BRIDGEVILLE – For a school like Jefferson-Morgan, moving up in classification to Class AA could have been a death knell to a program that had reached the playoffs two years in a row.
But the Rockets persevered and won their last two games of the year to qualify for the postseason for a third straight time. Their reward was a meeting with Washington, a program that has seen its share of success on the basketball court.
Jefferson-Morgan coach Chris Niemiec was well aware of the task his team faced, and he knew a lot of things needed to go right if the Rockets had any hope of pulling off the improbable upset.
It didn’t take long to find out that the Prexies had no intentions of giving the Rockets any opening.
Jaylin Kelly drained two early three-pointers and Washington scored the game’s first 28 points and coasted to a 76-32 victory over Jefferson-Morgan Saturday in a WPIAL Class AA preliminary round game at Chartiers Valley.
“You try to find nuances and try to hope,” said Niemiec. “You try to run a zone and hope they miss shots. When they come out and make four or five right off the bat, it kind of defeats the purpose.”
Washington (17-6) advances to play Burrell, a 64-34 winner over Beth-Center, Wednesday in a first-round game at a site to be determined.
The Rockets (11-12) set out to contain Prexies leading scorer Josh Wise. But Kelly and Jordan Drew more than made up for the defensive focus on Wise by combining for 18 of those opening 28 points.
Defensively, Washington (17-6) was just as good, holding Jefferson-Morgan off the scoreboard for nearly the entire first quarter. The Rockets didn’t score until Travis Taylor’s three-point play with 33.1 seconds remaining in the opening period.
“The first couple of possessions, we hit some shots early, so that starts rubbing off on people,” said Prexies coach Mark Gaither. “When you start like that, it really picks the team up.”
Washington never let off the gas pedal, and the speed and athleticism of the Prexies was too much for the Rockets. Wise found his scoring touch to the tune of a game-high 19 points, Kelly and Drew dominated the inside (18 combined rebounds, 11 by Drew), and Wise also had nine rebounds and four steals.
“We’re one of the smallest schools in Class AA,” Niemiec said. “We were going to be outmatched no matter who we got. But the kids played tough and they played hard.”
Kelly finished with four three-pointers and 16 points. Drew scored 13 points. Eleven different Prexies scored.
Rece Henneman led J-M with 10 points.
“We talked about focus and how we have to focus during the playoffs regardless of our opponent,” said Gaither, “because during the season, at times, we didn’t always have our focus. Some games we were great, other games we looked lost.”