Latrobe holds on to defeat Penn Hills, earn share of section title
The WPIAL will need to order two more section champion plaques.
Latrobe senior Austin Butler made two free throws with 9 seconds left and his Wildcats made a last-second defensive stand Friday night to force a three-way tie for the section title with a 76-75 victory over Penn Hills.
A capacity home crowd celebrated when Latrobe's Jake Biss deflected a Penn Hills pass and time expired.
“I'm overwhelmed right now; I'm speechless,” Biss said. “Luckily I got a piece of it and knocked it away.”
With a win, Penn Hills would have finished in first place all alone in Section 3-6A. Instead, Latrobe (18-3, 12-2), Penn Hills (18-3, 12-2) and Fox Chapel (19-2, 12-2) finish tied for first.
“It's one of the most electric games I've played in,” said Butler, who finished with 26 points. “Three section championships in a row is an unreal feeling.”
Penn Hills' Davion Stephens was slowly working for a final shot when Butler and Reed Fenton trapped him near the top of the key. Stephens then threw a hurried pass toward the baseline that Biss knocked away.
“(Stephens) picked up his dribble and had nowhere to go,” Butler said. “I trusted my teammates completely. When I turned around, I knew they'd be in the right spots. Jake rotated where he was supposed to be, jumped up, tipped it and made a great play.”
Each team had four scorers in double figures. Fenton scored 19 points, Biss had 15 and Marcus Dudzenski had 11. Penn Hills' Sherron Schifino scored 20, Stephens had 19, Chavar Williamson had 17 and Jamil Tarver added 11.
“At the end of the game, I had to decide in whose hands I wanted to put the ball to attack,” Penn Hills coach Dan DeRose said. “We haven't been in this situation all year, so it's really the first time. I put it in Davion's hands, and he was just a little bit too cautious.”
Section 1 champion Pine-Richland should earn the No. 1 seed when the WPIAL playoff brackets are revealed Tuesday night. But this three-way tie atop Section 3 will give the WPIAL basketball committee a dilemma to solve. All three teams split with the others. Penn Hills won the first matchup with Latrobe, 87-71, on Jan. 17.
In the rematch, Latrobe led by 15 point in the first half before Penn Hills rallied late. Penn Hills took its first lead with 6 minutes left in the fourth quarter when junior Stephens made consecutive layups to lead 62-60.
There were nine lead changes in the fourth.
Among them was a 3-pointer by Latrobe's Fenton to lead 70-69 with 3:30 left, before Williamson answered with a Penn Hills basket at the other end for another lead change.
With 16 seconds left, a turnaround jumper by Stephens put Penn Hills ahead 75-74, before Butler drove the floor, drew a foul and hit two free throws with 9 seconds left to lead by one. Butler finished 13 for 17 from the foul line.
“I knew that if I made the second one, our team was strong enough that we could get that last stop and win the game,” Butler said. “I shot it and thought it was a little right, but it rolled around the rim about four times and I saw it was good. I turned around and prayed, ‘Thank you, Thank you.' ”
But Butler had to wait through several more tense seconds to celebrate.
“Me and coach (Brad) Wetzel had the biggest hug in the world,” Butler said. “We didn't let go. Our students ran (on the court). It was perfect.”
Three quarters earlier, Butler's free throws let Latrobe sprint to an 11-2 lead in a quick-paced first quarter.
Butler scored Latrobe's first five points and nine of its first 11. He finished the first quarter with 12 points, but made just two field goals in the first 8 minutes. Instead, he drew four fouls and took 10 free throws. Twice Butler was fouled shooting 3-pointers.
Two free throws by Butler stretched Latrobe's lead to 20-11 with 1:08 left in the quarter.
Penn Hills' scorers started cold. Schifino missed six of his first seven shots and finished the first quarter with two points. The Indians trailed 24-13 after one quarter.
Latrobe's lead reached 15 points less than 2 minutes into the second quarter. A layup and foul shot by Fenton put the Wildcats ahead 30-15.
But Schifino heated up and Penn Hills closed the gap. Schifino hit all four second-quarter shots, went 4 for 4 from the foul line and finished with 12 points.
Latrobe led 44-38 at halftime and 60-56 after three.