For New Castle and Hampton, once, twice, three times is history.
For the third consecutive year, the two teams will get together at the Palumbo Center on the first Saturday in March with a WPIAL championship on the line. New Castle (25-0) meets Hampton (22-3) in the WPIAL Class AAAA final at Duquesne University's Palumbo Center in what is indeed a historic matchup.
Think of it: In 102 seasons of WPIAL title games there has never been a series like New Castle vs. Hampton. The first WPIAL champion was crowned in 1909 and the first title game played in 1913. In 101 seasons of championship games, there have been a handful of times that the same two teams played in a final in back-to-back seasons. But not in the history of the WPIAL have two teams met in a title game three consecutive years.
There is no need for introductions between these two. They met in the Class AAA final in 2012 and the AAAA championship last year. They played in the same section the past two years. Heck, Hampton twins Ryan and Collin Luther and New Castle's Anthony Richards played on the same AAU teams for a number of years in Western Pennsylvania and also in Maryland. One of the teams was coached by the Luther's father, Bill, and also Richards' father, Dave, who is a New Castle assistant.
"They know how we play and we know how they play," Hampton senior Ryan Luther said. "It's not that we think of it every game, but we always knew this year again if we were going to win a championship we'd have to go through New Castle."
Could this be termed a rivalry since the two have been playing each other on a regular basis for only three years? Or is it more a mini-series that was renewed for its third year.
"Rivalries are developed over competition and generally for championships," Hampton coach Joe Lafko said.
But Luther said, "For it to be a rivalry, we have to win and we haven't done that yet."
Hampton is 0-6 against New Castle the past three seasons and has come within double figures only once (54-50 loss last year).
"I think the definition of stupidity is when you do something over and over and expect different results," Lafko said. "We'll have to work on a game plan for New Castle."
A year ago, New Castle became the first team in WPIAL history to win back-to-back titles with an undefeated record. Now the Red Hurricanes will try to make it three consecutive perfect seasons.
It will be CV vs. CV as Chartiers Valley (24-1) plays Central Valley (21-3) tonight at 9.
The coaching matchup is intriguing. Brandon Ambrose has taken Central Valley to the title game in the school's fourth year of existence. Meanwhile, this is the 10th championship game appearance for Chartiers Valley under coach Tim McConnell and McConnell has a chance to put himself in legendary company.
McConnell has won five championships and only four other coaches in WPIAL history have won six. Farrell's Ed McCluskey won 11, Blackhawk's John Miller eight, Midland's Ed Olkowski eight and Duquesne's Rich Moran six.
But McConnell pooh-poohs his chance for elite company.
"That's something to maybe look at later in life," McConnell said. "This is about this team and not how many wins I have."
For the record, McConnell, who displays a fiery temperament on the bench, is 483-112 (.811 percentage all at Char Valley) since he started in 1993. Has he changed at all over the years?
"I've mellowed a little, maybe just a little," he said. "People misconstrue my intensity. That's how intense I want my players to be. I'm an intense guy. I played intense and I coach intense. It's nothing personal against the players. They know I like them and care about them. They wouldn't want to be on the team if they didn't know that."
McConnell acknowledges this is far from his most talented team, but the Colts still win. The team's tallest starter is 6-foot-1 Joe Antonucci. McConnell's son, Matty, leads the team in scoring at 21 a game and his cousin, Jerrad Tuite, averages 16.
Central Valley has a size advantage with Matt Kline, a 6-8 center, and Tony Gates, a 6-4 forward.
No Beaver Falls. No Aliquippa. These are some new faces in the Class AA final as Seton-LaSalle (24-1) takes on Greensburg Central Catholic (22-2) Saturday at 1 p.m.
This is only Greensburg Central Catholic's second title game appearance while it is Seton-LaSalle's first since 2000. It is the first time two Catholic schools have met in the title game since Seton-LaSalle lost to Bishop Boyle, 83-65, in the title game at the Civic Arena in 1982. Chartiers Valley coach Tim McConnell was a member of that Seton-LaSalle team. Boyle closed in 1987.
The Class AA final has been a blowout the past three seasons with the winning margin by 19 points or more. This game promises to be different. Both teams have talented guards -- Seton-LaSalle's Dale Clancy and Greensburg Central Catholic's Brian Graytok. But inside play could be the difference.
"They're a really good team," Seton-LaSalle coach Mark "Knobby" Walsh said. "[Greensburg Central Catholic Greg Bisignani] does a great job. I think Brian Graytok is one of the better guards in Class AA. They've got three or four guys who can shoot it. It's going to be a game that's going to be up and down because they like to get up and down, and run and score."
Seton-LaSalle could sweep the boys and girls titles. It has happened only 12 other times in WPIAL history. The first to do it was Beaver Falls in 1985 and the last was Vincentian last year.
Lincoln Park (24-1) takes on Monessen (20-5) in a game that has an interesting storyline.
Elijah Minnie, a standout 6-8 senior forward for Lincoln Park, played at Monessen as a freshman. He attended Summit Academy as a sophomore and then transferred to Lincoln Park as a junior.
Many were expecting a Lincoln Park-Vincentian final, but Monessen knocked off Vincentian, 110-99, in the semifinals in the highest-scoring game in WPIAL playoff history.
Monessen doesn't have a starter taller than 6-1 while Lincoln Park has Minnie, 6-7 forward Ryan Skovranko and 6-7 guard Maverick Rowan.
"They've got Elijah Minnie. We grew up together," Monessen's Clintell Gillaspie said. "It should be a good game. It should be just like the Vincentian game, but probably way more intense."
Rowan, who already has accepted a scholarship to Pitt, has 97 points in three playoff games. Only nine players in WPIAL playoff history have scored 120 points or more in one tournament. The leader is Penn Hills' Drew Schifino, who scored 147 in 2000.