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Shadyside Clinches Berth, Earns Chance to Defend
By Bob Orkwis, Nauticom Sports Staff

As the saying goes, getting there is half the battle. For all four of the defending WPIAL champions, half the battle is over. The long part is finished. However, the tough part begins in two weeks.

It may have taken the Shadyside Academy Indians and extra day to do it, but with their (35-12) victory this past Saturday over the Apollo Ridge Vikings, the Indians became the fourth and final defending WPIAL champion to qualify for the playoffs. Now, all four teams have a chance to defend the crowns they won last year.

With victories this past Friday evening, New Castle in Quad A, the Moon Tigers in class AAA and Rochester in Single A have all been joined by Shadyside in Double A in the WPIAL playoffs. Each team won their respective class title in 1998 on the turf at Three Rivers Stadium.

It's been a strange year for Shadyside Academy. Last year, the Indians ran riughshod over their Double A competition. This year, it's almost been a tale of two different season for the Indians. They began the year with consecutive losses, then they won twice. Then two more losses have been followed by two wins. Saturday's win evened Shadyside's record at (4-4) overall. More importantly, the victory upped their conference mark to (4-2), and that guarantees that Shadyside has one of the four playoff spots in the Allegheny Conference.

Shadyside head coach Gene Deal was extremely pleased after the playoff clinching win against Apollo Ridge. "Today's game kind of sum's up our season, especially the second touchdown run by Rich Gilcrese. He turned a broken play into a 55 yard touchdown run. Things don't always go right for this team, but these kids find a way to get the job done. It's been a great year for the kids, and that's what is most important."

Gilcrese's touchdown jaunt, his second of the afternoon, capped the scoring for Shadyside. The senior running back finished with 90 yards rushing on 11 carries to go with his two scores. Junior fullback Ric San Doval, the Indians leading rusher on the season with 696 yards, also chipped in with two touchdowns and finished the game with 61 yards rushing.

Considering the roller coaster ride of a season so far for Shadyside Academy, Deal says that the goal all along has always been steady improvement by his Indians. "I just think it's a great job by our kids all year long. We've gotten better every week, even in our losses. The kids have hung together all season long and no one here has given up."

The Indians had 5 rushing touchdowns against Apollo Ridge and averaged over four yards per carry. It's the Indian passing attack however, that Deal sees the most improvement in. "We've been pretty good at running the football all yaer. But we have bee throwing the ball a lot better each game and that might help us in the long run."

Shadyside is onw of the teams that employs the two quarterback system, which now seems to be en- vougue. A pair of juniors split time taking the snaps for the Indians. 6-3 daryl Walden started Saturday afternoon against the Vikings, while 5-11 Mike Mooney came off the bench to complete 4 of his 5 passing attempts. Shadyside will have a very tough playoff tune up in week # 9, as they visit Allegheny Conference cahmpion North Catholic on Friday evening. The Trojans are at (6-2) overall and have a perfect (6-0) conference record. Although it might be tempting for Shadyside Academy to look past North Catholic and towards the post season, Deal says he will keep his players focused on their last regular season match up. "Hey, you've got to play the next game and focus on nothing else. Talk about a team that's also has improved tremendously, just look at North Catholic. That's going to be a good battle."

So for the Indians fro Shadyside Academy, as well as the New Castle Red Huriicanes, The Moon Tigers and the Rochester Rams, the longest part of the battle is finished. Each of these champions has earned the right to defend it's WPIAL championship in their respective classes. Even though the Road to Three Rivers will last only four weeks, the second season is most likely the toughest four weeks each of the playoff qualifiers will face. Rest assured however, that each of the four defending champions is looking forward to the challenge.