Winter Storm Stella wipes out high school state playoff games

By John Erzar -

The Nanticoke boys basketball team spent Monday as if practice would be the last time it gets together until Thursday night’s PIAA Class 4A second-round game.

The PIAA postponed all boys and girls state basketball games scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. All 12 tournaments will play second-round games Thursday, with all quarterfinal games moved to Saturday.

The PIAA has updated brackets on its website,

“Most of our guys are close (to the high school),” Nanticoke coach John Beggs said, “but we’re practicing (Monday) like we won’t see them again. We’re getting all our game plan in. We know we’ll definitely be off tomorrow and we’re hearing rumors they’re already cancelling school on Wednesday.

“At the best, we’d look to get a little shoot-around in Wednesday night or we’ll just be making plans to go and play on Thursday.”

The National Weather Service is predicting 18-24 inches of snow through Eastern Pennsylvania with winds of 15-25 mph. It changed its Winter Storm Warning to a Blizzard Warning for the Lehigh Valley area, where many state games were originally schedule. Gov. Tom Wolf signed a Proclamation of Disaster Emergency for Pennsylvania on Monday.

If there is any silver lining to the wintry mess, it’s the Nanticoke boys and girls teams will be play as part of a tripleheader at Parkland High School just outside Allentown. The girls play Gwynedd-Mercy at 5 p.m. in a Class 4A game. The boys face Conwell-Egan at 6:30 p.m.

“We have a lot of fans who come to both games,” Beggs said. “But we have some people who go to girls primarily and some who go to boys primarily. This year we had to split a few times and that was never convenient, but this makes up for it. We’re hoping that everybody who is a Nanticoke basketball fan comes down and enjoys a doubleheader for one price.

“It’s a nice, easy ride an hour away. I think Nanticoke is going to pack the place.”

GAR has an advantage as a neighborhood school. Boys basketball coach Jerry Altavilla said about 90 percent of the students walk to classes. But while walking to practice in over a foot of snow would make a good story for the players to tell their grandchildren, it’s not likely to happen.

The Wilkes-Barre Area School District has a policy that no extracurricular activities can take place if school is closed unless approved by the superintendent. The district has already closed school for Tuesday.

“We basically prepped (Monday),” Altavilla said. “Hopefully, maybe Wednesday (we can practice), but it doesn’t look that way. So we tried to get everything in we could.”

The Berwick girls, who were also originally scheduled to play Tuesday, will get a couple extra days to pack up for a road trip. They’ll face Lower Moreland at 8 p.m. Thursday in a Class 4A second-round game, the last of a tripleheader at Hamburg High School, which sits between Pottsville and Reading.

“They’ve already canceled school (for Wednesday). The kids are excited to have the day off,” Berwick coach Bill Phillips said. “They’re looking forward to just being here. They’re excited about being where we are. It’s good we have a day off, maybe get in the gym Wednesday.”

That may or may not be possible, depending on the amount of snow that storm Stella brings, but Phillips doesn’t believe inactivity will be a problem for the Bulldogs — even if it turns into six days since the team’s last game.

“I don’t think it’s a distraction,” Phillips said. “We’ve had weather where we’ve had days off before. Our kids are kind of used to it.”

For the first time in a decade, state swimming and diving at Bucknell University will be changed. Class 2A swimming will be Thursday and Friday. Class 3A swimming will be Saturday and Sunday. Diving has been moved to the following weekend, with the 2A competition on March 25 and 3A going on March 26.

“It’s hard to keep them focused but that’s when the coach comes in to keep them on track and prepare them for the long wait,” Dallas/Holy Redeemer diving coach Paul Mierzwa said. “We have to do what we have to do just to keep them motivated and hopefully they will do their best, I’m sure they will.”

The last time snow forced the PIAA to fiddle with its swim championships, Class 3A athletes were already in Lewisburg when a hard storm hit on March 16, 2007. Instead of rescheduling the event, the PIAA used morning qualifying times to determine state champions, and canceled the night title races because roads became dangerous.

“Everything they are doing is for the good of the sport and the safety of the athletes,” Wyoming Valley West swim coach Frank Tribendis said.

This time, Holy Redeemer had to change its hotel reservations after the PIAA decided Monday afternoon to change the schedule rather than waiting.

“It definitely impacts our plans,” said Holy Redeemer swimming coach Jack Port, who used a special phone app to spread word to his team and their families. “We were planning to go (Monday) night because of the weather. … We’re just going to take this all in stride.”

Times Leader sports writer Paul Sokoloski and sports editor Alicia Johnson contributed to this story.

By John Erzar