WPIAL hits on drive for five

New Castle, Lincoln Park, Blackhawk, Seton-LaSalle and Vincentian all had a boys or girls team win a PIAA title this weekend in Hershey, a new gold standard in Western Pennsylvania basketball


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HERSHEY, Pa. -- While New Castle made history by becoming the first WPIAL boys team to go undefeated in 31 years, it was a historic weekend overall for the WPIAL at the PIAA championships.

Call it the drive for five.

Five WPIAL teams won PIAA championships Friday and Saturday in Hershey. That is the most for the league since the PIAA started having boys and girls championships in 1973.

The WPIAL teams to win titles were the New Castle boys (Class AAAA), Lincoln Park boys (Class A), Blackhawk girls (AAA), Seton-LaSalle girls (AA) and Vincentian girls (A). The WPIAL came close to a sixth title, but the Seton-LaSalle boys lost to Constitution of Philadelphia, 61-59.

"I think it shows that Western Pennsylvania basketball is better than people think," New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said.

In three of the past five seasons, the WPIAL won only one championship. Over the years, the WPIAL has won four championships three times. But never five.

"We have a lot of public schools. We don't have a lot of charter schools like Philadelphia," Blundo said. "I'm proud of what Western Pennsylvania represents in terms of basketball. This was a great year. I think it speaks volumes that Western Pennsylvania basketball might be highly underrated."

Four for football

What is funny about New Castle's title is that the Red Hurricanes did it with four starters who are headed to Division I or I-AA colleges for football.

Malik Hooker will play football at Ohio State, Jake McPhatter at Ball State, Stew Allen at Duquesne and his brother, Drew Allen, at Robert Morris. The fifth starter, Anthony Richards, will play basketball at Division II West Virginia Wesleyan.

More New Castle

New Castle's championship put an end to an unbelievable three-year run. The Red Hurricanes' record in that time was 87-2.

New Castle was only the third WPIAL team to win the Class AAAA title since the classification was started in 1984. The others were Ringgold in 1995 and Penn Hills in 2004.

The New Castle fans were one of the largest contingents from the west that has ever attended the PIAA championships. New Castle sold out of its allotment of 1,500 tickets in an hour-and-a-half Thursday. Blackhawk then sold some of its tickets to New Castle fans. The Blackhawk girls were in the Class AAA final before the New Castle boys. Many other New Castle fans bought tickets the night of the game at the Giant Center.

New Castle brought eight 55-seat student buses to Hershey. That is unheard of for a team from the west.

Blundo, who grew up in New Castle and still lives there, was philosophical after his team won the title.

"New Castle is a unique and special place," he said. "You see all these people, some who probably spent their last dime to come here. It's not a great place economically. I've seen it in the best of times and the tougher times.

"Through it all, I think our fans were a great reflection of our team and I think these kids transformed the thinking of a lot of people. This is what a team looks like, what great looks like and what togetherness looks like."

Attendance

Attendance for the eight games this weekend was a little more than 20,000. The weekend is played in four doubleheaders. The doubleheaders Friday night and Saturday night both drew more than 6,000 fans.

Rowan's scoring

Lincoln Park's Maverick Rowan scored 37 points in the Class A final. There are no records to prove it, but you can bet it is one of the highest-scoring games for any WPIAL player in a PIAA championship. The record for most points in a PIAA title game is 53 by Carlisle's Billy Owens in 1988.

Rowan, a Pitt recruit, seemingly has a chance to break the WPIAL's all-time scoring record. He now has 1,481 points and the record is 2,838 by Valley's Tom Pipkins. And remember, Rowan is only a sophomore.

Elsewhere

* Elijah Minnie, Lincoln Park's 6-foot-8 senior forward, has not made a college choice, but a few Division I schools are interested. Whether Minnie is offered a scholarship might depend largely on whether he qualifies academically to be eligible as a freshman. Robert Morris is one of the schools interested in Minnie and waiting to see what happens with his academics. Minnie said he is considering Robert Morris.

* Vincentian standout guard-forward Brenna Wise, who led Vincentian to a PIAA title, is a junior, but already has about a dozen Division I scholarship offers. Pitt, Villanova, Dayton and Virginia Tech are among the schools that offered.

"I'm definitely keeping my options open and taking it slow," Wise said. "I still have another summer of AAU to see what I can do and see what improvements I can make to my game.

* What are the chances that any team in the PIAA championships will make it back next year? Well, five of the teams in the finals have four starters back, including the Blackhawk girls.

The others are the La Salle College boys, the Susquehanna Township boys, the Math, Civics and Sciences boys and the Cumberland Valley girls.

For more on high school sports, go to "Varsity Blog" at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: mwhite@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh.


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