Tuite, CV get chance to play for WPIAL title
When Jerrad Tuite moved into the Chartiers Valley School District, his uncle made a pact with him. “I promised my nephew when he came here that he would have a chance to play for a WPIAL championship. A chance,” emphasized Tim McConnell, who happens to coach the Colts’ varsity boys’ basketball team.
On Feb. 25, Tuite got that chance when the Colts faced Uniontown (21-1) in a district semifinal showdown at Baldwin, ironically the former school district of the senior.
“This is your opportunity,” McConnell reminded his kin. “Let’s go out and get it done I told him and [Jerrad] took it to heart.”
Tuite certainly did. The point guard, who missed all of last season due to a broken kneecap, exploded for 29 points in the Colts 71-57 victory over the Red Raiders. With the win, CV improved to 24-1 overall and advanced to the Class AAA finals set for Feb. 28 against Central Valley at the A.J. Palumbo Center.
Under McConnell, the Colts have won five WPIAL championships. They have reached the finals four times in the past five years. In the 2013 final, they lost to Montour.
“My assistant coach [Shawn Sherry] said ‘this never gets old’ and I agree with him,” said McConnell about going to the Palumbo Center to compete for championships.
“Every year is different,” he added. “We have four freshmen on this team that have never been to the Palumbo. I’m excited for them and I’m also excited for our seniors.”
McConnell is as thrilled with Tuite as he is with Ross Wilkerson. One of those freshmen, Wilkerson buried a 3-pointer that vaulted CV into the lead for good, 26-23, as the first half ended. The buzzer beater also lifted the Colts during a crisis period because they played most of the second stanza without leading scorer, Matt McConnell. The junior, who averages 22.2 points per game, was saddled with his third foul at the 6:35 mark in the quarter.
“I was pleased with how my team responded and got us the lead,” Coach McConnell said.
“If you would have told me one of my best players would be on the bench most of the second quarter with foul trouble and we’d be up by three at halftime, I’d consider that a big win for us. It was a win already at halftime,” he emphasized.
“That three really gave us the momentum. Ross Wilkerson sparked us. I was extremely happy.”
McConnell was pleased with how Tuite took the reins, particularly in the second half. After scoring 11 points in the first half, he accumulated 18 of his team’s final 23 points as the Colts expanded a 43-34 advantage into the final margin of victory. Down the stretch, Tuite connected on 14 of 17 free throws.
“Jerrad kept us in the game. He was phenomenal,” McConnell said. “He controls the game for us. He played a tremendous game, especially in the second half.”
CV outscored the Red Raiders, 17-11, in the third quarter but opened up a 50-36 edge with 6:45 to play. Though Uniontown closed the gap to nine points, the frisky Colts would not fold.
“We find a way,” said McConell.
Few would expect a team with no starter taller than 6-foot-1 to have just one loss let alone be a contender for a championship. “You can’t judge us by our size,” McConnell said. “If you cut open our chests, you would see how big our hearts are.”
From the start, McConnell thought his Colts could be challenging Central Valley, a 68-59 overtime winner against Thomas Jefferson, for the WPIAL Class AAA title.
“I thought we had a chance to be at the Palumbo,” McConnell admitted. “I knew how hard we worked in the summer. I know how hard we work in practice.”
CV’s work ethic on the playing court has prompted college recruiters to compare the Colts to North Carolina. “A scout told me once,” said McConnell, “we play harder than any team he’s seen. Nobody plays harder. But I want to be compared with Arizona’s defense. That’s my measuring stick.”
For the record, the Colts play pretty good defense. They allow just 50 points per game. And, in their lone loss, a 57-56 defeat to Ambridge, the Colts played without McConnell, who was out with appendicitis.
Against Uniontown, CV limited leading scorer Jordan Pratt to 15 points, five below his average. Joe Campbell, who averaged 15.5 points, was held below double figures. The 6-foot-6 center left the game with a leg injury with 5:09 to play. Lyric and Xavier Ellis finished with 15 and 14 markers respectively for the Red Raiders.
Eddie Flohr (15) and McConnell (10) joined Tuite in double digits for the Colts, who average 74 points per game.
“We did not shoot well in the first half, but I was pleased with our offensive rebounding,” McConnell said. “They are so fast and so athletic. We could not let them outrun us.”
In the finals, the Colts will have to neutralize Matt Kline. The 6-foot-7 center tossed in 20 points against the Jaguars. John George (15), Michael Sims (14) and Tony Gates (11) also reached double figures for Central Valley, which averages 61 points per game while surrendering just 48.5.