Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Ellwood Learned Valuable Lesson

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Ellwood Learned Valuable Lesson

Article excerpt

Ellwood City's first appearance in the WPIAL title game or PIAA playoffs since 2003 very well could have happened last season, instead that didn't happen until Wednesday when they faced neighboring rival Riverside for the Class AA championship.

For the Wolverines, it was worth the wait.

Ellwood City went 15-5 overall and 10-4 in Section 5-AA play in 2011. Those types of records almost always are good enough to be among the WPIAL elite. They're often the stuff of a top-five seed in the WPIAL playoffs.

But by reasons of quirky circumstance, that wasn't even good enough to get the Wolverines into the postseason last year.

"We kind of wondered what might have been," said Jeff Fotia, who is in his third season back as Ellwood City's coach following a prior tenure of 1994-2005.

He led the Wolverines to the 2003 WPIAL and PIAA Class AA titles. The 2011 Ellwood City team finished a game out of the Section 5-AA lead and in a three-way tie for second place.

The Wolverines that season swept section champion Laurel, and no team in the WPIAL had a better overall record or a better section record and failed to miss the playoffs.

Thirty-four playoff teams in WPIAL Class AAAA, AAA, AA and A had a worse record than Ellwood City did -- but the Wolverines were resigned to staying home for the postseason.

Worse, they had to watch as crosstown rival Riverside won the WPIAL and PIAA titles.

The experience, Fotia said, compelled the Wolverines not to take any game for granted this season. It fostered a focus based on the knowledge that any slip-up could mean the difference between a playoff berth and not getting one.

Missing the postseason means playing "what if?" Getting in allowed Ellwood City to prove its 18-2 regular-season record was no fluke.

Regardless of the outcome of Wednesday's game, the Wolverines will open play in the PIAA tournament Monday. …

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