Sewickley Academy claims 4th WPIAL boys basketball crown
Sewickley Academy had an alumni basketball game recently and boys coach Win Palmer said some former players delivered a few ribbings about the current team's lack of a WPIAL championship.
“A couple guys looked up and said, ‘You guys are good but we don't see any WPIAL banners; lots of sections but no WPIAL banners,' ” Palmer said.
After validation on Friday evening at Petersen Events Center — a 71-60 victory over Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in the WPIAL Class 2A championship — “They can't hold that over our heads anymore,” said Panthers senior guard Chris Groetsch, who scored a game-high 24 points and handed out six assists as the Panthers won their fourth title and first since 2010. The others came in 2004 and ‘09.
Sewickley Academy made the finals last season in Class A but lost to Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, 50-36. Redemption was sweet for a team that used a grueling schedule — in and out of section — and neutral-site games to prepare for this run.
A win at the ultimate neutral site for district teams was a fine form of redemption.
“Getting here last year, we played nervous,” Palmer said. “But we had a great state run and we talked about what could be possible if we played our best. We developed that edge. We learned how to be patient.”
Groetsch led four Panthers in double figures as No. 3 seed Sewickley Academy (20-4) defeated No. 5 OLSH (18-9) for the third time this season, twice in Section 3 play.
Senior Justin Pryor added 15 points, nine in the fourth quarter, and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Panthers. Junior Dave Groetsch scored 13 points, and sophomore Nate Ridgeway chipped in 12 for the Panthers, who used a 12-2 run in the third quarter to finally gain separation and take a 53-41 lead into the final quarter.
“We're a third-quarter team,” Chris Groetsch said with a chuckle.
OLSH, in the finals for the first time since 1999 after upsetting No. 1 seed Greensburg Central Catholic, cut it to eight (66-58) with 1:11 remaining before the Panthers put it away at the foul line. Chargers freshman Donovan Johnson battled foul trouble and was held to two points.
Sophomore guard Austin Wigley scored 20 points and senior forward Ethan Harrell added 18 for OLSH.
“Sewickley is one of the best teams we played all season,” OLSH coach Mike Rodriguez said. “And they still are.”
OLSH didn't go away, even in the fourth, down by 10.
Harrell's three-point play cut it to 61-53 and another one by Wigley made it 64-56 with 2:48 to play.
Sewickley Academy hit a buzzer-beater to end the first three quarters — by Isiah Warfield, Dave Groetsch and Ridgeway.
“The beauty of this team is that you don't know who to stop,” Palmer said. “We're a defensive nightmare. This is as skilled a team as I've coached. Our guys really share the ball well.”
In the third, after OLSH's Romnn Shell scored to tie it 39-39, the Panthers scored the next 10 points, including a fast-break layup by Chris Groetsch that followed a block by Ridgeway. Groetsch is a Johns Hopkins recruit.
“He's our rock,” senior forward Declan Hickton said of Chris Groetsch. “He's a little Energizer Bunny.”
The title meant a little extra for the Groetsches.
“Dave and I can look back and say it was pretty cool to win a championship (together),” Chris Groetsch said.
Sewickley Academy, which made a run to the PIAA Class A semifinals last season, opens the state playoffs Saturday against the fourth-place team from District 10. OLSH plays the third-place team from District 10.