Seton-LaSalle girls win state title

Written by Mike White on .

HERSHEY, Pa. – The Seton-LaSalle High School girls basketball team won a second PIAA Class AA title in three years when it defeated Neumann-Goretti of Philadelphia, 58-50, in the championship this afternoon at the Giant Center in Hershey.

Seton-LaSalle let a 14-point third-quarter lead slip away  as Neumann-Goretti went ahead, 46-44, with 5:27 left in the game. But Seton-LaSalle came on strong, outscoring Neumann-Goretti 14-4 down the stretch. Seton-LaSalle scored 12 of those 14 points from the foul line to hand Neumann-Goretti (29-1) its first loss of the season.

Seton-LaSalle got 10 points and 23 rebounds from senior forward Yacine Diop (pictured). Guard Nicolette Newman led Seton-LaSalle (27-4) with 17 points and point guard Cassidy Walsh had 11 and also 11 rebounds. Neman made 6 of 6 free throws in the final 1:20 of the game.

“I was a little nervous at first and then I hit the first one and then they just all fell after that.”

Elia Abobajo led Neumann-Goretti with 13 points.

Seton-LaSalle led by only two points early in the second quarter, but went on an 11-2 run to grab a 25-14 lead. The lead got to 14 points in the second quarter and the Rebels led, 28—21, at halftime.

The lead mushroomed to 14 points in the third quarter before Neumann-Goretti came back. Neumann-Goretti shot only 24 percent (16 of 67) from the field.

Spencer Stefko won a state title in his first year as head coach. He came from Chartiers Valley.

“This isn’t my team. This is Seton-LaSalle’s team. I’m just along for the ride,” Stefko said.

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Six WPIAL boys and girls teams advance ..... PIAA semifinal highlights

Written by Mike White on .

The WPIAL had at least one team in all eight PIAA semifinal games in the western region. Six WPIAL teams won and will play in state championship games Friday and Saturday in Hershey. Here are some highlights from tonight:


New Castle 56, Abington 54 - The Red Hurricanes win another close one in the 50s (they beat Hampton, 57-55, in the quarterfinals). Malik Hooker made a few huge defensive plays that saved New Castle. The Red Hurricanes blew a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter. Abington had grabbed a 54-53 lead when Hooker made a steal and fed Stew Allen for a layup that gave New Castle a 54-53 lead with 32 seconds left.

Malik HookerThen Hooker (pictured) blocked a shot with 19 seconds left. But he wasn't finished yet. The Ohio State football recruit took a charge with 10 seconds left on Abington's Matt Penecale. The shot by Penecale went in, but it didn't count because of the charge.

New Castle's Anthony Richards made two free throws with 10 seconds left to put the Red Hurricanes ahead by three. Abington missed a 3-pointer, Drew Allen rebounded for New Castle and made one free throw with 0.6 second left to clinch the win.

Hooker finished with 15 points and Drew Allen 11. Marcus Lee led Abington with 20.

New Castle is now 30-0.

Susquehanna Township 42, Central Valley 31: This Class AAA game had to be painful to watch for a half. Susquehanna Township led, 11-10, at halftime. Central Valley slowed the pace and took only seven shots in the first half. Things opened up some in the second half. Susquehanna Township took control of the game by outscoring Central Valley, 11-4, in the third quarter. Jacob St. George scored 18 points for Central Valley. Nehemiah Mack had 14 and Gabe Mack 10 for Central Valley.

Seton-LaSalle 46, Greensburg Central Catholic 44 - Seton-LaSalle made 5 of 36 shots in the first and third quarters, but played excellent defense in the second and fourth quarters to pull out the win. Seton-LaSalle trailed by 10 after the first quarter and then fell behind by 12 in the third quarter. But Seton-LaSalle held Grensburg Central without a field goal in the fourth quarter.

Levi Masua had 17 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots for Seton-LaSalle. Late in the game, Seton-LaSalle's Malik White missed a breakaway layup and Greensburg Central Catholic rebounded and called a timeout with 34 seconds left. Seton-LaSalle led, 46-44. GCC's Christian Hyland missed a 3-pointer, but GCC rebounded and got the ball to Brian Graytok, the team's leading scorer. He missed a 3-pointer over the 6-6 outstretched Masua and Seton-LaSalle rebounded. Christian DelGreco missed the front end of a one-and-one with 2 seconds left, and Graytok's shot from beyond half court had a chance but it bounced off the rim.

Lincoln Park 70, Bishop Carroll 28 - Another playoff game. Another blowout win for Lincoln Park. Bishop Carroll came into this game with an undefeated record but the team was no match for Lincoln Park. Maverick Rowan had 32 points and Elijah Minnie 10 for Lincoln Park. The Leopards led 39-13 at halftime.


Spring-Ford 47, North Allegheny 32 -  Spring-Ford's defense had been superb this season, holding opponents to 35 points a game. The team's defense was excellent again for the defending state champions.

Of course, it certainly didn't help North Allegheny that it had to play without starting point guard Abby Gonzales, who did not play because of an injury. Without her, North Allegheny's offense struggled.

"Abby usually plays 32 minutes for us, so when she's not out there, it certainly does have an effect," said North Allegheny coach Sherri McConnell.

Devvin LaBarge had 16 points for North Allegheny.

Blackhawk 49, Palmyra 41 - Blackhawk got 15 points from Chassidy Omogrosso and 11 from Courtney Vannoy to win this Class AAA game. The Cougars broke open a close game with an 11-2 run to end the first half and held off a late Palmyra charge.

Seton-LaSalle 48, Burrell 37 - Burrell lost only two games this season - both to Seton-LaSalle. The first was in the WPIAL final. This one came in the PIAA semifinals. Yacine Diop scored 20 for Seton-LaSalle. Nice game also for Cassidy Walsh with 16. Sydney Bordonaro with 17 for Burrell.

It will be a boy-girl party in Hershey for Seton-LaSalle.

Vincentian 60, Bishop Guilfoyle 45 - Wow. What a performance from Vincentian's Brenna Wise. She scores 38 points and grabs 10 rebounds to lead Vincentian. The Royals came back from a 34-28 halftime deficit to post the win and earn a second consecutive championship appearance. Vincentian lost in last year's title game.

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All four WPIAL boys champs still alive ..... other PIAA notes

Written by Mike White on .

Notes, quotes and thoughts with the PIAA basketball semifinals on tap for tonight. 

All four WPIAL boys champions have made it to the PIAA semifinals. You might ask "what's the big deal?" 

Well, it's an unusual occurrence.

Since the PIAA and WPIAL went to four classifications in the 1983-84 season, this is only the fourth time that all four WPIAL champs have made the semifinals.

The first time was 1993 when New Castle, Valley, Sto-Rox and Duquesne made it to the semifinals. It happened again in 1994 when Penn Hills, Beaver Falls, Aliquippa and Duquesne advanced to their final fours. The last time it happened was 2000 when Cornell, Aliquippa, Blackhawk and Penn Hills made it to the semifinals.

The WPIAL champs this year are New Castle, Central Valley, Seton-LaSalle and Lincoln Park. I think there are two reasons why the champs have made it this far this year. First, this is an "up" period for WPIAL basketball, I believe. We've got some pretty darn good teams in a number of classes. That might not be true again next year or the year after. Looking ahead, Class AAAA seems down for next year.

Secondly, the Erie area is down. Erie usually has a few top teams, but not this year.

**** I'm still trying to figure out how Hampton's Ryan Luther got only one shot and did not score in the second half of that New Castle game Saturday.

**** Speaking of New Castle-Hampton. Considering everything that was on the line, considering the history between the two teams, the crowd and how the contest unfolded, that was one of the best games I've seen in a while.

**** Hampton had trouble scoring down the stretch and one of the reasons was New Castle's hands. It might not seem like much, but the way New Castle uses its hands on defense is tremendous. Down the stretch, New Castle was constantly knocking balls away, stripping Hampton players from down low as they went up for a shot and getting their hands in passing lanes. I think New Castle's hands play a big part in their defensive success and Malik Hookerespecially the hands of Malik Hooker (pictured driving to the hoop against Hampton). His quick hands came up with so many big defensive plays for New Castle. It makes you wonder if those hands will help make him a good defensive back at Ohio State.

"His hands are like a weapon. They're so big and so strong and they're quick," said New Castle coach Ralph Blundo. "Often times, I see him soft off the ball and I get upset because he's not in a defensive stance. But he's just baiting you to make a defensive play. Malik Hooker is the greatest athlete I've seen at New Castle. I haven't seen them all, but he's the best I've seen and I don't think it's even close."

As for the hands of the rest of the team?

"You hear so many coaches talk about not using your hands on defense," said Blundo. "But we talk a lot about using your hands. Not to hand check but I think active hands and active feet give you a better opportunity to be successful defensively and generate some offense." 

**** New Castle carries an undefeated record into tonight's game against Abington. It is the second year in a row New Castle takes an unbeaten mark into the semifinals. The last WPIAL boys team to take an undefeated record into a PIAA title game was Blackhawk in 2000. The team had heralded point guard Brandon Fuss-Cheatham. But Blackhawk lost to Steelton-Highspire, 68-56, at Hersheypark Arena. I remember Blackhawk having trouble solving Steelton-Highspire's 3-2 zone.

**** From the Do You Remember department? Steve Lodovico is Blackhawk's girls coach and will try to get the Cougars to the PIAA title game. Blackhawk meets Palmyra tonight. Eighteen years ago, Lodivico was a starting guard for the Blackhawk boys and scored nine points as the Cougars beat Valley View, 67-55, for its second consecutive state championship. Blackhawk also won a state title in 1995, but Lodovico came off the bench for that team. He was a starter in 1996.

**** The past few days in gathering information on the PIAA semifinalists, it is amazing to me how many transfers play for the Philadelphia teams. It's more evident on the boys side but it also exists on the girls side. Do PIAA administrators in Philadelphia care? Apparently not much. The transfer subject has been brought up at PIAA board of control meetings also, but apparently hardly anybody seems to care there, either. Oh well. It's almost as if there are two different athletic worlds in Pennsylvania - Philadelphia as opposed to the western side of the state.

I found one of the most interesting comments from the playoff so far came from St. Basil girls coach Terry Mancini after his team lost to Neumann-Goretti, 64-29, in the Class AA quarterfinals. Neumann-Goretti has some transfers and Mancini said to the Montgomery News, "I can't tell you why it got away from us so early. That was not the team I coached all year. I think they bought into the hype of Neumann-Goretti because they saw them play. What can you say? They are the best AAU team in the state. ... We got this far with four-year seniors, no transfers. Unfortunately, we are playing against teams with an influx of transfers. We can't compete with that at St. Basil. We are too small of a school."

**** Follow @PGVarsityXtra on Twitter tonight for score updates on all semifinal games.

**** If you are interested on some notes and news on the semifinal games, check out this morning's P-G boys semifinal forecast and the girls semifinal forecast.

**** See ya. Can sports writers take a pregame nap, too?

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PIAA announces semifinal sites

Written by Mike White on .

All of the WPIAL basketball teams playing in the PIAA semifinals will be part of doubleheaders Tuesday.

The PIAA released semifinal sites this morning. This is the second year that all semifinal games will be played on the same night. In the past, half of the semifinals were played Tuesday and half Wednesday. But the PIAA changed last year in order to give all teams a little more time to make travel plans if they win and play in the championships Friday and Saturday in Hershey.

In Class AAAA boys, New Castle will play Abington at Chambersburg at 7:30 p.m. This is the second consecutive year New Castle has made it to the semifinals. Abington won a PIAA game this season for the first time in 26 years.

In Class AAA, Central Valley will play Susquehanna Township at Altoona at 7:30 p.m. 

In Class AA, Seton-LaSalle will play Greensburg Central Catholic at North Allegheny at 7:30 p.m. This is a rematch of the WPIAL championship.

In Class A, Lincoln Park will play Bishop Carroll at Hempfield at 7:30 p.m.

Now for the girls semifinals Tuesday: In Class AAAA, North Allegheny will play Spring-Ford at Chambersburg at 6.

In Class AAA, Blackhawk meets Palmyra at Altoona at 6.

In Class AA, Seton-LaSalle takes on Burrell at North Allegheny at 6. This is a rematch of the WPIAL championship.

In Class A, Vincentian plays Bishop Guilfoyle at Hempfield at 6.

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Why Hampton vs. New Castle is at Bethel Park

Written by Mike White on .

It's New Castle vs. Hampton IV. And why is it being played at Bethel Park, you may ask?

Because other bigger venues aren't available and it makes the most sense to the WPIAL and PIAA.

New Castle will play Hampton for the fourth time this season, Saturday afternoon at 2 at Bethel Park. Many are asking why Bethel Park? That's a natural question. But here is the scoop, straight from WPIAL executive director Tim O'Malley:

Earlier this week, the WPIAL and PIAA started contacting facilities that could possibly play host to the game if it came about. The first call went to Duquesne University's Palumbo Center. Sorry, not available, said Palumbo officials. The next call went to Robert Morris. Sorry, not available. Slippery Rock University was called, and O'Malley said Slippery Rock said it is not available for PIAA games after Wednesday.

Ambridge is a good-sized gym and played host to New Castle-North Allegheny Wednesday night. Sorry, not available, said Ambridge officials.

So, the WPIAL and PIAA decided to go to the biggest high school gym in the WPIAL that was available. No, not Chartiers Valley. And no, not North Allegheny. It was Bethel Park, said O'Malley.


Bethel Park gym

Bethel Park opened a sparkling new gymnasium in January of 2012 and seating capacity is 2,450. Seats are even in the end zones. But the gym also has a track above the seats that circles the entire facility. The track will accommodate those people who have to stand. (Bethel Park gym photo courtesy of Mascaro Construction and Bethel Park)

Tickets will be hard to come by again for this game, but that's just the way it is. There is no reason to complain about the WPIAL or PIAA. It's one of those rare situations that a lot of people want to see these two teams play. It's a hot ticket. Sometimes tickets are hard to get, no matter the level. But actually, isn't this great for basketball in this area to have this much interest in games?

And sure, New Castle is 62 miles from Bethel Park (according to Mapquest) while Hampton is only 22. But it's the "state" playoffs. Sometimes because of the situation, you have to travel. New Castle fans, make a day of it. Head down I-79, stop for a late breakfast or early lunch, get off at the Bridgeville exit and head the back way over to Bethel Park.

Tickets today are available only at the two schools. Each school received 1,200 tickets. Both schools will probably sell their allotments. Heck, the way New Castle fans are, I wouldn't be surprised if New Castle's allotment was gone before athletic director Sam Flora finished breakfast.

Bethel Park athletic director Any Scheuneman said the school will put about 300 standing-room tickets on sale tomorrow, beginning at 1 p.m. Judging by the line to buy tickets for this game at Palumbo two weeks ago, it wouldn't surprise me to see people lining up at 9 tomorrow morning to get a ticket. It will be "breakfast at Bethel" for some.

"People say, 'What about the Petersen Center?' But that's not even realistic," said O'Malley. “People are of the opinion that we can go where we want for these games and that’s not true. For whatever reason, places weren’t available. Obviously, we’ve played games at North Allegheny and Chartiers Valley, but Bethel Park is a new gym with seating capacity that exceeds both of those places.

“We looked around to see what’s available. Bethel Park has the largest seating capacity of any gym available in the WPIAL. Yes, it’s probably off the beaten path, but if we put it in a place like Chartiers Valley, we’d have to turn away 400-500 more people, and there is nowhere for standing room like Bethel Park.”


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