Vincentian boys basketball team sweeps section rival, captures second WPIAL title
The WPIAL final is a fight to the finish, and when Vincentian met Clairton in the Class A boys championship, the game was just like a prize fight.
The Royals and Bears exchanged runs throughout the first half, with each team landing some serious jabs. But it was the Royals who hit with a couple of haymakers in the second half.
An 11-5 run broke the halftime tie in the Royals' favor, then a series of fouls drawn by the Royals set up a spurt for Vincentian forward Jay Cortese, who scored 11 points in the game, hit seven straight points to help Vincentian build a lead that stayed intact the remainder of the game for the second WPIAL title for the program.
“We played our pace,” Royals coach George Yokitis said after his team's 86-84 victory. “We average 80 points, and we scored 80 points. Clairton played hard, they played well and have great athletes, but we got a spurt or two that helped us build a 10-point lead.”
The Royals used contributions from everyone, but it was junior Jim Kenna who stole the show with 24 points and 10 rebounds.
“This game meant a lot,” Kenna said. “I did not want to let these seniors down. I had to get it done.
“I got open shots, and I was focused. All of us were so focused the whole playoffs.”
The Royals had to fight for their title, as the contest at times resembled a football game with the physicality that went along with the run-and-shoot philosophy of both teams.
Senior forward Matt Rathz played more of an inside game rather than his perimeter role because Kenna was so effective.
“I decided to use my physical attributes more,” Rathz said. “With Kenna doing such a good job outside, I didn't need to be out there. I got underneath and pushed them out of the lanes.”
With a little space in the lanes, Kenna had room to work along with guard Ryan Wolf, who scored 14 points. Senior forward Tony DiNardo scored 16 points, but much of his damage came from the free-throw line where he went 12 of 15.
“We got here as a team and because people step up,” DiNardo said. “This was a game of runs, and we knew we would take some punches, but we withstood them.”
Wolf said tenacity was the key.
“We were back in the gym a week after last season ended working out,” Wolf said. “We kept it close and hopefully they would wear down.”
Junior forward Kevin Fischer also had a nice night, scoring 11 points and playing a big role on defense.
The Royals advanced to the PIAA bracket and begin that quest Friday. The site and opponent was unavailable as of press time.
The road to the finals
There were so many factors Vincentian faced when it met section rival North Catholic for the third time this season.
This time the stakes were higher, as a trip to the WPIAL finals were on the line.
Yokitis was leery heading in with the stigma of beating a tough team three times in a season.
That was compounded by the fact stars Ryan Wolf and Tony DiNardo got in early foul trouble. Then the news of Class A powerhouse Lincoln Park getting upset by Clairton sent shockwaves through the gym.
Through every twist and turn — falling behind in the first quarter, DiNardo only scoring eight points, Wolf sitting a spell, and starter Jim Kenna (who scored 15 points) fouling out midway through the fourth quarter — the Royals managed to run-and-gun their way back to the WPIAL finals, 82-69.
“Everyone stepped up,” DiNardo said. “I got in foul trouble, Wolf got in foul trouble, but Ian Taylor stepped up and hit some huge shots.
“We have confidence in the players coming off the bench. I couldn't be prouder of the commitment and effort of this team. It is the best of any team.”
With the score tied at 16 at the end of one quarter, Vincentian got its legs under it and outscored North Catholic, 28-13, in the second. The squads played evenly in the third, and despite an explosion from Trojans guard Dan Savulchak — who netted 33 points — the Royals held on.
“We started off slow,” Wolf said. “I got running and hit some easy shots. That gave me my confidence back.”
Wolf said it was hard to sit with foul trouble, but his mind was eased by the performance by Kenna, who hit 7-of-8 free throws and two 3-pointers.
“I was getting the open shots, and coach said if you are open, take the shot,” Kenna said. “I practiced a lot on the free throws.”
North Catholic cut an 18-point Vincentian lead to 11. Shortly after, the upset of No. 1 seed Lincoln Park was announced.
“We started celebrating, and Savulchak came down and hit a three, …” Yokitis, Vincentian said. “But they are kids, and we played the game at our pace. If we play at our pace, I feel like we have a chance.”
DiNardo was adamant about not letting the team fall short of greatness in his senior year.
“We would not have been here in April,” he said. “But we worked, and now hopefully we can get our second WPIAL championship (in three seasons).”
Jerry Clark is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-779-6979 or firstname.lastname@example.org.