Clairton eyes another WPIAL title — basketball this time
When Elijah Minnie's desperation 3-pointer missed at the buzzer to seal Clairton's 71-70 upset victory over top-seeded Lincoln Park, Bears fans stormed the court at Keystone Oaks in a frenzied celebration.
Though it has become popular to storm the court after relatively meaningless victories, this wasn't one of them. This was an upset win over a Lincoln Park (19-6) squad many believed had the WPIAL Class A title in the bag by a Clairton team that was considered to be just an athletic bunch of football players with no chance against a group of dedicated basketball players.
“I think if they win (the WPIAL title), they'll realize it, and maybe some people are coming around,” Clairton coach Matt Geletko said. “But I think it will take a win for people to say that these aren't just football players out there playing basketball.”
Clairton (16-6) will make its first WPIAL Class A championship game appearance since beating Duquesne for the title in 2006 when the Bears take the floor against second-seeded Vincentian (24-1) at 7 p.m. Friday. For a team that has made Heinz Field a second home with five consecutive WPIAL Class A football titles, a trip to Duquesne University will be a welcomed change.
“This is real important because ever since we were little, like in eighth grade, this group has talked about playing at the Palumbo and winning states and all of that,” Clairton senior Titus Howard said. “Now we have a chance to do something we've wanted to do since we were kids.”
With a win, Clairton would join some elite company. No team has swept the WPIAL football and basketball titles in the same school year since Central Catholic (Class AAAA), Jeannette (Class AA) and Serra Catholic (Class A) did it in 2007-08. Both Central Catholic and Jeannette also won the state football title that year, but only the Jayhawks, led by Terrelle Pryor, won both the state football and basketball titles.
No one was happier than Howard that Clairton was able to erase an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Lincoln Park and have that opportunity. With just under 4:00 remaining in the third quarter, he hit a 3-pointer that trimmed the Leopards' lead to 51-50, then backpedaled into defensive position and taunted the crowd by tugging the orange-lettered school name on the front of his jersey.
He was immediately called for a technical foul for “propping,” an automatic call that was added to the rule book in the last couple of years. Geletko had to be restrained on the bench when he was informed of the reason for the technical, and Lincoln Park used the free throws and ensuing possession to start a 10-0 run to close out the quarter.
Because the Bears wear their emotions on their sleeves, Howard said, the players have to keep themselves in check.
“I got a little bit out of hand in the emotion of the game and I have to calm down a little bit,” Howard said. “We get hyped real quick and we just have to stay calm and play our game.”