Clairton proves it can do more than play football
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Early in the first quarter, the Union student section erupted with a “This ain't football” chant after taking its first lead over Clairton.
In reality, Friday night's WPIAL Class A basketball quarterfinal resembled football quite a bit when it was all said and done.
Clairton and its roster made up entirely of its record-setting football team advanced to the Class A semifinals in impressive fashion with a 66-55 win over No. 4 Union at North Hills.
“We want to show people that we just can't play football — that we can play basketball as well,” Pitt football recruit Terrish Webb said. “It isn't all about football for us.”
Webb scored a career-high 24 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter, as the Bears qualified for the state playoffs with the win.
Clairton will take on Lincoln Park, a 99-58 winner over Wilkinsburg, Tuesday at a time and site to be determined. Lincoln Park, the state's top-ranked team, eliminated the Bears in the same round last year.
“This was a statement game, definitely,” point guard Byron Clifford said. “We want to let the rest of the WPIAL know what is coming. Everybody thinks we are just football players. We take offense to that. We don't want to lose at anything. That's our Clairton pride right there.”
Tyler Boyd added 15 points and 10 rebounds for Clairton, and Clifford chipped in with 14 points.
Union (17-6) was paced by Ben Young's 20 points, Joe Salmen's 14 and Markel Peace's 14.
“We are just starting to get in a groove,” Clairton coach Matt Geletko said. “Even though we played like that, we are still a little unknown in the WPIAL.”
Union's game plan was to take Clifford out of the game with a diamond-and-one defense. It worked as Clifford was stymied for most of the night, but the Scotties weren't expecting a scoring onslaught from Webb.
“He is not the tallest guy, but he is a strong kid who can jump,” Geletko said.
“So he poses a lot of matchup problems when he gets the ball inside like that. He was just on fire.”
Webb continued to hit open jumpers from the elbow area and near the foul line, and Union continued to let him do it.
“My boys kept telling me to shoot it,” Webb said. “They kept leaving me open and I was knocking down shots.”
Even though the Bears were rolling late in the game, the early stages weren't pretty.
Clairton (15-6) missed nine of its first 10 shots and found itself down, 7-4, midway through the first quarter before a series of runs began.
Clairton went on an 11-0 run that spanned into the second quarter to take a 15-7 lead before Union answered with a 12-3 spurt to take a 19-17 advantage.
The Bears finally answered with a 12-2 run — highlighted by late 3-pointers by Boyd and Clifford — to end the half to take a 29-21 lead.
“We didn't get a whole lot of other looks than Webb,” Geletko said.
“They did a good job defensively on us. If we are shooting well we are tough because we are going to get the defensive effort.”
Clairton shot 28 of 57 from the floor, including 6 of 13 from 3-point range.
Clairton used a 7-0 run to end the third quarter to take a 46-32 lead.
Union rallied to get it to 46-39 early in the fourth, but the Bears scored six unanswered to put the game away and advance.
“I would've liked to start the fourth quarter a little better,” Geletko said. “Other than that, I don't have any complaints. We might be getting noticed for basketball, and these kids are OK with that.”
Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib
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