Blue Devils ready for District VI Playoffs against Richland

Usually, a fourth seed that finished the season at 20-4 would expect to play somewhat of lesser opponent in the first round. You can throw that philosophy right out the window this year. The fourth-seeded Blue Devils will open up the district playoffs with fifth-seeded Richland at Central Cambria High School on Wednesday night at 7:30. Richland will be a formidable opponent for Bellwood. They play in the highly competitive Laurel Highlands Conference and finished the season with a 15-8 record.
This season, Richland has been led by guard Jimmy Tucker. Tucker is one of the more talented players in the area, possessing extreme quickness and the ability to shoot from outside. He will demand constant attention from the much-improved Blue Devil man-to-man defense. Expect senior guard Ricky Shannon to be responsible for containing him.
Beyond Tucker, what concerns Bellwood head coach Tim Keech the most is the fact that when Wednesday night’s game tips off, it will be his team’s first contest in 10 days.
“Unfortunately, due to the weather, we had a game with Everett that was canceled and that left us with a very long lay-off between the end of the regular season and start of the play-offs,” said Keech. “It’s a cause for concern, but I know our kids and with the magnitude of this game, they will definitely be ready to play.”
Should the Blue Devils defeat Richland, their road to the District Six Championship won’t get any easier.
In the semi-finals, they will likely take on the top seed in the D6 playoffs, Ligonier Valley. The Mounties started the season 20-0, before dropping two games late in the season to Homer Center and Saltsburg. Three weeks ago, the team was struck with tragic news when they learned that senior forward Nick Enos was killed in a fatal car accident. Enos was a starter on the Ligonier squad. His loss will deal a heavy blow to their chances of claiming the district title.
The good news for Bellwood-Antis is that the seeding system left them in the opposite side of the bracket that contains Penns Valley and Mount Union, the only two teams that defeated them this season, along with powerhouses Bishop Guilfoyle and Westmont Hilltop. This means that the Blue Devils could only play one of these teams, in a game that would be for the District Six Championship.
“You can never look past teams, and playing Richland and Ligonier Valley will definitely not allow us to do that,” said Keech. “However, I think I like our chances with the teams that we might play.”
Though they have been plagued by a number of injuries this season, the Blue Devils are relatively healthy heading into the post-season.
As they have the entire season, Bellwood-Antis will start five seniors. Ricky Shannon, Steve Crider, Nathan Carlson, Ryan Myers, and Dan Smith will make up the starting line-up for the Blue Devils. They will be joined in the rotation by seniors Jake Mattern and Brent Hughes, junior Shawn Weiand, and sophomore Paul Greiner. The lone injured Blue Devil is senior post reserve Matt Rogers, who suffered a broken fibula in the Moshannon Valley game and will miss the rest of the season.
“Losing Matt hurt us,” said Keech, “It’s unfortunate too, because he was just starting to play his best basketball of the season. It’s going to put more on the backs of our post players. But, those guys are tough and they will find a way to get the job done.”
Although there are only 11 teams in the AA bracket, over seven of them have a realistic chance at claiming the title. Ligonier Valley, Bellwood-Antis, and Mount Union have all been ranked in the top 10 in the state at some point this year and Cambria Heights and Westmont Hilltop were both listed as teams to watch.
Three teams from District Six will advance to the inner-district playoffs, where District Six teams will square off with District Seven teams from the Pittsburgh area. The District Six champion will advance to play the seventh seeded team from District Seven. The District Six runner-up will face the District Three third seed and the District Six third place winner will play the District Seven champion.