Chartiers Valley slips into rare underdog role

PIAA Boys' Basketball Championships

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Chartiers Valley has played for a PIAA championship only once in school history -- 12 years ago. But, when the Colts play in the Class AAA final today, it won't be the lack of championship experience that will give the Colts an unfamiliar feeling

Likely for the first time against a Pennsylvania team this season, Chartiers Valley will be an underdog.

Despite being undefeated against teams in the state, despite averaging 84 points a game and despite rolling past most opponents, many believe Chartiers Valley finally will meet its match. Chartiers Valley (29-1) takes on Philadelphia Neumann-Goretti (29-1) in the PIAA Class AAA championship at 8 p.m. today at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center.

"I think we might have a better chance playing Pitt than Neumann-Goretti," said Chartiers Valley coach Tim McConnell.

Although McConnell's comment was tongue-in-cheek and although he's playing up this underdog role to his players, it's easy to see why Neumann-Goretti would be considered a favorite:

• Neumann-Goretti has four Division I college recruits, including Wake Forest-bound Tony Chennault, a 6-foot-3 senior who recently was named Gator-ade Pennsylvania Player of the Year. Mustaafa Jones, a 6-1 guard, is headed to Hartford. Danny Stewart, a 6-6 forward, has signed with Rider. Tyreek Duren, a 6-foot guard, is going to La Salle.

• Neumann-Goretti is ranked No. 7 in the country by USA Today and No. 5 by Chartiers Valley is not ranked in either poll.

• Neumann-Goretti's only loss this season is to Yates High School in Houston. Yates averaged more than 100 points a game this season and beat Neumann-Goretti, 97-96.

"We're playing a college team," McConnell said of Neumann-Goretti. "Everyone tells me how they get up and down the floor and how they can shoot it, and how athletic they are. We're excited to be there, don't get me wrong. But it's going to be a very tough task."

But don't get the feeling that Chartiers Valley can't keep up with Neumann-Goretti. The Colts also have talent, including senior guard T.J. McConnell, a Duquesne recruit, the coach's son and the leading scorer in the state (34 ppg). Plus, junior forward Matt Noszka and a few other Chartiers Valley players are capable scorers. Chartiers Valley's only loss this season is to Massillon Jackson of Ohio, which has made it to the state semifinals in the largest classification.

Although Chartiers Valley might be an underdog, this is one of the most interesting PIAA championship matchups in recent history that involves a WPIAL team. All championship games -- boys and girls -- can be seen on PCN cable television.

"I told our kids I'd be willing to bet that no one on their pools picked Northern Iowa to beat Kansas," McConnell said. "Well, then let's be Northern Iowa. Let's go beat the No. 1 team in the whole tournament. We're going to have to play a tremendous game to beat them, but I know we're going to work hard and try."

While Neumann-Goretti, a Philadelphia Catholic League team, is certainly talented, Chartiers Valley seems to match up size-wise against the Saints.

"From everything I've heard and people tell me, they're pretty similar to us," Neumann-Goretti coach Carl Arrigale said. "They like to get up and down, utilize the 3-pont line and like to play fast."

McConnell said: "They are very athletic and can score with the best of them. But this is exciting. These things come around for these kids once in a lifetime."

Top guards meet

WPIAL champion Sewickley Academy (26-2) plays Reading Central Catholic (30-1) in the PIAA Class A championship. The game features two talented guards in Sewickley Academy senior Tom Droney, a Davidson recruit, and Reading Central Catholic junior guard Marcus Dawkins, who already is getting some Division I college interest.

Droney is familiar with Dawkins.

"I saw him play at a Reebok All-American camp when we were both there," Droney said. "He's a very good player, a big guard."

Dawkins averages 17.3 points a game. Donovan Jack, a 6-7 sophomore, is the second-leading scorer at 13.8 points. Reading Central also has 6-2 sophomore forward Marquis Marshall, son of former NBA player Donyell Marshall. Dawkins and Marshall transferred to Reading Central before the start of the school year.

"I'd compare [Reading Central] favorably with South Fayette," said Sewickley Academy coach Win Palmer. "What really impressed me with Central is they spread the ball around so you can't just focus on one of their guys. They're very unselfish and extremely well-coached. I think it's a good matchup because I think the two teams share a lot of similarities."

Reading Central has outscored opponents, 61-41.

Facing a Big East recruit

South Fayette (23-5) of the WPIAL is in a PIAA championship game for the first time in school history and will face a Strawberry Mansion team that has a player headed to the Big East Conference.

Devonte Newbill is a 6-foot-4 senior guard who has signed with Marquette.. He leads Strawberry Mansion (28-1) in scoring at 25 points a game. Strawberry Mansion also has 6-4 Jamal Jones, who played on Imhotep Charter's PIAA championship team last season.

South Fayette, though, has been excellent on defense in the postseason. In seven WPIAL and PIAA games, the Lions are allowing only 39 points a contest.

Mike White: First Published March 26, 2010 4:00 AM


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