It's simple, really: Win, and they're in.
That's the formula for the Baldwin High School girls basketball team, which has two section games left this season to earn a spot in the 2013 WPIAL playoffs. Should the Highlanders win both games, they're in the show—no matter what.
But maybe that won't be so easy, especially when Baldwin's final two section opponents of the regular season—Mt. Lebanon (18-2 overall) and Bethel Park (17-2 overall) high schools—have a combined 35-4 record.
But rest easy, Baldwin fans. The Highlanders could lose one or even both of those games and still make it to the postseason.
After Baldwin's 66-44 win over Peters Township High School on Thursday night, Baldwin and Upper St. Clair high schools sit tied for the fourth and final playoffs spot in WPIAL AAAA's tough Section 4.
Luckily for both schools, WPIAL bylaws state that a fourth-place tie at the end of the regular season qualifies both of those teams for the playoffs if those teams have split their section games against one another, and the Highlanders and Panthers have identical 4-6 section records so far after going 1-1 against each other this season.
Baldwin is 9-9 overall, while Upper St. Clair is 9-10. But those overall records will be meaningless when it comes to making the playoffs. The section records of third-place Chartiers Valley High School (8-3) and sixth-place Canon-McMillan High School (2-9) are essentially meaningless for Baldwin and USC, as well, as neither of those teams can finish in fourth place to complicate the tiebreaker.
Still, Upper St. Clair has a bit of an advantage over the Highlanders, as the Panthers have an easier section schedule remaining. USC will have to host perennial power Mt. Lebanon on Feb. 7 but not before traveling to Peters Township to play the struggling Indians (3-15 overall) on Feb. 4.
Should USC fare just one game better in section play than the Highlanders do the rest of the way, the Panthers are in the playoffs and Baldwin is out.
But if you ask Gavin Prosser, Baldwin's head coach, the Highlanders won't be scoreboard-watching.
"That would be worthless," Prosser said. "If we focus too much on everything else that's going on, we could lose our focus.
"We're gonna prepare as much as we can and just go and see what happens the next couple of games."
The second-year coach said that, regardless of what USC does, the Highlanders are very capable of taking matters into their own hands by beating favored Mt. Lebanon and Bethel Park teams.
Baldwin lost to Mt. Lebanon, 44-38, on Jan. 10 and at Bethel Park, 44-39, on Jan. 14.
"That was a close game the last time we played Mt. Lebo at home," Prosser said. "We could definitely win those (remaining section) games. I think we're just as talented as those two teams.
"They're a little more experienced. They know how to win close games, and that's really the difference between them and us right now."
The Highlanders have no seniors on their roster this season, which would make qualifying for the playoffs a bit of a surprise. Though, as two of the team's leaders—junior guard/forward Taylor Letender and junior guard Amanda Johnston—told the Baldwin-Whitehall Patch in November, the standard for excellence at Baldwin—a deep run in the playoffs and the goal of a WPIAL title—remains the same.
"Once you make the playoffs, anything can happen," Prosser said. "That's why they play the games."
REMAINING SCHEDULES (* = section game):
*Monday, Feb. 4, at Mt. Lebanon, 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, Feb. 6, vs. Penn Hills, 7:30 p.m.
*Friday, Feb. 8, vs. Bethel Park, 6 p.m.
Upper St. Clair:
*Monday, Feb. 4, at Peters Township, 7:30 p.m.
*Thursday, Feb. 7, vs. Mt. Lebanon, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 9, vs. Obama Academy, 1:30 p.m.
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