Irwin's presence makes difference for Monessen in WPIAL playoffs
Jaisen Irwin wasn't much help to Monessen the last time the Greyhounds played Greensburg Central Catholic in the WPIAL boys basketball playoffs, but he sure made his mark this time.
Irwin scored 33 points to lead top-seeded Monessen into the Class AA title game with a 63-58 victory over GCC in the semifinals Wednesday night at Gateway — the second year in a row that the Greyhounds have beaten the Centurions in the WPIAL playoffs.
"I knew I had to come out tonight and help my team," said Irwin, a 6-foot-4 senior who leads Monessen in scoring as its sixth man.
The Greyhounds (23-2) will face second-seeded Beaver Falls at 5 p.m. Saturday at Palumbo Center in search of their second consecutive WPIAL championship.
Monessen defeated GCC, 63-43, in last year's title game. Irwin sat out for disciplinary reasons, and GCC got revenge in the PIAA semifinals by beating Monessen, 64-61, with Irwin in the Greyhounds' lineup.
"I was kind of chomping at the bit," Irwin said. "I really wanted to get back out there. This is becoming a good rivalry. I'm happy that we came out on top. It feels terrific."
This latest renewal of a series saw Monessen survive several GCC rallies after the Greyhounds had taken sizable leads.
Chavas Rawlins added 10 points for Monessen, which tried to pad an eight-point halftime cushion but never led by more than eight the rest of the way.
Fifth-seeded GCC (19-6) fought back to pull even at 37-37 on a layup by sophomore Brian Graytok, who led the Centurions with 20 points, before Monessen went back in front on a baseline layup by Irwin.
The Greyhounds stretched the lead to 44-39, only to endure another GCC comeback that saw the Centurions deadlock it again at 49-49 early in the fourth quarter.
A jumper by Graytok knotted the score for the final time at 53-53 before Monessen used a 7-0 run, punctuated by Irwin's dunk, for a 61-53 lead with 2:30 remaining.
"This is a clean rivalry," Monessen coach Joe Salvino said. "Nothing going on but good competition. They're a good team. We're a good team. You couldn't have asked for more. This is what high school basketball is about."
Early on GCC was the aggressor, consistently beating Monessen to loose balls and rebounds while building a 12-6 lead.
Monessen rallied to tie it, 16-16, on Rawlins' 3-pointer, and the teams jockeyed for position the rest of the way.
"They just get a lot of opportunities because of their (superior) athleticism," GCC coach Greg Bisignani said. "They all made a lot of tough shots."
From there, the Greyhounds outscored GCC, 17-9, capped by back-to-back dunks off lob passes to Irwin, the second just beating the halftime buzzer to give Monessen a 33-25 advantage.
P.J. McLaughlin and Ben Klimchock added 16 points apiece for GCC.
"I take the blame for this loss. I didn't have my team ready," Bisignani said. "This is a coach's loss, not a player's loss. Our guys gave 110 percent, but some of our shots didn't go our way."
Greensburg Central Catholic will advance to the PIAA tournament, which gets under way Tuesday with preliminary-round games.