About this time of year is when things can get a bit tricky for local Class A basketball teams.
Let's face it: When Forbes Road's boys team faced off against second-round opponent Lincoln Park two years ago, the Cardinals had next to zero chance of walking out with a victory.
That tends to be the result for many area small schools when they match up with a private school in the PIAA Tournament. Although both local boys hoops teams in the big dance drew a private school in round one, don't count Southern Fulton or McConnellsburg out just yet.
After falling in the District 5 championship, the Spartans (21-4) certainly have the tougher draw. Not only do they face District 7 runner-up Sewickley Academy, which was a state champion in 2010, but they also have a long road trip on their agenda. They will meet the Panthers (23-3) at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic in Cranberry Twp.
"We're trying to use it as motivation," McConnellsburg coach Dane Pollock said. "We're driving the whole way out there (2.5 hours), and Sewickley is 20 minutes from where we're playing. We're both two seeds, so we're gonna let it sink in and let it piss the kids off a little bit."
Southern Fulton (21-5), on the other hand, will head back to Pitt-Johnstown, where it won the district title a week ago. The Indians face the No. 4 seed out of District 3, West Shore Christian (20-7), at 7:30.
All season long, Pollock and the Spartans have boasted depth, and they'll need that Friday. They face a team that has three players averaging double figures - Chris Groetsch (18.8 points per game), Justin Pryor (14.6) and Nate Ridgeway (13.5).
The good news for the Spartans is they should match up size-wise. Sewickley has a pair of 6-foot-4 players, but leading scorer Groetsch is just 5-10.
McConnellsburg has been led all season by 5-foot-8 guard Jake Boehme, who is averaging 12.4 ppg. Chase Novak (11.4) and Ian Cheatle (9.9) aren't far behind.
"I don't believe they're (unbeatable)," Pollock said. "The thing you run into is level of competition. We know they are playing tough teams, so I think that's the thing that worries. We keep hoping that before the year's over, we're going to get a game where everyone shoots well. If our guys can get hot, we can be deadly."
Like the Spartans, Southern Fulton will also be looking for contributions from a cast of players. In the championship game, Dylan Gordon scored 29 points, while the rest of the Indians combined for just 11.
"Obviously, we go as our team goes," SF coach Kent Hendershot said. "We can't have a boxscore like we had Friday night if we want to be successful. It's not sustainable at this level, and we know that. We need to just relax and play like we can."
The Bobcats have one seriously threatening shooter. Jake Keeports is averaging just over 23 ppg, and Nick Songster is also a big contributor with 15.3 ppg. But in this match up, the Indians should have the upper hand in the size category.
"It's a guard-oriented team; they certainly don't have a power forward," Hendershot said. "They're not a big team, and I think we match up very well with them. It's hard to tell by reading the papers, but I do have one game of them (on film). We have an idea of what to expect, but we feel this is a game where we need to execute what we do."
Spartans-Panthers at a glance
Game data: 5-2 McConnellsburg vs. 7-2 Sewickley Academy ... Friday, at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic H.S., 7:30 ... PIAA first-round game.
Media: Follow @liziarbogast on Twitter.
Teams: Both were the runner-up in their respective districts ... The Spartans are 21-4, while Sewickley is 23-3.
P.O. pick: McConnellsburg by 4.
Indians-Bobcats at a glace
Game data: 5-1 Southern Fulton vs. 3-4 West Shore Christian ... Friday, at Pitt-Johnstown, 7:30 ... PIAA first-round game.
Media: Follow @LindseySquints on Twitter.
Teams: SF is 21-5 after winning the District 5-A championship, while West Shore (20-7) lost to Lancaster County Christian in the Dist. 3 consolation game.
P.O. pick: Indians by 7.