Saltsburg the district champs - again
Indiana - They say it's difficult to beat a quality team three times in the same season and the Saltsburg Trojans proved it, again!
After suffering two regular season defeats to Homer-Center, the third time was the charm for the Trojans as they upset the Wildcats 51-46 in front of over 2,200 screaming fans last Saturday in the PIAA District 6 Class A boys championship game at IUP's Memorial Field House.
The title was the Trojans' third in four years. They weren't far from a 4th back in 1999. They had defeated Homer-Center twice during the regular season only to lose to the Wildcats in the district semi-finals.
Following that upset victory, Homer-Center went on to win their third district championship.
"There's something special about this team," said Saltsburg head coach Stan Pizer who is now 163-98 in his 11 years at Saltsburg.
"I'm not sure what it is, but there's something special. This was a total team effort and I couldn't be any prouder of them."
Saltsburg jumped out to a 9-2 lead, but the Wildcats reeled off 11 points in a row to lead 13-9, and they led 15-13 after one quarter.
Despite bouncing back to take the lead, Homer-Center found themselves in trouble, foul trouble.
In a tightly officiated game Homer-Center's three forwards including leading scorer Doug McNulty, Derek Mechling, and Josiah Lenzi all were whistled for two fouls each by the time the second minute of the second quarter rolled around. McNulty was forced to sit out the final seven minutes of the half.
"Getting those guys out of the game certainly didn't help us much," said Wildcats second year head coach Josh Shoop. "But we just didn't get the job done. Our other guys did a good job of keeping us in the game but it's a shame that our (starters) had to sit there and watch all of that stuff going on."
With the score tied at 21, the Trojans took advantage of the Wildcats' troubles scoring the final seven points of the 2nd quarter holding a 28-21 lead at the intermission.
Saltsburg beat Homer-Center at its own game, defense. The Trojans held the Wildcats to just 6 points each in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, sagging inside and daring HC to beat them from the outside. They couldn't.
As a matter of fact, Homer-Center shot a miserable 33 percent (19 for 58) from the field converting just 6 of 24 three point attempts.
"They took us out of our game plan," said a dejected Shoop. "They didn't allow us to do the things we worked on in practice all week. Some of our guys weren't reacting, they were thinking too much. I think some of our guys were playing afraid but you have to go out and do the things that make you a good player and do the things that got you here. For whatever reason we didn't do that."
In many ways the game was a role reversal. Homer-Center is the team noted for its stifling defense while Saltsburg relies heavily on scoring in transition and playing an up-tempo game.
In this contest, it was the Wildcats that attempted 21 more shots than their opponent. Saltsburg was 17 of 37 from the field, good for 46 percent. Saltsburg was 10 of 17 in the first half (59%).
After McNulty picked up his third foul early in the 3rd quarter, you knew the Wildcats were teetering. McNulty, who sat out most of the second, and portions of the 3rd and 4th quarters, was held to single digits for the first time this season. He finished with just 9 points and 7 rebounds.
He had recorded 23 double doubles (double digits in points scored and rebounds) entering the game.
"We wanted to attack their zone and then reverse the ball to try to get it to Doug," said Shoop. "That's our game, but we kept the ball on one side of the floor most of the night and we couldn't get it to him. We didn't do the things you need to do to break a zone. We were completely out of character."
"Greg Ewing did a fantastic job on McNulty," Pizer commented. "He just put a body on him and kept him away from the hoop. Our plan was to deny him the ball at all costs, and Greg did a great job with that and he had some help."
Saltsburg's lead mushroomed to 14, 39-25 in the third quarter as they rode the hot shooting of junior guard Greg Ulisse. Ulisse scored a game high 18 points hitting 6 of 9 from the field including 4 of 6 from outside the arc. Sophomore Joey Reed added 11 points.
"Ulisse played a tremendous game," said Shoop. "He kept getting open on the base line and we worked on that in practice, we worked at it during our game-day shoot-around, we talked about it before the game, but for some reason we left him open and he was able to hit the shots."
The Trojans' leading scorer Brian Pizer (30.4 ppg) was held to only 10 points but Ulisse and Reed helped to compensate.
"If you would have to me before the game that Pizer would score 10 and (Rick) Spallone 8, I'd say we would win," Shoop said.
"I thought we did a great job on him, but those other two guys ended up beating us. That and our ineffectiveness on offense. We just didn't get the job done." Saltsburg did and they have another championship trophy to prove it.
TROJANS ON TOP--Homer-Center was led by senior guard Joe Kotzur who finished with 20 points including three 3-pointers. No other player finished in double figures for HC...Both teams were scheduled to open action in the state playoffs tonight. Saltsburg earned the right to stay at home. The Trojans meet Duquesne, the 4th seed out of the WPIAL at 7 PM at IUP. The Dukes have just an 11-17 record but came on in the WPIAL playoffs...Meanwhile Homer-Center travels to Clarion University to meet Clarion High School (20-7), the District 9 champion...McNulty needs just 13 points to break Renaldo "Tiny" Lovisa's single season scoring record of 613 points, set in 1967-68. He also needs 16 rebounds to break Lovisa's single season of record of 372 set in the same season as he led the Wildcats to the Western Finals. East Brady prevented Homer-Center from advancing to the state finals, 49-48.