PG East: Wilkinsburg girl leads WPIAL in scoring after 54-point burst

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So much for normalcy.

Wilkinsburg High School girls' basketball coach Wilfred Dennis admits that everything on the night of Jan. 14 felt ordinary and nondescript, no different than any other game night.

"Just a normal night, you know," he said. "We showed up, went through warmups and it was just like any other time we did the same thing."

That was until the referee tossed the ball into the air and Wilkinsburg's junior star, Darche Jackson, started to score.

And kept scoring.

And kept scoring.

And kept scoring.

And scored some more for good measure.

When it all shook down, when those 32 mesmerizing minutes came to a close, history yielded this: Jackson had scored 54 points -- including five 3-pointers -- to help Wilkinsburg to a 64-62 victory against host Shady Side Academy.

It was a game that was pivotal to the WPIAL Section 4-AA playoff race, a race in which Shady Side (13-6, 10-1) was in first place in the section with second-place Wilkinsburg (8-7, 8-3) two games behind the Indians.

Accompanying the sense of pressure to win that game of heightened importance against Shady Side was this -- Jacksom, a 5-foot-7 guard, was also chasing a personal milestone that night, entering play on the cusp of surpassing the 1,000-career-points barrier.

"I knew she needed 22 for 1,000, so I figured she'd probably get that because of the way she had been playing for the couple games before that night," Dennis said. "But there was something that was more important, I also knew that we needed to win that game, too.

"And another thing, early in the game, I said to Darche, 'You know, we need this win really bad' and she just looked at me and said, real calm, 'Don't worry about it.'"

"Well, she said that and she just went to work."

She sure did go to work.

Even a week later, when Dennis was asked to attempt an explanation as to why Jackson erupted against Shady Side, he had an impossible time coming up with sufficient words.

Sure, Jackson has been a proven scorer since even her youth basketball days, and she is averaging 33.9 points per game to this point in the season. But her 54-point effort still flabbergasts those who were there to see it, including her coach.

"To tell you the truth, I have spent some time running through my mind how that really did happen and, even, if it really happened," Dennis said of Jackson's scoring spurt against Shady Side Academy.

"Like I said, the night was just a normal night until she started scoring and then, it didn't stop. I don't know, it was one of those special times that you don't see come around all that much."

And so Dennis will savor that night, just as Jackson will.

But, a game like that -- and, moreover, the year Jackson has been having -- didn't come about by accident. She was a tireless worker this past summer and autumn on the AAU circuit.

Also, get this, sometimes she even goes through practices with the Wilkinsburg boys' team right after school and then sticks around to practice with the girls' team in the evening.

"To me, that shows a whole lot of dedication to get better," Dennis said.

"There aren't many young people who would do that. I'd have to say she's pretty tired, but you would never know it by watching her on those days she does both practices."

Truth be told, being tired isn't in Jackson's nature, it isn't a crutch she ever uses.

"She is an aggressive young lady on both offense and defense for us and you can see it in the way she plays," Dennis said.

"On defense, she takes some chances, but I don't mind it because she is being aggressive.

"Then, on offense for us, she is not afraid to shoot the basketball and take it to the basket. But she knows when she needs to pull it out and set up in the offense, too, and get other people involved.

"She's an extremely smart basketball player, she's a very intelligent basketball player and I think she'll even get better."

She might.

But it is hard to think that, no matter how good she gets, she'll have a more memorable night than that one in which she torched Shady Side Academy for 54 points.

Nights like that rarely happen -- even if you're as talented as Darche Jackson.


Colin Dunlap can be reached at cdunlap@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1459.


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