“Mr. High School Sports” – WPIAL Basketball Championships: Who Wants It More?
By Matt Popchock
It wasn’t the only moment that turned heads in a tournament already full of surprises, but as far as Shaler head coach Paul Holzshu is concerned, one play epitomizes why a team other than his top-seeded Titans will be playing for the boys’ Quad-A championship tonight at 9:00 at the A.J. Palumbo Center.
In their WPIAL semifinal meeting with Pittsburgh Central Catholic at North Allegheny High School Wednesday evening, a game in which, ultimately, every point mattered, senior guard Lincoln Davis went all out to save a loose ball that led to a layup for the Vikings.
Davis, who led Central with 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting, was rallying a team that wanted it more.
Or so Holzshu told the media afterward. In fact, he personally stopped Davis outside the Central Catholic locker room to commend him on his display of desire.
Central Catholic surprised Shaler, 46-44, but not before junior guard and Penn State recruit Geno Thorpe airballed a three at the buzzer that could have stolen the trip to Duquesne University.
Guard Garrett Vrbanic came off the bench to defend one of the more talented shooters in the WPIAL. He got in Thorpe’s grill just enough to disrupt his shot, and just enough not to elicit a foul.
Whether the Vikings, who came perilously close to missing the playoffs completely, can complete their remarkable run against defending boys’ Class AAAA champ Gateway, another deceptively skilled team, won’t just be a matter of skill. It’ll be a matter of desire.
In a way, the Gators are the same team that won the 2010-11 title. They are as good as they want to be. In the postseason, they have collectively taken their game to a new level, much like they did when they out-hustled Chartiers Valley up and down the floor to complete their quest for district gold.
This Central Catholic squad may not have the size of Gateway, nor the aura or the depth of a team like Chartiers Valley. However, like the champions, the Vikings have proven they have the work ethic that makes a champion. Regardless of who’s in whose starting five, that is what will decide tonight’s nightcap.
The final girls’ WPIAL championship game of the weekend, the Class AAA affair between Hopewell and South Park, will have a similar complexion.
Those teams met in the playoffs a year ago, and, regardless of the outcome, anyone who watched that game in person had to sense both teams would be even better this season. We haven’t been disappointed.
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, this season the most prolific forward in all of District 7, sustained a brutal facial injury in that match–ironically, also staged at North Allegheny. Her return appeared questionable, but a few minutes and a pair of cotton swabs later, Walker-Kimbrough played the rest of that game with a plugged-up nose and strapped that Hopewell team to her back.
Those Vikings also upset a section champion in Wexford that chilly February night, because Walker-Kimbrough wanted it more.
This year’s South Park girls are clearly wiser for the wear after losing that game as a No. 3 seed. As the present No. 2 in the girls’ Class AAA bracket, the Eagles have handled their business, while facing an equally stiff test from another young AAA-Sec. 2 opponent.
Reigning WPIAL champion Blackhawk, this time a team chock full of freshmen–three in its normal starting five, in fact–pushed South Park up and down the floor in the early semifinal game at N.A. this past Wednesday. Wednesday became “Groundhog Day” when the Cougars forced overtime.
But Shelby Lindsay would not be denied. The torch-bearer of South Park’s offense led the charge again, with 26 points, including a game-high five in the extra session, and 13 rebounds. In the meantime, Halie Torris, whose 18 points should not be overlooked either, took command underneath and cut off the Cougars in the paint.
The Eagles wanted it more.
South Park has come together as a team. Walker-Kimbrough has led Hopewell through a meat-grinder of a section, and what hasn’t killed Central Catholic has made that group stronger as well. Gateway has silenced its critics thus far…again.
Saturday night won’t be a question of which teams are ready for the big stage. It’ll be a question of who wants it more.
My predictions for tonight’s girls’ Class AAA and boys’ Class AAAA Finals? Let’s just put it this way: to steal a famous phrase from Mel Brooks, it’ll be good to be a king…in this case, a Viking.
Put on those blue-collars, boys and girls…game time is just around the corner.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)