Clairton coming together as WPIAL playoffs deepen
All week long, the message has been the same from Dave Smialowski.
“This isn't football, this is basketball,” the Union coach said.
Knowing that, Union will have a chance in Friday's WPIAL Class A quarterfinal game against Clairton.
Clairton's record-setting football team of 63 consecutive wins finds itself in the thick of another postseason run. The sport has changed, but the faces haven't as every contributor to the Bears basketball team also plays football, and Smialowski is well aware of that heading into tonight's game at North Hills.
“We compete in Class A football, and we know what Clairton is all about,” Smialowski said. “Our kids are really looking forward to the challenge. We want to show that we can compete as well.”
Clairton (14-6) has been an unknown throughout the season mostly because rookie coach Matt Geletko never knew who he would have for a particular game.
Clairton's Division I football recruits — Tyler Boyd, Terrish Webb and Titus Howard — have played only a handful of games together, but when paired with guard Bryon Clifford, the Bears have been nearly unstoppable.
“It has been a little tough getting a grasp on what they do, but we know what they do,” Smialowski said. “They are athletic but when you add (Boyd, Webb, Howard) to the mix, they are even more athletic and more dangerous.”
But it is the little-known football player who has had the biggest impact for the Bears.
Clifford scored 21 in a first-round win over St. Joseph. He is averaging 18.7 points per game but remains a relative unknown in the WPIAL.
“I don't know why, because he has been playing ball for a long time,” Geletko said. “He started last year and put up pretty good numbers. He does it all for us. And now that Tyler Boyd is back, he can handle the ball and free up Bryon on the wing more.”
The Bears have won six of their past seven games with the only loss coming at Class AAAA Norwin, but if the win over St. Joseph was any indication, the Bears are hitting on all cylinders at the right time.
“We defended very well and got out in transition,” Geletko said. “We made open shots and that is key for us. That doesn't sound like much, but when you do all the little things well, good things happen.”
Clairton will have its hands full with Union (17-5).
The Scotties rely on the 3-point shot, averaging six per game. Markel Peace leads the way at 19.1 points per game, followed by Ben Young (13.2), Joe Salmen (12.6) and Tre Major (10.4).
“They are very similar to us,” Geletko said. “They don't have a lot of size and they are athletic. They can shoot the three but are athletic enough to get to the hoop.”
Geletko feels whoever shoots the best will win.
“There has always been a knock on Clairton for not being a good outside shooting team,” Geletko said. “We see a lot of zone and we do a lot of work on our outside shooting. If we shoot well, we are tough to beat.”
The winner qualifies for the state playoffs.
In WPIAL Class AAA action, Thomas Jefferson (17-6) gets a rematch with Montour (19-4) at Bethel Park at 8 p.m.
The Jaguars lost to Montour, 69-47, on Jan. 23.
Now, the Spartans stand in the way of Thomas Jefferson advancing to the semifinals for the first time since 2006.
Both teams play a physical brand of basketball led by a trio of football players.
Montour is led by Devin Wilson's 17 points per game while Thomas Jefferson counters with Joe Carroll (17 ppg) and Chase Winovich (12 ppg)
Montour has won 12 in a row since losing to the Quad-A No. 1 seed New Castle on Jan. 12. Since then, the Spartans beat six playoff teams, including top-seeded Chartiers Valley. Montour finished in second place in Section 5-AAA behind Chartiers Valley.
Thomas Jefferson, the Section 4-AAA champs, have won five in a row.
The winner will take on either Mars or Uniontown on Tuesday in the semifinals.