Defense nets Seton-La Salle first title in 25 years
In the grade school gym in which Mark “Knobby” Walsh played basketball, a sign stressed the importance of defense. The message read: If you score, you may win. If you don’t let them score, you can’t lose.
Years later the banner proved prophetic as defense determined victory for Walsh and Seton-La Salle during the WPIAL Class AA boys’ basketball championship game played March 1 at Duquesne’s Palumbo Center. The Rebels held Greensburg Central Catholic to nearly 20 points below its season average (70) and defeated the Centurions, 52-51, for their first title since 1989.
“What got it done was defense,” said Levi Masua. “Defense wins championships and that’s what happened.”
Masua’s defense confounded Brian Graytok. GCC’s leading scorer with a 17-point average connected on 3 of 8 shots from the field and finished with nine points.
Masua also posed a problem inside for the Centurions as the senior blocked seven shots. He pitched in six tallies and pulled down 10 rebounds.
“I have long arms,” explained the 6-foot-6 forward. “I used them to my advantage.”
The Rebels also used free throw shooting to their advantage. They capitalized on 7-of-10 of their attempts from the line, 6 of 7 down the stretch, while GCC converted a miserable 8 of 21 chances from the charity stripe.
After Ryan Norkus connected on a pair of free throws to tie the contest at 43, Malik White sunk two shots from the line and powered his way to a basket that gave the Rebels the lead for good, 47-44, with 2:20 to play. White finished with nine points and nine rebounds.
With seven seconds to play, Cletus Helton put the game away with a free throw to give SLS a 52-48 edge before Billy Hipp hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to finalize the result.
“It was fitting that it ended up being a one-point game,” Walsh said. “We tip our hats to coach [Greg Bisignani] and [Greensburg] Central. They had a good year and we expect they will have a great run in states.
“We knew it would be nip and tuck,” Walsh continued of the contest that saw six ties and 14 lead changes. “We stepped up. We won the game at the foul line.”
Practice is a big reason for SLS’s edge at the line. Walsh intimated that after the Rebels’ win against Beaver Falls, Bryan Norkus asked if he could practice. And, he shot 50 free throws after that semifinal game.
“And,” Walsh said, “it came down to that. We made shots from the foul line.”
The Rebels also made 3-point shots. Dale Clancy led the way. He buried four baskets from beyond the arc and finished with 16 tallies. Christina DelGreco followed with 10 points.
For all their sharpshooting, SLS trailed GCC, 28-27, at intermission. The Rebels jumped ahead, 22-13, but were outscored, 15-5, in the second stanza.
“I told my guys at halftime to keep their composure because we were coming back,” said Walsh. “We had to do a better job of boxing out and we did that and won the third quarter.”
The Rebels won the third quarter, 13-10, and they held a slight edge in the fourth frame, 13-12, to win their first championship in 25 years. Under Johnny Lee, SLS upset New Brighton to win the WPIAL title in 1989.
“I can’t tell you what this means,” said Walsh, who like Lee, was a SLS graduate. “To do this on the school’s 25th anniversary of a WPIAL title and to be back here,” Walsh continued of his college alma mater, Duquesne, “is special.
“There has been so much support from the administration, the families, the community and particularly the players. I told them what they have given in terms of time, effort and energy has not gone unnoticed.”
Walsh was particularly pleased for his six seniors: Clancy, White, Masua, Dominick DelGreco, Tom Rizza and David Boehme. They all started as a group when Walsh assumed the coaching position at SLS.
“We’ve had a great group of senior leaders,” he said. “I feel as if I’m at the top of the mountain.”
Actually, SLS is only two-thirds up the hill. After winning the Section 4 banner with an undefeated mark of 12-0, and claiming the WPIAL title with a 25-1 mark, the Rebels begin their quest for a PIAA title on March 8 when they face Penns Valley. The Rebels have not won a state championship since 1988.