Bryon Clifford, driving to the basket against Wilkinsburg, leads Clairton in scoring this season.
By Brad Everett Tri-State Sports & News Service
As college football National Letter-of-Intent Signing Day approached, the pressure on Clairton's Division I-bound athletes mounted.
Speculation as to where guys such as Tyler Boyd would sign had grown exponentially as the countdown to decision day went from weeks to days, a burden that might break some teenagers.
But in all of the college football talk, an interesting tidbit was being left out as Boyd, Terrish Webb and Titus Howard successfully fought through the stressful times: Through it all, they had also been helping their basketball team win a section title.
Clairton went undefeated in Section 3 and earned the No. 4 seed in the WPIAL Class A playoffs. The Bears are now attempting to win their first WPIAL title since 2006.
Clairton (14-6) will play No. 5 Union (17-5) in a quarterfinal game 8 p.m. Friday at North Hills. Clairton, which is in the quarterfinals for the fifth year in a row, is looking to reach its third semifinal in that span.
First-year coach Matt Geletko starts five seniors, all of whom played key roles on the Clairton football team, which won its fifth consecutive WPIAL Class A championship and fourth PIAA championship in a row last fall.
Boyd, Webb and Howard all signed letter of intents to play at Pitt. The trio -- along with fellow starters Bryon Clifford and Armani Ford -- have since turned their full attention to the hardwood and it has shown in the team's recent play.
"I can sense [a difference]," Geletko said. "All of the [recruiting] stuff is done. They're ready to try and create some history on the basketball court. All of the football accomplishments are well documented. This is kind of a new challenge for them. I think they realize that."
Clairton has won six of its past seven games, including a 74-38 blowout against St. Joseph in a first-round game last Friday at Chartiers Valley. Four players scored in double figures for the Bears: Clifford had 21, Howard 16, Webb 12 and Boyd 10.
It was the first time this season all three of the Division I football recruits scored in double figures in the same game.
The Bears also did an excellent job defensively against St. Joseph, which was held to its lowest point total of the season. John Arcuri, the WPIAL's second-leading scorer during the regular season (25.3 points per game), scored 29 points, but the rest of the Spartans were limited to nine. St. Joseph failed to score more than 10 points in any quarter.
"Our defense really was the key," Geletko said. "We know that if we defend well, it will lead to transition points. We were really balanced in scoring. When we're defending like that and getting balanced scoring, we're tough to beat."
Clifford is likely Clairton's most indispensable player. Clifford leads the Bears in scoring with 18.6 points per game. He has scored in double figures in all but two games, and posted a season-high 30 points against both Carmichaels and Geibel Catholic.
St. Joseph played a box-and-one on Clifford. Not only did Clifford top his season average, but the extra attention allowed his teammates to get more involved.
"Bryon has been great for us," Geletko said. "He was [practicing] the day after football was over. He's our most consistent scorer. Other guys are starting to pick up more of the scoring load, but he's our leader on the floor."
Clairton has been getting significant contributions off the bench from Santeaun Sims, Rasheed Pacley, Robert Boat-right, Damond Flowers and Aaron Matthews.
Up next for the Bears is Union, which tied for second place in Section 1 behind top-seed Lincoln Park. Union defeated Quigley Catholic, 78-60, in the first round. The Scotties are led by senior forward Markel Peace, who averages 19.1 points per game and poured in 31 against Quigley.
"From what I've seen so far, they're a good shooting team," Geletko said. "They don't have a lot of size, but they can pretty much all score. It's going to be a challenge for us."