The season was only in its infant stages when Seton-LaSalle coach Mark Walsh began telling his players they had what it takes to achieve something a Rebels team had not accomplished in more than a decade.
"I told the guys that we have the capability to put a section championship [banner] on that wall," Walsh recalled. "I said, 'Wouldn't it be great if we were one of the guys who did it?'"
Well, this group of Rebels have done it.
Seton-LaSalle wrapped up its first section title since 2000 last Thursday when the Rebels defeated Washington, 63-50, in a Class AA Section 4 game. The Rebels (18-2, 11-0) can finish undefeated in section play for the first time since 1989 with a win against visiting Bishop Canevin Friday.
"It's just a great accomplishment and says a lot about the effort the kids have put in," said Walsh, who is in his second season with the Rebels.
Seton-LaSalle is on a roll. The Rebels are ranked No. 3 in Class AA and have won 10 games in a row, all but two of those by double digits. The run includes an impressive 57-46 non-section win at Thomas Jefferson, which leads Class AAA Section 4.
Seton-LaSalle's only losses were to playoff-bound teams -- Class AAAA McKeesport and Class A North Catholic.
Seton-LaSalle has a rich history, but it's been awhile since the Rebels have been a serious contender for the WPIAL title. They have already won more games in a season than they have since they had 18 in 2000-01. The Rebels have not advanced past the first round of the WPIAL playoffs since 2002-03. Two years ago, they finished just 4-18.
Despite the program not being among the WPIAL's best in quite some time, Walsh said he wanted this team to hold itself to a higher standard.
"I told them, 'I'm going to push you harder than you have ever been pushed in your life, and I'm going to see how you respond,'" he said.
An airtight defense and balanced offense continue to be the calling cards of Seton-LaSalle's success. The Rebels surrender an average of 45.1 points per game, which ranks among the best in the WPIAL. During their current winning streak, the Rebels have given up more than 50 points just once.
Offensively, balance is the key. No Seton-LaSalle player has a scoring average of better than 14 points a game, but about a half-dozen players are hovering just above or below the 10-point-per-game mark.
Eight players see the bulk of playing time. The top scorers are all juniors -- guard Dale Clancy and forwards Levi Masua and Malik White.
Clancy, a lightning-quick point guard, has really come on in recent weeks, not only with his scoring, but also his ability to create for teammates. In a recent two-game stretch against Brentwood and Ambridge, Clancy scored 23 and 25 points.
Clairton makes history
Clairton might parlay another set of WPIAL and PIAA football championships into its first outright boys basketball section title in 15 years.
Clairton (12-5, 9-0) has the Class A Section 3 championship all to its own no matter the outcome of Saturday's game at second-place Monessen (7-11 5-2). Monessen lost at Carmichaels, 69-60, Tuesday and had section games Wednesday (at Geibel Catholic) and tonight (Mapletown).
Meanwhile, the Bears defeated Geibel Catholic, 68-40, Tuesday.
The Bears split the Section 4 championship with Serra Catholic a season ago. Senior guard Bryon Clifford (17.5 points per game) is leading the Bears in scoring for the second season in a row.
Here are a few games to keep an eye on this week.
Today, 7:30 p.m., Bishop Canevin at Seton-LaSalle (girls) -- Class AA power Seton-LaSalle has won 13 games by at least 30 points, one of them being a 66-35 romp at Bishop Canevin on Jan. 14. Naje Gibson had 19 points and 13 rebounds in that game. A win would give the Rebels (19-1, 11-0) an outright section title for the fifth year in a row. The Rebels have won 36 home games in a row and have defeated the Crusaders (17-3, 10-1) seven consecutive times.
Friday, 7:30 p.m. Thomas Jefferson at West Mifflin (boys) -- The section title will be on the line when these neighboring rivals meet. Thomas Jefferson (15-6, 11-0) has a narrow lead over West Mifflin (15-4, 10-1) in Class AAA Section 4. Thomas Jefferson will have the title all to itself with a win. If West Mifflin prevails, the two will be co-champs. West Mifflin, which had won six in a row before a non-league loss to Allderdice Monday, had a 52-47 setback at Thomas Jefferson on Jan. 15.