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Clairton tries to put loss aside, focus on PIAA title

| Monday, March 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Vicentian's Matt Rathz pulls down a rebound in front of Clairton's Bryon Clifford (3) and Santeaun Sims during the second half of their WPIAL Class A boys championship game at A.J. Palumbo Center, Friday March, 3, 2013. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

There is a long hallway under the stands opposite the concourse at Duquesne University's Palumbo Center that houses, among other things, the locker rooms used for the WPIAL basketball playoffs.

After their gut-wrenching 86-74 loss to Vincentian in the WPIAL Class A basketball championship game Friday, heartbroken Clairton players looked longingly the length of that hallway at the Royals players smiling and celebrating their victory.

If nothing else, the Bears realized something. This was how they had made so many other teams feel during their state-record 63-game football winning streak that put four WPIAL and PIAA Class A trophies in the case. This was the disappointment those other schools had to deal with after shaking hands with the Bears and having silver medals draped around their necks like albatrosses after another in a series of systematic demolitions.

To put it bluntly, they didn't like it.

“It hurt us so bad because it's like a war that we lost,” Clairton senior Tyler Boyd said. “We never lose wars, and it's just something we can't take. We wanted to be out there throwing a rampage, but we had to hold everything in and we couldn't do anything about it, but it was painful.”

This group of players, most of whom play football and basketball, had never lost a championship game. They had been an unstoppable juggernaut as they hammered through the WPIAL and state football tournaments the last four years and had never lost a championship game.

Clairton had not lost in a title matchup since a 35-16 loss to Steelton-Highspire in the 2008 PIAA Class A finals — the year these current seniors were in eighth grade. Their only loss on the football field was a 15-8 loss at Laurel in their first game of their freshman year.

Usually when the pressure is on, this group is at its best. They even came up with an incredible upset in the semifinals when they knocked off top-seeded and defending WPIAL Class A champion Lincoln Park to get to the finals.

This time, however, it was not to be.

“I think this is going to be tough to get out of our system. I really do,” first-year coach Matt Geletko said. “But these are tough kids, and I think they're going to rebound well. It's going to be tough to put behind us. It really is.”

Unlike all the teams whose hopes Clairton (16-7) demolished in football, the Bears will have another breath of life Friday when they open PIAA Class A tournament play against District 10 runner-up Cochranton (15-9) at Plum High School.

It's also a second chance they don't want to squander.

“We're definitely going to go into practice hungrier,” Boyd said. “We get to start fresh. Now we have to look at trying to win the state championship after getting silver in the WPIAL, and we're just going to push each other.”

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