Green and gold will be the colors in Hershey March 21-22 as both the Seton-La Salle girls’ and boys’ basketball teams advanced to the PIAA Class AA championships.
While the Lady Rebels (26-4) easily dispatched Burrell, 48-37, in a rematch of the WPIAL District 7 final, the SLS men weathered horrendous shooting and overcame a 12-point deficit in posting a thrilling, down-to-the-wire victory, 46-44, against Greensburg Central Catholic, its WPIAL nemesis.
“When we were down by 12,” SLS floor boss Mark “Knobby” Walsh said, “I looked at my assistant and asked ‘are we in trouble’ and he said, ‘no, there’s still 13 minutes left’ and I looked at my other assistant and asked the same question and he said, ‘we’ll be alright.’”
The Rebels were okay because of Levi Masua, Ryan Norkus and Dale Clancy. They spearheaded SLS’s comeback.
Masua exploded for 17 points. He grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked six shots. His 3-point field goal with four minutes to play in the third quarter ignited a 10-2 run that erased much of the Centurions’ 36-24 advantage.
Norkus scored all 10 of his points in the final 10 minutes of action. He scored seven straight from 2:13 in the third quarter to 6:42 to play, pulling SLS to within, 38-36.
Clancy finished with 13 points, seven in the first half as the Rebels stayed close to the Centurions, 23-22, at halftime despite a dismal 2-for-22 from the field and 1-for-9 from 3-point range.
With 4:51 to play, Clancy tied the game at 40. After Masua scored after grabbing an offensive rebound, Clancy advanced SLS’s cause, 45-42, with a bucket with 1:43 left. A free throw by Norkus made it 46-44 with 1:03 to go.
In the final frame, free throws were all the SLS defense allotted Greensburg, which almost won the game when its last-ditch, three-quarters shot at the buzzer hit the rim. Christian Hyland, who buried two 3-pointers in the game, nailed two from the charity stripe and Billy Hipp connected on four, including a pair that pulled the Centurions to within 45-44 with 1:14 to play. Hipp finished with 11 markers as did Brian Graytok, who had a trey in Greensburg’s third-quarter run.
“Our defense was great,” said Walsh of the Rebels, who limited Greensburg to six points in the second stanza and fourth frame. “When you keep a team in the 40s, you can beat that team. When you hold a team without a field goal in the fourth quarter, you will win the game.
“We have a ton of respect for Greensburg Central Catholic. They have great coaches and a great group of seniors and good shooters. This was similar to the WPIAL final where our defense won it for us and we came back with a vengeance after we fell behind. I know we didn’t want to lose this game in front of all these people who have supported us.”
Meanwhile, the Lady Rebels did not lose their WPIAL rematch either. It showed, particularly when SLS ripped Burrell’s defense in the initial quarter.
The Lady Rebels jumped off to a 19-5 start and stretched their advantage to 31-17 by intermission. At one point they led, 39-23 before settling into a 44-25 lead by the end of three frames.
Yacine Diop led the way with 20 tallies. Cassidy Walsh followed with 15 markers. She buried three of SLS’s five 3-point field goals.
“We came out ready to play and I am proud of my team because, even though we had beaten them for the WPIAL title,” said Lady Rebels’ head coach Spencer Stefko. “They believed that’s a good team they played and they prepared physically and mentally. To beat a good team, you have to believe you can beat them and prepare to beat them. We did that. We came out ready to play.”
Now both the SLS ladies and gentlemen prepare to play in the PIAA state finals.
Seton-La Salle, which won its first girls’ state championship 40 years ago with the McConnell sisters, Suzie and Kathy, will face Neumann-Goretti (29-0) in the girls’ final set for noon March 21 at the Giant Center in Hershey.
In the boys’ final, the Rebels (29-1) take on Constitution (27-5) at 2 p.m. March 22.
“We expect a dogfight,” said Walsh. “But this is what you want. You want to be playing the last game of the season.”