Despite COVID-19 concerns, Upper St. Clair had enough players to field a team in the PIAA boys basketball playoffs.

The Panthers were scheduled to play Erie March 20 in the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs. The game did not end in time to be included in this edition.

On March 17, players and coaches were all tested for the virus after a member of the team contracted the disease days following USC’s victory in the WPIAL championship game.

USC athletic director Kevin Deitrick indicated six players tested negative enabling the Panthers to compete in the PIAA tournament. Deitrick expected more players to become eligible once they received their test results.

“We hit our magic number,” Deitrick said. “If we get more, great.”

Deitrick said he discussed with USC head coach Dan Holzer what the team needed in order to compete. Six players, five starters and one reserve, were the minimum necessary to participate in the tournament.

“We wanted to play and we felt comfortable with that number,” Deitrick said. “We felt the kids earned this and we wanted them to have this opportunity.”

On March 12, the Panthers defeated Pine-Richland 56-53 to capture the WPIAL Class 6A title.

Following guidelines from the Allegheny County Health Department, the school shut the team down for seven days and all players and coaches were quarantined. As a result, the team had no formal practices before their state playoff contest.

“We think we did the right thing. We followed all the guidelines from the health department and everything at the school had been deep cleaned,” Deitrick said.

“We are thrilled because we wanted to play all along. It’s been a grind,” Deitrick added of battling COVID-19. “It’s difficult without practice, but we just had to give it our best shot.”

Deitrick said he will be relieved when the winter sports season ends and the spring campaigns commence. Baseball, softball, lacrosse, track and tennis are all outdoor activities. The only indoor sport is boys volleyball.

“I’m hopeful for the spring,” said Deitrick, who recently received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. “I don’t want to give anybody false hope though. Just because things are outside doesn’t mean this virus has gone away. It’s not all over. We still need to enforce things like wearing masks, social distancing and washing hands. We still need to grind this out.”

Almanac Sports Editor

An award-winning journalist, Eleanor Bailey has been employed by Observer Publishing Company since 1982. She is the sports editor at The Almanac and a contributor for the Observer-Reporter.

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