John Knebels

Sports Columnist

When local basketball teams play schools with names you never heard of and travel to places miles away from their comfort zone, it can only mean one thing.

The PIAAs have arrived.

Like the NCAA’s March Madness, the PIAA (Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association) schedules both boys and girls from classifications ranging from the smallest schools (Class A) to the largest schools (Class AAAA).

As indicated by occasional blowout scores, sometimes there are mismatches. But some games turn out to be nail-biters.

Here is a roundup of what occurred in the first round of the tournament last weekend.

In the boys’ AAAA, La Salle (20-5) stopped a two-game losing streak by defeating Reading 57-55, as Eddie Mitchell scored 19 points and Joe Brown added 13. Brennan Woods came off the bench to provide 10 points and nine rebounds.

Roman Catholic (17-9) got 14 points from Rip Engel but lost to Liberty 56-41.

In the AAA, behind four double-figure scorers, defending state champion Neumann-Goretti (23-4) began the tourney in typical fashion by walloping Annville-Cleona 62-34. John Davis was too much for A-C, contributing 16 points and 11 rebounds. Billy Shank added 11 points, Derrick Stewart 10 and Lamin Fulton 10 for the victorious Saints.

Pope John Paul II lost 62-56 to Philadelphia Electric and finished the season with a very impressive record of 16-8 in its first year of existence. Mike Mansur’s 23 points and Paul Mills’ 12 helped the gritty Golden Panthers build a 27-26 halftime lead.

Despite Tracy Peal’s clutch 21-point performance, Archbishop Carroll (21-6) dropped a heartbreaking decision to Eastern York 56-55. The loss severed highly anticipated hopes of yet another meeting with Catholic League rival Neumann-Goretti later in the tournament.

Holy Ghost Prep (18-8) defeated Northeastern 63-47 thanks mostly to a 36-21 explosion in the second half. Mike DeStefano scored 13 points, nine in the pivotal fourth quarter.

In AA action, West Catholic (7-17) lost to Pine Grove 46-44.

In the girls’ AAAA, Mount St. Joseph’s Academy (25-3) defeated Harrisburg 55-44. Mary Jo Horgan scored 21 for the Chiefs, but it was Steph Smith’s amazing marksmanship from the line (15 of 16) – including 15 straight – that fueled the triumph.

While Archbishop Carroll (21-5) had an easy 47-16 win over Central Bucks East, Cardinal O’Hara (21-5) had a slightly tougher time defeating out-of-area Nazareth 51-40. A team effort included Lia DiSciascio scoring a team-high 19 points while MacKenzie Rule added 15, including 10 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter. Sophomore Shanice Johnson grabbed 14 rebounds, scored seven points, blocked three shots and made four steals.

In the AAA, Villa Maria Academy (21-5) defeated Kennard-Dale 54-39. Lisa Mirarchi scored 17 points, Brooke Angalos 13 and Kellie O’Rourke 11, as the Hurricanes withstood the challenge of some foul trouble.

Another Catholic Academies League squad, St. Basil’s Academy (15-11), lost to Prep Charter 43-31.

Archbishop Wood (23-4) began its defense of the state title by beating Susquehanna Township 67-33. Steph Keyes scored all of her points on seven three-point shots while Christine Verrelle and Jenna Swope both tallied 11 points. The Vikings outscored S-T 13-0 in the third quarter and 35-10 in the second half.

Villa Joseph Marie (15-12) toppled West York 45-35, as Mary Newell scored 10 of her 14 points in the fourth quarter. After being shutout 13-0 in the third quarter to fall behind by one, Villa rebounded with a 19-8 run in the fourth and won rather handily.

Lansdale Catholic (14-12) received 14 points from Shea Wassel but lost 64-39 to Lancaster Catholic.

In the AA, Bishop McDevitt (5-17) lost to Northern Lehigh 62-18.

The second round of the PIAA tournament was scheduled for this past Tuesday and Wednesday and the quarterfinals will take places this weekend at various sites throughout Berks, Bucks, Lehigh and Montgomery counties.

John Knebels can be reached at