There had been the doubters. The people who questioned Moon High School senior guard Brian Walsh's toughness, challenged his grit and determination when games turned physical.
Those doubters got their answer yesterday.
With a brilliant performance in which he embraced the physical nature of the play, Walsh scored 30 points and pulled down 13 rebounds to lift Moon (23-7) to a 61-41 victory against Central Catholic (25-5) in a PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinal at North Allegheny High School.
"Teams are always physical with me and they do try to get me out of my game a little," Walsh said. "You can't let it get to you when that happens.
"You just have to keep playing when a team wants to be physical with you and I knew how much this game meant."
Moon's win avenged a last-second, one-point loss against Central Catholic in the WPIAL championship game Feb. 22. The victory also advanced Moon to the PIAA semifinals where the Tigers will face Norristown (31-1) Wednesday. Norristown was a 71-44 winner against South Philadelphia (23-7) yesterday.
Moon advanced into Pennsylvania's version of the Final Four because of the performance by Walsh, a 6-foot-4 Xavier University recruit who absorbed every blow Central Catholic -- and its dozen-man rotation -- threw at him.
"He was a warrior, plain and simple," Central Catholic coach Chuck Crummie said of Walsh.
Walsh, who was grabbed and bumped away from the ball and then guarded tightly when he had the ball, turned it on as the game progressed into its latter stages.
After the third quarter, Moon had a 34-29 lead in a contest that looked more like a rugby match than a basketball game.
In the fourth quarter, though, Walsh took over.
He had the ball in his hands nearly every offensive possession and was the primary weapon coach Jeff Ackermann used to break Central Catholic's swarming press.
It was the same press that caused numerous errors in the WPIAL championship game. This time, Moon turned it over 15 times -- not too bad for a game that was fractured with seemingly no flow.
"The only difference in this game and that game was that we had 30 turnovers," Ackermann said. "Probably 15 of those 30 in the WPIAL final were unforced. This game, we did a much better job of taking care of the ball."
As a result, Walsh scored 12 points in the final 4:44. He made 9 of 10 free-throw attempts in the final 2:17, which led to his 16 of 19 effort for the game. He also grabbed seven rebounds in the fourth quarter, all but one on the defensive end as a six-point lead with 7:01 left turned slowly into a 20-point, runaway win.
"We just had to cherish the ball," Walsh said. "We couldn't turn it over the way we did last time against Central."
Moon's defensive effort was also keyed by Walsh. It was a defensive performance that saw Central Catholic make just 14 of 41 field-goal attempts and only 6 of 24 in the second half. The Vikings were led by Evan Tsudis, who scored 14 points.
Ackermann understands how much Walsh changes the complexion of a game when he decides to go all out.
"Brian is one of the, if not the, best player in the state," Ackermann said.
"There is nothing Brian can't do. He rebounds, he defends, he shoots, he handles the ball, he can post up ... he's just one in a million."
Colin Dunlap can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1459.