As many expected, Vincentian punched its ticket to the WPIAL Class A championship game with a semifinal win last Tuesday.
But what happened between the final buzzer of that game and the opening tip of their next was interesting. The Royals, seeded No. 2 and with just one loss on their record, became the underdogs in the eyes of some when they prepared to play a team seeded lower than them in the WPIAL final.
That was a by-product of No. 5 Clairton's eye-opening upset of top seed Lincoln Park. The Bears quickly became the "it" team.
"We read the newspapers," said Vincentian coach George Yokitis. "We opened up the newspaper [Friday morning] and there was about six lines [written about] us."
Saturday morning, there were many more than that.
Vincentian won its second WPIAL title in three years by defeating Clairton, 86-74, last Friday at Palumbo Center.
It was yet another triumph for the Royals (25-1), who took control of a game tied at the half by dominating the third quarter and then grinding their way to the win in the fourth. The Royals shot 42 percent from the field, set a Class A championship game record by making 31 free throws, and won by double digits for the 24th time this season.
So much for the naysayers.
"Even though we had a great season and we only lost one game, people said we aren't going to win," said sophomore Ryan Wolf, who scored 14 points. "We used that as motivation to play harder."
Vincentian couldn't have played much harder, but that's nothing new for a team whose coach often describes his team's style of play as being "organized chaos." The Royals pressed, trapped and created havoc defensively, which typically led to them scoring points. And lots of them.
Vincentian scored the third-most points in Class A championship history. This is a team that averages a WPIAL-best 83.7 points per game. The Royals averaged 88.7 points per game in the playoffs, and scored 106 -- the most by any WPIAL team this season -- in a first-round win against Western Beaver.
"We just take it to the rim," Yokitis said. "We're not concerned with the dribble-drive and throw it out. That's not our mentality. We drive and we try to make it."
It led to a lot of trips to the free-throw line. Vincentian was 31 of 46 from the free-throw line, while Clairton (16-7) was only 3 of 13. Vincentian's Tony DiNardo, a senior who finished with 16 points, got to the line 16 times, making 12 of them. He was 6 of 8 in the fourth quarter, when the Royals were 16 of 22 as a team.
If Vincentian put the icing on the cake in the fourth quarter, then the Royals did a fine job of baking it in the third.
The Royals went on two huge runs in the third quarter. Trailing by five points early, the Royals went on an 11-0 run to go ahead by six, 50-44. Then, leading, 51-49, the Royals went on a 12-4 run to make it 63-53 with 15.8 seconds left. Sophomore guard Jay Cortese keyed that burst by scoring seven consecutive points.
"They executed a little bit better than we did in that third quarter. Hats off to them," said Clairton coach Matt Geletko. "They run a very disciplined offense. They know what they want to do."
A multitude of other players made significant contributions. Junior Jim Kenna scored a career- high 24 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. Junior Kevin Fischer scored 10 points, including seven in the first half. Senior Matt Rathz had a big three-point play in the first quarter. Seniors Matt Lang, Ryan McCann and Sean Horgan, sophomore Ian Taylor, and freshman Jamison Nee all provided valuable minutes off the bench.
Vincentian next sets its sights on the PIAA tournament, which begins Friday when the Royals face North Clarion (24-2) at North Hills. Vincentian advanced to the semifinals after winning the WPIAL championship in 2011. Should Vincentian beat North Clarion, the Royals could play Bishop Carroll in the second round. Bishop Carroll handed Vincentian its lone defeat on Jan. 12.
"It feels great right now, but we have bigger goals," Kenna said. "Hopefully we'll go far in states. We're just going to keep working."
First Published March 7, 2013 5:00 AM