This time, the pressure was on Shawn Gray.
Leading Otto-Eldred into the PIAA basketball playoffs, his group was tasked with replicating what the boys had already done — win.
The pressure, generated by the competitive spirit of Gray, O-E boys coach Derrick Francis and their talented teams, had been flipped in previous circumstances. Parading through the Pennsylvania postseason in a series of twin bills, Wednesday was the first doubleheader since Feb. 23 in which the girls played first.
Since then, the O-E girls had played their last three playoff games immediately before the boys. Naturally, they’d won them all, putting pressure on Francis and his squad.
This time, though, the Lady Terrors would try to match what the boys had done. And, naturally, they did.
“I said it jokingly, but in my gut, I thought wow we need to pull through,” Gray said of his and Francis’ exchange between games. “I don’t know when the last time two schools as small as we are had two teams going to the quarterfinals. I’m so happy for Otto-Eldred and so happy for those boys.”
HALF OF the red bleachers at DuBois Area High School were covered with a mix of blue and gold.
Three Otto-Eldred school buses lined the parking lot, parked behind the coach bus that transported Serra Catholic. Two were for basketball personnel; one for fans.
After the O-E boys beat Serra in a PIAA Class AA playoff game, the girls topped Bishop Guilfoyle in Class A. The victories sent Otto-Eldred onto the state quarterfinals in each side’s respective classification.
As O-E carried a double-digit lead in the final moments of each game, a sizable section of students chanted three syllables: “Pub-lic school.” Each time their hoopers have eliminated a private school, they’ve made sure it’s known.
See, the PIAA playoffs are annually dominated by private schools — especially among the smallest classifications. Of the 16 Class A girls schools remaining as of Wednesday, just seven were public. Among the Class AA boys, that figure was eight.
The O-E boys now join Aliquippa and Mahanoy Area as the only public schools remaining in their bracket and the girls are one of five public quarterfinalists in theirs. To do it in the same year, though — especially for a school from often-overlooked District 9 — is nothing short of special.
“The past coaches I saw up there (in the bleachers)… They’re just behind us 100% and it fills my heart,” Gray said. “I love the towns that are in our community and the people in our community are absolutely amazing.”
LAST WEEKEND’S first-round victories were impressive enough. Wednesday’s wins, however, vaulted O-E into rare territory among District 9 schools.
O-E is the first D9 school this century to have both its boys and girls basketball teams reach the Class A and/or Class AA state quarterfinals in the same year. The feat was last accomplished by Coudersport in 1996.
The O-E girls were there just last year. The boys, however, will make their first quarterfinal appearance seven days removed from their first-ever PIAA victory.
They’ll do so under familiar circumstances and in a familiar setting.
Tippin Gymnasium at PennWest Clarion will host a Terror doubleheader once more, as the O-E boys will play on Coach Calipari Court for the third time this postseason and the girls for the second time. The same venue saw the Lady Terrors’ 2021-22 campaign end in the Class A quarters to Kennedy Catholic.
The boys will tip-off against District 10 champion Erie First Christian (16-10) at 2 p.m. before the girls meet District 5 champion Berlin Brothersvalley (22-5) at 3:30 p.m.
Expect another sea of royal and gold. Expect another raucous student section.
And, if the Terrors have their way, maybe another “public school” chant.