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By DAVE KONOPKI dkonopki@leader.net

Thursday, March 03, 2005     Page: 1B

It's not exactly the reward you might expect them to receive after such a dominating performance. But after sweeping the District 2 championships last weekend, the four champions from the Wyoming Valley Conference face the following in the opening round of the state playoffs:
    A Class 4A team playing with a chip on its shoulder, a 3A team playing its best basketball of the season, a 2A team that has been rolling over opponents and that came within four points of knocking off a four-time defending champion, and a Class A team that gets a rematch against a defending state champion it lost to by only nine points against earlier in the season.
    The state playoffs begin tomorrow night with Class 3A champion Crestwood, Class A champion Bishop O'Reilly and 3A runner-up Wyoming Area taking the court; Class 4A champion Hazleton Area and 2A champion Bishop Hoban play their respective games Saturday afternoon.
    It's the Road to Hershey - and it doesn't have an easy beginning for the five WVC teams.
    "Every game from now is going to be a tough one," said Bishop O'Reilly head coach Mark Belenski, whose defending state championship team opens with a Pius X team it defeated in December. "You lose and you're done. (Pius X) is better than they were in December, but we're a lot better, too."
    Here's a look at the five WVC teams in their respective classifications and their first-round matchups:
    Hazleton Area (20-8)
    vs. Wissahickon (22-7)
    Class 4A
    3 p.m. Saturday
    Marts Center, Wilkes
    Wissahickon unhappily entered the 32-team District 1 tournament feeling it deserved better than its No. 11 seed. The Trojans played like they deserved better, too.
    Wissahickon opened the tournament with wins against Perkiomen Valley (70-37) and Methacton (66-41), followed by loss to eventual third-place finisher Plymouth-Whitemarsh (70-54). The Trojans beat Conestoga in overtime (70-61) then Truman (74-66) in the fifth-place game. Wissahickon has won 10 of its last 12 games, the only losses coming against state-ranked Plymouth-Whitemarsh.
    The Suburban One American Conference team is led by 6-foot-7 senior forward Ryan Washington (20.5 ppg.), 6-5 senior forward Jide Ogunbiyi (11.5 ppg.), senior guard Bruce Kennedy (15 ppg.), 6-1 forward senior Tim Johnson and sophomore point guard Dan Delconte. Key reserves include Jason Washington, Chad Wood and Lavell Owens, son of Billy Ownes, a former Carlisle High School, Syracuse University and NBA standout.
    Johnson is an excellent defender and has been usually guards the opponent's top offensive threat. That would most likely mean a matchup against Hazleton Area's Justin Gutsie, a senior guard who is averaging nearly 19 points a game.
    Crestwood (24-5)
    vs. Danville (16-11)
    Class 3A
    6 p.m. tomorrow
    Berwick Middle School
    Danville entered the District 4 tournament as the sixth seed among seven teams, but upset third-seeded Shamokin before finishing as the runner-up behind state-ranked and top-seeded Milton. The Ironmen, who are making their third consecutive trip to the state playoffs, defeated Shamokin by six in a quarterfinal game and Athens by one on a tip-in at the buzzer in a semifinal. Just like the past two seasons, Danville was no match for Milton in the final, losing by 15 points.
    The Ironmen are led by senior guard Tyler Reichard (19.2 ppg.), a Central Susquehanna Conference first-team all-star. Other starters are junior forward Matt Bird (12.0), senior point guard Ryan Sanders (10.0), junior forward Josh Perruquet (5.5) and senior guard Ben McConnell. Brian Deegan (2.7), Jim Meschter (3.4) and Kyle Moser (2.2) come off the bench for Danville.
    Wyoming Area (20-9)
    vs. East Pennsboro (18-10)
    Class 3A
    6 p.m. tomorrow
    Marts Center, Wilkes
    East Pennsboro, the No. 6 seed from District 3, is making its first state playoff appearance in two years. The Panthers lost to York Suburban, 46-42, in the fifth-place game and finished in third place in the Mid-Penn Colonial Division during the regular season.
    The Panthers are led by 6-4 senior Mickey Schuler Jr., son of the former Penn State tight end. The younger Schuler, who averages 14.8 ppg. on the basketball court, will be attending Penn State on a football scholarship.
    Other members of the starting lineup are 5-8 junior guard John Breski (13.4), 5-10 senior guard Mike Butler (9.4), 6-3 senior forward Drew Cerjanic and 6-1 senior forward Nick Roller (6.2). East Pennsboro is coached by Steve Laudenslager.
    Bishop Hoban (21-9)
    vs. Columbia (19-9)
    Class 2A
    1 p.m. Saturday
    Marts Center, Wilkes
    Columbia has been on a roll. Despite its No. 4 seed from District 3 in the state playoffs, the Tide has lost just three times since Jan. 3. One of those was a 47-44 loss against four-time D3 champion Trinity in the semifinals.
    Columbia, a guard-oriented team, is led by 5-10 senior Travis Proctor, who averages 16.2 points a game and has scored 20 or more in the five of the last seven games. Other starters for the Tide, who finished as the runner-up in the Lancaster-Lebanon League Section 4, are 6-3 senior forward Andrew Strickler (13.4), 5-11 senior guard Brian Horn (11.2), 5-9 freshman guard Mike Seibert and 6-3 sophomore center Robert Wholaver.
    Strickler is a solid rebounder who can hit the three-point shot. Horn is an excellent outside shooter and the Tide's most consistent player, according to head coach Mark Wisler. Proctor has the ability to score quickly and in bunches. With Columbia leading by only two with less than two minutes remaining, Proctor scored 12 consecutive points in less than 90 seconds during a quarterfinal win against Lancaster Catholic.
    Bishop O'Reilly (25-4)
    vs. Pius X (19-8)
    Class A
    8 p.m. tomorrow
    Marts Center, Wilkes
    Unlike many first-round matchups, these two teams are familiar with each other with Bishop O'Reilly's Josh Aciukewicz and Tim Crossin scoring 16 and 13 points, respectively, in a 52-43 win Dec. 16 against the Royals.
    Pius X looked as though it was on its way to its second consecutive District 11 championship last weekend, leading Notre Dame-East Stroudsburg by 11 points with 10 minutes remaining before losing by six to get the No. 2 seed. The Royals are led by 6-3 senior forward Willie Wallace (15.9 ppg.). The other starters in the three-guard, all-senior starting lineup are 6-foot guard Zack Bills (10.9), 6-2 guard Quentin Lopez (13.2), 5-10 point guard Larry Franz (2.8) and center Alex Benton.
    PIAA playoffs
    First round
    Class 4A
    Saturday's game
    Hazleton Area (20-8) vs. Wissahickon (22-7), 3 p.m. at Marts Center, Wilkes
    Class 3A
    Tomorrow's games
    Wyoming Area (20-9) vs. East Pennsboro (18-10), 6 p.m. at Marts Center, Wilkes
    Crestwood (24-5) vs. Danville (16-11), 6 p.m. at Berwick MS
    Class 2A
    Saturday's game
    Bishop Hoban (21-9) vs. Columbia (19-9), 1 p.m. at Marts Center, Wilkes
    Class A
    Tomorrow's game
    Bishop O'Reilly (24-4) vs. Pius X (19-8), 8 p.m. at Marts Center, Wilkes
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