McConnell provides lift for Colts
After he whispered words of wisdom to his teammates, Matty McConnell lifted Chartiers Valley to victory, 62-55, over South Fayette. The Colts trailed 49-44 heading into the final eight minutes of action.
“Since my dad has been here, we have not lost a senior night,” explained the 17-year-old son of Shelly and Tim McConnell, who also happens to be the Colts’ head coach.
“Going into the third quarter, I told the seniors that this would be their last two quarters of basketball in their gym and I’m not going to let you go out with a loss.”
So after a little discussion with his cousin, Jerrad Tuite, who finished with 17 points, McConnell kept his promise. Fouled on a 3-point field goal attempt, the junior converted all three shots to knot the contest at 51. He then buried a trey to vault the Colts into the lead for good, 54-51 with 5:40 to play. McConnell also tacked on two more free throws as CV outscored the Lions, 18-6, in the final frame.
McConnell finished with a game-high 27 points. He drilled four, 3-pointers and connected on all five of his attempts from the charity stripe.
“Every point matters,” McConnell explained.
“It depends on the time of the game,” he added when asked if he favors a 3-pointer over a layup or free throw. “The most important thing to do is score when the game is on the line.”
McConnell’s scoring has not only enabled the Colts to clinch a top seed in the playoffs, it has allowed him to enter a prestigious club. In a 110-86 victory against South Park, McConnell surpassed the 1,000-point milestone in his career with a most memorable performance. He recorded a quadruple-double, amassing 46 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and 10 steals. He converted 11, 3-pointers, nine of which came in the second stanza when the Colts bolted to a 42-17 advantage.
“I don’t know if it was the best all-around performance that I have seen,” said Coach McConnell of his son’s effort, “but I do know that his second quarter was the best quarter in my 21 years. Nine 3’s in one quarter was fun to watch.”
The younger McConnell acknowledges that accomplishing the feat was fun because of the assistance he has had.
“One thousand points means a lot to me but I wouldn’t even be close without my teammates. If they hadn’t gotten me the ball, I would not have achieved this. My teammates mean a lot to me.”
While 1,000 points is “remarkable,” McConnell admits he aspires for more. “I would rather win the WPIAL and a state title, no doubt. We are a small and scrappy team, but if we play like we are capable, then we can beat anybody.”
During Section 5 action, the Colts beat everybody to win the banner with a 12-0 record. After an exhibition win, 60-55 against Upper St. Clair in the regular-season finale on Feb. 10, the Colts enter the WPIAL playoffs as a top seed in the Class AAA tournament with a 21-1 record.
“Remarkable,” said Coach McConnell of the undefeated section championship. “We have had great games with South Fayette and Montour and to beat them on their courts. Well, that’s a credit to my kids. We think those rivalry games as well as the ones we play against USC help prepare us for the playoffs. We like the atmosphere and the outcome.
“But,” he continued, “there is a long road ahead of us. We accomplished our first goal. The second goal is the WPIAL championship.”
While his dad has coached the Colts to five WPIAL titles and his older brother played on the last district winner in 2010, the younger McConnell has yet to taste the thrill of victory himself. He was a standout on last year’s team, which finished runner-up to Montour.
“A WPIAL title would me the world to me,” said McConnell, who as a youth served as a water and ball boy for the club. “Going into my high school career, I knew I would be a big part of this team so I worked hard on my game because I knew we would have a great chance to do well in the playoffs.”
In addition to playing AAU ball, McConnell works out 1-on-1 with his father on a daily basis. He hones his skills, particularly his shooting, as much as he can. Foul shooting is of particular importance as McConnell and his teammates spend between 45 minutes to an hour in practice on the freebies. “You need to convert those because a game can come down to that and we need to hit those to win,” McConnell explained of free throws.
Because the Colts lack height, they rely on the 6-foot McConnell for rebounds. McConnell’s power on the boards separates him from his brother. T.J. McConnell is a big reason why Arizona is the No. 2-ranked team in the NCAA. The 6-1, 195-pound guard is CV’s all-time leading scorer with well over 2,000 points. He leads the Wildcats with 5.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game while averaging 7.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per game.
Before Monday’s game against USC, Matty McConnell led the Colts in rebounding with 146, steals with 83 and blocked shots with 30. He averages 21.9 points per game and has a team-high 83 assists. “His best assets,” Coach McConnell acknowledged, “are his defense and his rebounding for us. I am very proud of the job Matty is doing.”
The young McConnell recognizes his physical differences from his older brothers and enjoys employing those to help his team.
“I’m bigger and stronger than T.J. was, so they rely on me for rebounds,” said McConnell. “If I don’t get the rebound, then that doesn’t help my team.
From afar and from home, McConnell gets his share of help. His dad and his brother have influenced his career. However, McConnell plays in nobody’s shadow.
“T.J. talks to me and tells me what I need to do to get better and my dad,” McConnell continued. “He’s right here and I take it all in and try to do what he tells me. But, I don’t feel any pressure. I’m not worried about what people say. My dad’s told me ‘be your own person’ and that’s what I try to do.”
What McConnell and his teammates have done in vaulting to the top in Class AAA is play together and play defense. While the Colts are averaging 73.9 points per game, they also boast a defense that allows just 48.5 points an outing.
“I do like the way the team is playing (heading into the playoffs),” said Coach McConnell. “I was particularly pleased that when we got down (against South Fayette), we did not give up. We battled. We did what we needed to do to get the win. We are sharing the ball and we are playing well defensively.”
In addition to McConnell, his cousin is playing well in all areas of the game after sitting out much of last year because of a broken knee cap. Jerrad Tuite averages 14.9 points per game while chalking up 76 steals and 48 points during the regular season. Tuite exploded for 26 points, 16 in a pivotal fourth quarter in the win against USC. McConnell finished with 23 tallies and Eddie Flohr finished with 10 markers.
Joe Antonucci (7.3 ppg.), Flohr (8.5 ppg.) and Ross Wilkerson (6.0 ppg.) are other big guns for the Colts while Kyle Westover and Hayden Herzer are key playmakers with 46 assists each and over 40 steals apiece. Herzer also averages 6.3 points a game.
Jake Ritson, Caleb Zajicek, Coleman Vaughn, Nick Jessloski, Jake Collins and Joe Sibeto are also expected to make contributions as CV enters the postseason.
Although they had a late start because of football, South Fayette is rounding into shape and the Lions could pose problems for teams in the Class AAA playoffs. Despite the loss to Chartiers Valley, South Fayette qualified for the postseason by finishing third in the section with an 8-4 record.
In the loss to the Colts, Justin Watson led the offensive attack. The all-state wide receiver on the Lions’ state championship football team exploded for 24 points. His seven tallies and Jack Relihan’s nine, third-quarter markers staked the Lions to their five-point lead against CV. Nick McKee also finished with nine points for South Fayette.
The Lions recovered to beat Hopewell, 63-35, in follow-up action. While Watson tossed in 14 points, Brett Brumbaugh, who quarterbacked South Fayette to the 2013 PIAA football title, fired in 26 points.
The Lions finished the regular season at 12-9 overall after losing to Butler, 43-39, on Feb. 10. Watson led with 14 markers against the Golden Tornado.
South Park and Keystone Oaks both tied for the final playoff spot in Section 5, finishing with 5-7 slates. The Golden Eagles dropped their last league game to Montour, 75-70.
Taylor Lehman (23), Erat Okok (10), and Declan Hartnett (10) were KO’s top offensive threats.
Meanwhile, the Lady Lions of South Fayette are qualified for the WPIAL playoffs. They tied Trinity for second place in Section 5-AAA. Both finished 8-4 in the division, trailing South Park, which won the league with an 11-1 mark.
The Lady Lions tuned up for the postseason by knocking off Canon-McMillan, 46-34, to finish the regular season at 12-10 overall.