Guido: Valley's only title came 20 years ago
Valley has had some great basketball teams — but only one has won a WPIAL title.
That came 20 years ago when the Vikings defeated Seton-La Salle, 52-45, on March 12, 1993, to earn the Class AAA crown at Pitt's Fitzgerald Field House.
Valley was also the PIAA runner-up that season, losing the state title game to Pottstown, 85-66, to finish the season with a 30-3 record.
Expectations were high for the Vikings entering the 1992-93 season. Valley had won Section 1-AAA titles the two previous seasons and made it two games into the PIAA tournament.
“It was an unbelievable year,” coach Tom Myers said. “I thought we would do well — we had some kids who started two or three years — but you know how hard it is to win a WPIAL title.”
“We had four seniors and a couple of juniors,” said Tom Pipkins, who became the WPIAL's all-time leading scorer during the season. “We played together for a long time, and we knew this was going to be our last hurrah. We thought we could have gone further the previous couple of years, but we ran into some bad luck. That year, we finally turned the corner.”
The start of the 1992-93 season was delayed one day. Heavy snow postponed the tip-off tournament until Saturday, when all four games were played.
Pipkins hit the 2,000 mark in career scoring during the season-opening tournament.
Valley was undefeated in section play, and it defeated the eventual Class AAAA champ, New Castle, by 30 points and the Class A champ, Duquesne, by 47.
“The kids worked very hard and knew their roles,” Myers said. “Tommy scored 878 points that season, but there was no envy or jealousy.”
The other starters were forward Bill Coury, defensive specialist Monte Banks, shooting guard Mitch Funkhouser and Nate Cope, at 6-foot-3 the tallest player on the team. Myers was assisted by coaches Tom Gustafson and Fred Jackson.
Excitement built as Pipkins approached the career points mark, set in the 1950s by Wampum High School's Don Hennon. Pipkins had a chance to reach the mark in a nonsection game at Penn Hills but was injured. He set the mark at home in a nonsection game against South Park in front of a sellout crowd.
“I knew I was pretty close at Penn Hills,” Pipkins said. “But my leg cramped up, and I didn't go back in. The irony of it all is that I got it in front of the home crowd.”
Valley opened the WPIAL playoffs with convincing wins over Derry (90-45) and Jeannette (71-48).
In the WPIAL semifinals, Valley hoped for a rematch against Blackhawk, a team that it lost to in that school's Christmas tournament.
But that never happened. Valley beat Beaver Falls in the semifinals and Blackhawk was upset by Seton-La Salle.
The most memorable play of the title game came when Seton's Eric Binkowski was driving downcourt for an apparent layup. Pipkins came out of nowhere, leaped over a stunned Binkowski and slapped the ball against the banking board.
“We needed a big play to change the momentum,” Pipkins said. “I grabbed the ball off the board, went the other way and hit a little jumper.”
In the PIAA tournament, Valley knocked off Penn Cambria, St. Marys, Perry and Hickory to reach the title game.
A tired Vikings team fell behind against Pottstown at Hersheypark Arena and never got untracked.
George Guido is a freelance writer.His scholastic column appears Wednesdays.