PIAA basketball championships notebook: Seton-La Salle ready for double dip in Hershey

Chris Harlan
| Thursday, March 20, 2014, 6:15 p.m.

For the second time in three seasons, the Seton-La Salle boys basketball team will watch the PIAA Class AA girls championship. This time, though, they'll stick around to chase their own title.

The Seton girls play Friday at noon. The boys play Saturday at 2 p.m.

Only Seton and Neumann-Goretti had both boys and girls teams reach the finals. Not since Mt. Lebanon in 2011 has a WPIAL school sent both.

“It's double the fun,” said boys coach Mark Walsh, a 1986 Seton-La Salle graduate. “It's been so good for the alumni and for the school. It's brought a sense of pride that's probably unparalleled.”

Many from the boys team visited State College in 2012, Walsh said, when the girls beat York Catholic in the Class AA final. It was a motivational experience, he said. The boys last reached a state final in 1988.

“We've been happy for them,” said Walsh, in his third season as Rebels coach. “With their success the last three years, that's really brought a lot of attention to the basketball program. We've been able to latch on to that.”

With 22 hours between their games this weekend, the two Seton-La Salle teams did not travel together. The girls left Thursday for Hershey. The boys will leave early Friday morning.

“It's a whirlwind,” Walsh said, “but it's a great experience to go through.”

In rare company

With one more win, New Castle could join a very short list of undefeated Class AAAA boys state champions.

The Red Hurricanes (30-0) would become only the fourth since the PIAA added its largest basketball classification in 1984. The others were Williamsport (30-0 in 1984), Carlisle (33-0 in 1988) and Chester (32-0 in 2012).

“I don't think people can understand and appreciate how difficult that is,” said La Salle College coach Joe Dempsey, whose Explorers (23-6) will face New Castle at 8 p.m. Saturday in Hershey. “... I don't care who's on your schedule or which league you're in, they have our utmost respect. To get up 30 times and not have one hiccup, that is just unbelievable.”

New Castle was 29-0 last season before a state semifinal loss to Lower Merion, and 27-0 in 2011-12 before a second-round loss to Montour. In a three-season span, the Red Hurricanes are 86-2.

La Salle was the third-place team in District 12, which includes public and Catholic schools from Philadelphia.

“Both teams want to win and be the state champion,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “The overall record — whether its nine losses, 10 losses, six or zero — will mean nothing at that point.”

Carlisle's undefeated 1987-88 season included a record 53-point effort from senior Billy Owens in the state final to beat Pittsburgh Central Catholic, 80-54. Owens became an All-American at Syracuse and was the third-overall pick in the 1991 NBA Draft.

Chester went unbeaten in 2011-12 with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who's now a freshman starter for Arizona.

But not every superstar goes unbeaten. Lower Merion won the 1996 title with a 32-3 record, when Kobe Bryant was a senior.

WPIAL six-pack

The WPIAL will have six teams in Hershey for this weekend's state championships, an unusually large number. Since the PIAA expanded to four classifications in 1984, only twice before has the WPIAL sent six teams. And never has it sent more than six. In 1992, the six WPIAL teams finished 3-3 in the state finals. In 2012, the teams went 1-5.

Midland's long wait

Midland hasn't celebrated a state title in nearly 40 years, but Lincoln Park could end the town's wait. The Leopards face Philadelphia's MCS Charter in the boys Class A final on Friday afternoon. Midland last hung a PIAA banner in 1976, when now closed Midland High School won its fourth title in six seasons with a 51-50 victory over Holy Ghost Prep in the Class AA final. Lincoln Park, a performing arts charter school, was PIAA runner-up in 2012 and 2011. The team's 2011 loss was to MCS Charter, 70-55.

Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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