Latrobe felt like it was put under a microscope at Tuesday night’s WPIAL basketball playoff pairings meeting.
The boys basketball Section 3 champions figured they did enough to earn a top-3 seed in Class 6A, yet had created some conversation and speculation about where they should go in the tournament because of some close games against non-playoff teams.
Then, a sigh of relief.
When the playoff lineup was revealed at the DoubleTree Hotel in Green Tree, it was clear the WPIAL saw fit to place the Wildcats (18-2) No. 2 in the bracket.
A first-round bye also is a nice reward for a regular season that saw Latrobe linger as the No. 1-ranked team for a large portion of the year, play a challenging out-of-section schedule and average 71.4 points.
Latrobe coach Brad Wetzel wasn’t going to gnash his teeth or crush a basketball — although, the WPIAL did give each team an official playoff game ball, sans the air.
Latrobe, though, was not deflated.
“I thought with the section title, 1, 2 or 3 would have been fair,” Wetzel said after the elbow-to-elbow meeting in a packed hotel ballroom. “After that, it’s in the committee’s hands. There was a sense of calmness with us because I felt there wasn’t much more we could do. We battled out some tough ones, and we played about as well as we can play in the regular season.”
Some thought Latrobe might slip a spot or two due to a few one- and two-point wins to Section 3 teams. Still, the Wildcats went 10-0 in section play.
“It seemed like there were a lot of people jumping on the doubting boat,” Wetzel said. “That’s OK, that’s their right. But it’s our job to answer all those questions by how we play on the court.”
Pine-Richland is No. 1 in Class 6A, Mt. Lebanon is No. 3 and Upper St. Clair is No. 4.
Latrobe won’t play until Feb. 23, when it takes on the winner of No. 7 Canon-McMillan and No. 10 North Allegheny in the quarterfinals.
Franklin Regional (16-6) made the WPIAL 5A final last season and a strong follow-up regular season landed the Panthers a No. 6 seed. They will play Thomas Jefferson (11-10) at 8 p.m. Monday at Norwin in the first round.
If it wins, Franklin Regional will get No. 3 Moon in the quarterfinals.
“If we beat Plum, we’re probably a 4,” Panthers coach Steve Scorpion said. “But we didn’t so I thought we got what we deserved. Thomas Jefferson will be a tough out, but we have to get ready to go.”
Mars, which beat the Panthers for the WPIAL title and won the Section 3-5A title ahead of them this year, is the No. 1 seed again.
Also in Class 6A, Penn-Trafford (14-8), back on the postseason after a two-year absence, is seeded eighth and will take on No. 9 Peters Township at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Mt. Lebanon. It will be a doubleheader with the Warriors’ girls team.
Derry (12-7), back in the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons, will open against No. 7 Blackhawk (9-13) in the Class 4A bracket. The Trojans are the No. 10 seed.
Derry coach Tom Esposito thought his team would get Ringgold (13-8) and thought the committee might seed the Trojans ahead of Freeport, the team it tied for third in Section 1-4A.
“The brackets we thought we had drawn up seemed pretty realistic,” Esposito said. “We’re playing one of the most historic programs in the state of Pennsylvania. As always, we’ll be very well-prepared and do the best we can.
“I am happy for the kids. We’re in the dance, and we’re going to go dance the best we can.”
Derry is one of 40 newcomers to this year’s tournament that did not qualify last season.
Other area matchups:
• Belle Vernon (8-14) is the No. 12 seed in 4A and will take on No. 5 Highlands (15-7) at 8 p.m. Wednesday at North Hills.
• In Class 3A, No. 13 Southmoreland (12-9) meets No. 4 Seton La Salle (17-4) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Gateway.
“We’re happy with where we’re at,” Scotties coach Frank Muccino said. “We knew with our position we’d have to play one of the (top 4).”
• Jeannette (12-10), which finished second in Section 2-2A behind No. 2 seeded Serra Catholic (18-3), opens against Springdale (12-8) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Gateway. Jeannette coach Adrian Batts said the matchup and seeds were what he anticipated.
• In the playoffs for the 38th straight time but under a new coach (Dan Bosnic), Monessen (14-8) earned the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye in Class A. The Greyhounds won Section 2 with a 12-0 mark.
Also in that bracket, Greensburg Central Catholic (16-6) is back in the postseason after seeing a 17-year streak end last year.
The No. 7 Centurions will play No. 10 Geibel at 8 p.m. Friday at Charleroi in the first round. The winner gets No. 2 Cornell.
The other top seeds are New Castle (4A), Lincoln Park (3A), OLSH (2A) and Vincentian (A).
Among the 43 schools that have boys and girls teams in the postseason, five are from Westmoreland County: Penn-Trafford, Franklin Regional, Belle Vernon, Southmoreland and Greensburg Central Catholic.
Across the 12 brackets, the first round is set for Feb. 15-20; quarterfinals Feb. 21-23; semifinals Feb. 25-27; and the finals Feb. 28 and March 1-2 at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.
Bill Beckner is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bill at [email protected] or via Twitter @BillBeckner.