Lake Fong, Post-Gazette
Schenley's D.J. Kennedy, left, Jamaal Bryant and DeJuan Blair celebrate after defeating Chester for the Class AAAA title.
Since the PIAA playoffs started three weeks ago, Schenley coach Fred Skrocki brought a trophy to every practice and placed it near the court. The players treated it like the plague, not touching it or going near the silver runner-up trophy from last year's tournament.
The Schenley Spartans got another trophy last night and they couldn't get enough of touching this one.
Schenley won the big gold trophy and brought some pride to the City League when it defeated Chester, 78-71, in the Class AAAA title game at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center.
Schenley became the first City League team to win the PIAA title in the largest classification since the Spartans did it in 1978.
After the awards presentation, Schenley's DeJuan Blair grabbed the trophy, stood on his team's bench and raised the hardware to the Schenley fans. A couple of Schenley players pulled his arms down, trying to grab the trophy. A number of players tried to get a hold of it. Blair was kissing it during a television interview.
"It just feels good for us to finally bring this back to Pittsburgh," Blair said. "I ain't letting this thing go."
Schenley (29-3) lost in last year's title game to Lower Merion.
"I think last year was definitely a motivating factor," Skrocki said.
This time, the Spartans made Blair look prophetic. In an interview with the Post-Gazette in the preseason, he guaranteed a PIAA title.
"I never questioned doing that," Blair said. "I just knew we'd do it."
Blair certainly played a big role. A 6-foot-7 senior and Pitt recruit, Blair had 18 points, 23 rebounds, 6 blocked shots and 2 steals against Chester (28-6). But he certainly had plenty of help. Junior guard Deandre Kane had 21 points, senior guard-forward D.J. Kennedy 16 points and 11 rebounds and senior point guard Jamaal "Onion" Bryant 11 points. Kennedy made 10 of 10 free throws.
Guard Micah Covert scored 20 points to lead Chester. Guard Karon Burton added 19 and forward Nasir Robinson, a Pitt recruit, scored 15 before fouling out with 4:42 left in the game.
Schenley didn't play quite as well as it did in the first four games of the PIAA playoffs when it won by an average of 24 points. Schenley shot better than 60 percent in those four games. Against Chester, the Spartans shot only 42 percent (27 of 64 overall, 3 of 15 from 3-point range), but did enough to win.
"This is the final game," Kane said. "We knew it would be rough out there and it might not be real crisp looking like maybe we wanted. But we won. That's all we wanted to do here."
Blair said, "It doesn't matter if the game looked rough at times. We didn't care. We didn't care if we won by 100 or 1. We just wanted to win."
Schenley scored the first four points of the game and never trailed as it defeated Chester for the second time this season. The Spartans led by 10 points after the first quarter and by as many as 11 in the second quarter. They never could quite pull away from the Clippers, but always kept them at arm's distance.
"I think we still dictated the pace of the game," Blair said.
Blair was dominating at times.
"Schenley made a commitment to come back here this year and win it," Chester coach Fred Pickett said. "We knew they were coming and what they were bringing, but DeJuan just dominated."
Schenley led at halftime, 36-25, and looked like it might pull away in the third quarter when it went ahead by 16 points. But the Spartans got in foul trouble as Greg Blair picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter and Kennedy picked up his fourth foul early in the fourth quarter. DeJuan Blair got his fourth with 5:20 left.
Schenley took a 69-57 lead with 3:23 left, but Chester came back again. A 3-pointer by Russell Johnson made the score 70-63 with 1:42 remaining. Covert hit a 3-pointer with 26 seconds left to slice the lead to 75-69. Chester's Rahlir Jefferson missed two free throws with 12.7 seconds left that would have cut the lead to four.
"Chester's a great program, but I think we wanted it more," Blair said.
Some believe Schenley might be Western Pennsylvania's best team in the past 25 years. And some believe it might compare with some other great teams from the 1960s and '70s. Now the debate can begin.
"I think teamwork was the key for us," Bryant said. "Just look at tonight and how many guys we had step up."
For Schenley, DeJuan Blair might have said it best.
"What a way to go out."Lake Fong, Post-Gazette
Schenley's DeJuan Blair goes up for a shot against Chester's Nasir Robinson.
Click photo for larger image.
Mike White can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1975.