Tuite scores 29 points to lead Chartiers Valley to 4th WPIAL title game in past 5 years
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This isn't the tallest Chartiers Valley lineup or even the most talented in recent years. Yet, for the fourth time in five seasons, the Colts will visit Palumbo Center.
“We're not the biggest guys, but that doesn't matter; we have the biggest hearts,” said senior Jerrad Tuite, a 5-foot-9 guard who scored 18 of his game-high 29 points in the fourth quarter of Tuesday night's 71-57 semifinal victory over Uniontown in the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs at Baldwin.
Against a talented, taller opponent, the Colts' desire showed.
Ahead by three at halftime, Chartiers Valley used a strong third quarter to build a double-digit lead, and then watched Tuite make 14 of his 17 free throws in the fourth to seal the win.
“They find a way,” CV coach Tim McConnell said. “You can't judge our team by the size we are when we walk out on the floor. ... Are we the best basketball players? No. But do we work hard? Absolutely.”
No. 1 Chartiers Valley (24-1) will face No. 2 Central Valley at 9 p.m., Friday, in the WPIAL Class AAA final. No. 5 Uniontown (21-2), which was seeking its first WPIAL championship since 2002, already has qualified for the state playoffs.
Returning to Palumbo was especially important for Tuite, who missed his junior season with a knee injury. He was on the bench last winter when Chartiers Valley lost there to Montour in the final.
“We talked about it before the game and said, ‘This is your opportunity. You want to play at the Palumbo Center, let's go out and get it done,' ” said McConnell, who's Tuite's uncle. “He took it to heart.”
Tuite scored 18 of his team's final 25 points in a second-half performance McConnell called “phenomenal.”
Chartiers Valley, which missed its first eight 3-point attempts, used defense and some key offensive rebounds to lead 43-34 after three quarters. With 3:49 left, a layup by Uniontown junior Lyric Ellis cut the lead to 53-44. But Uniontown got no closer than nine points.
Four consecutive free throws by Tuite pushed the lead to 13. After missing five of his first nine, Tuite made 13 of his final 14 foul shots.
“If we're going to trade two foul shots for a basket every time, I like my chances,” McConnell said. “He's been a very good foul shooter for us.”
Eddie Flohr added 15 points for Chartiers Valley, and Matty McConnell had 10. Jordan Pratt and Lyric Ellis each had 15 points for Uniontown. Xavier Ellis had 14.
Both teams had one loss before Tuesday. Uniontown had won 12 consecutive since a loss to Class A finalist Monessen on Jan. 4. Chartiers Valley had won 16 straight since a one-point loss to Ambridge on Dec. 28.
“We hung with them for a while, but we really didn't play very well on offense or defense,” Uniontown coach Rob Kezmarsky said. “But I'm still very proud of this team. We worked all year to earn a No. 2 seed, where we wouldn't have to meet (Chartiers Valley) until we got to Palumbo. It didn't work out that way, but you still have to play your best when you are playing the best team. Tonight, we didn't do that.”
Chartiers Valley played much of the first half without Matty McConnell. The junior guard sat for the final 6:35 of the second quarter with three fouls. Yet, the Colts claimed a lead without him. A 3-pointer by freshman Ross Wilkerson 2 seconds before halftime gave Chartiers Valley a 26-23 lead.
“For not having Matty in the game for that many minutes, I was extremely happy (to have the lead),” Tim McConnell said. “That three by Ross Wilkerson at the end of the half gave us a spark, gave us some momentum. We were fired up.”
With 3-pointers from McConnell and Flohr, Chartiers Valley outscored Uniontown 17-11 in the third quarter. That momentum carried over to the Colts' 28-point fourth quarter that clinched another trip to Palumbo.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I watched my cousins play down there,” Tuite said. “You say, one day, that's going to be me. Finally, I'm going to make it a reality.”
Along with being last year's runners-up, Chartiers Valley was Class AAA champion in 2010 and Class AAAA runner-up in 2011.
“When my nephew transferred to Char Valley, I told him there's only one thing I can promise you: ‘There's a chance you could play for a WPIAL championship,' ” McConnell said. “With him getting hurt last year, he lost that opportunity. And now we're back, and I'm able to keep that promise.”
Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.
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