Vincentian edges Clairton to claim WPIAL Class A title
Matt Geletko was pacing the sidelines just waiting for the comeback to begin because, well, Clairton never loses in championship games.
He wasn't the only one.
The near-capacity crowd at Duquesne's A.J. Palumbo Center had an eerie silence anticipating Clairton to show a glimpse of what led them to a state record 63-consecutive wins, five consecutive WPIAL titles and four straight state crowns on the football field.
Vincentian had other plans.
The Royals used an up-tempo, drive-it-to-the-basket style to wear down Clairton and then turned the game over to Jim Kenna.
Kenna scored a game-high 24 points, 16 of which came in the decisive second half, as No. 1 Vincentian rolled to its second Class A championship in three years with an 86-74 win.
“We've read the newspaper the past couple days,” Vincentian coach George Yokitis said. “We knew what we were up against, and we drew inspiration from that.”
Kenna had the game of his life as he went 7 of 9 from the floor, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range. He was also a perfect 6 for 6 from the foul line and added 11 rebounds.
The Royals (25-1) got 16 from Tony DiNardo while Ryan Wolf added 14, Jay Cortese 11 and Kevin Fischer 10.
Clairton (16-7), which attempted 82 shots, got 20 points from Bryon Clifford while Terrish Webb chipped in with 15, Aaron Matthews 10 and Armani Ford 10.
“My guess is they aren't handling this too well right now,” Geletko said. “This is the first time that we lost in any kind of title game. I think we just kind of ran out of gas.”
Vincentian had plenty to do with that. Yokitis' style is to push the ball down the court and attack the basket, and Clairton's athleticism — with three Division I football players on the court — didn't change that philosophy.
“We told the kids to go to the hoop aggressively,” Yokitis said. “We drive and we try to make it.”
Or in this instance, they go to the foul line. Vincentian converted on a championship-game record 31-of-46 free throws while drawing 28 fouls to Clairton's 14. The Bears attempted only 12 foul shots.
“That tells a big part of the story there,” Geletko said.
Yokitis saw it differently.
“We shoot a lot of foul shots because of the way we push the action,” Yokitis said. “Teams get a little tired and can't move their feet. I think any team that pushes the ball will shoot foul shots. It is hard to referee us because we are all over the place.”
Following an even-played first half, Vincentian took control early in the third when the Royals went on a 11-0 run in a span of 4:15 to turn a 44-39 deficit into a 50-44 lead.
Clairton was able to whittle its deficit down to 51-49 minutes later, but Vincentian got the lead back to eight by the end of the quarter, and when Kenna hit a 3-pointer a minute into the final quarter, the Royals led 68-57.
“They went on a quick run and took a lead and I was getting a little bit nervous,” Kenna said. “We always play in spurts. I was a little bit confident.”
Vincentian connected on 16-of-22 foul shots in the final quarter to put the game away and end Clairton's title hopes.
“We are not used to the silver,” Clairton's Tyler Boyd said.