By ED HEDES
Playoff time on the high school basketball level ... District 11's version of March Madness, only it's still February ...
If the way some of the league semifinals have turned out is any kind of preview what we're in for when the District 11 tournament gets under way next week, you better get to some of the venues early to get a good seat.
The other night I was fortunate to be at Martz Hall in Pottsville for the Schuylkill League girls semis and to no surprise, there was quite a crowd on hand.
The four quality teams (Tamaqua, Nativity, Pine Grove and Tri-Valley) battling for a shot to meet in tonight's championship all had an excellent following.
Everyone was banking on a third meeting between the Lady Raiders and the Cardinals, but the latter dropped a two OT decision to Tri-Valley. Tamaqua came through, however, and a win tonight over the Bulldogs would mean the No. 1 seed now for the District 11 2A tourney. A Tri-Valley win would give them the top seed in Class A.
On the boys side, to no surprise Schuylkill League Division I power Pottsville will take to its home court and host Division III champ Marian. The Colts, who lost to Jim Thorpe twice during the regular season, had a great game plan and punched their ticket to tonight's final with a big win.
Marian has already clinched the Class A top seed for districts, but Pottsville needs a win to remain No. 1 in three A just in case Northern Lehigh wins the Colonial League title tonight.
In the Colonial League, titles will be decided at Freedom High School, with the Bulldogs taking on Notre Dame of Green Pond in the nightcap after the Pen Argyl girls meet Wilson in the first game.
The Bulldogs had one of their worst shooting nights in the semifinal against the Wilson boys Wednesday, but survived with some gritty defense and two heroic three-pointers from junior Josh Malaska off the bench.
Up at Pleasant Valley, the MVC finals will take place with Pocono Mountain East and West battling in the boys final and ES South taking on West in the girls championship.
Even though district seedings won't be released until tomorrow, I thought today would be a good time to make my picks for what should prove to be another great tournament.
So here goes.
Pocono Mountain West will draw the No. 1 seed if it defeats East tonight, but if it doesn't the winner of the LVC championship (Nazareth or Allen) will bump the Panthers and knock them down to No. 3 since East would then move up to No. 2.
Two of the most dangerous teams, Liberty and Whitehall, both lost in the semis earlier this week. The Hurricanes will drop to the No. 3 seed if Pocono Mountain West wins or could go all the way down to No. 4 with a win by Pocono Mountain East. The Zephyrs will be No. 4 or 5.
I see this as the best shot for the MVC to beat the LVC and have Pocono Mountain West, Whitehall, Liberty and Allen in the semifinals.
I'll go with the Panthers and Brad Pensyl's five to win it all.
This is a bracket that will see Pottsville, Northern Lehigh, Wilson and Jim Thorpe as the top four seeds, but a dangerous Central Catholic team lurking down at the No. 6 seed. With the type of competition the Vikes play all year, you can't count them out despite a mid-season coaching change.
Pottsville and Jim Thorpe will meet in one semi, while Northern Lehigh and Central square off in the other.
This one should belong to the Crimson Tide.
Usually Class A girls has the slimmest field, but this year it winds up here with just five teams qualifying for the tourney.
Top seed Notre Dame of Green Pond moves right in to the semis against the Pine Grove-Schuylkill Haven winner. The Roughies and Tri-Valley meet in the other semi.
Notre Dame and Tri-Valley meet for the title with the Crusaders taking the honors.
Marian is the top seed and is playing good basketball right now. I'm picking the Colts to meet Weatherly in one semifinal and Pius X to take on Willams Valley in the other.
The Colts will meet Pius for the third time this season and can't let what happened to Jim Thorpe in it's third meeting with them.
Look for Marian to win it and head out to the state tournament.
Look for Northampton, East Stroudsburg South or Pocono Mountain West to move in to the top seed here with league championships tonight, while Liberty could fall to No. 3.
After tonight's shuffle, I still see the Lady Cavs meeting Nazareth in one semifinal and the Hurricanes and Konkete Kids meeting in the other. Look for East Stroudsburg South and Liberty in the final with the Hurricanes coming out on top.
This one has Allentown Central Catholic written all over it again.
If Southern Lehigh wins the Colonial League title tonight, it will bump Northern Lehigh down to No. 3.
Once again, Becahi, a LVC team, sits down in the seventh spot and could be a dangerous early matchup for the likes of Northern Lehigh or Southern Lehigh.
I'm going out on the limb here seeing a Central-North Schuylkill semifinal and a Northern Lehigh-Bangor semifinal.
The Bulldogs and Vikettes reach the final with Central taking home the trophy again.
Just a six-team bracket here and all eyes are looking at Tamaqua right now as the team to beat.
We see a Palmerton-Pine Grove semifinal and a Tamaqua-Pen Argyl semifinal with the Cardinals and Raiders meeting for the third time this season in the championship.
This time, the Raiders win out.
Nativity is by far the best team here and it looks like they will have Marian in a semifinal unless Tri-Valley screws things up by beating Tamaqua tonight.
Tri-Valley and Moravian Academy meet in the other semi with Nativity and Tri-Valley battling for the title and the Golden Girls win it all.
Should be an interesting next two weeks.