “a third-quarter team,” and they showed that, outscoring the Jayhawks, 13-8, in the third. After junior Seth Howard made a layup, the Panthers scored the final seven points of the quarter to take a 47-34 advantage.
“Jeannette is so athletic,” Palmer said. “We wanted to take away the outside shots and make them drive.”
Jeannette made 8 of 17 free throws.
The loss ended the prep basketball careers of Cunningham and Kennedy.
Cunningham led Jeannette with 17 points. Kennedy had eight of his 12 in the fourth quarter before also fouling out.
Johnson finished with 14 points, and junior AJ Sharp chipped in 10, including a banked-in 3 in the closing seconds.
Jeannette is expected to return four starters next season.
“I love my guys,” Batts said. “I couldn’t be more proud. I appreciate what they did. We were right there. We’ll see if we can make another run at it next year.”