Aliquippa tops Canevin for Class AA title
Marvin Emerson watched Bishop Canevin get the ball to Kevin Nee for an open look on the right wing, then held his breath when the 3-point shot was released.
Forgive the Aliquippa coach if he had a momentary flashback to how the 2005 WPIAL Class AA championship ended, with Beaver Falls' Lance Jeter hitting 3s to tie it at the end of regulation and win it in triple overtime.
"The shot went up and I looked at the trajectory of the ball and said, 'Lord, not again,'" Emerson said. "You can't take many of those. It's not good for your health."
This one was an airball.
After that heart-wrenching loss, Herb Pope and his Aliquippa teammates made good on their promise to return and win the WPIAL crown with a 57-52 victory over Bishop Canevin on Saturday at Pitt's Petersen Events Center.
It was the third Class AA championship in four years for Aliquippa (26-2), which has won nine WPIAL titles in school history. This could have been the fourth consecutive for the Quips, if not for the 79-78 triple-overtime loss last year.
"It hit me when the horn sounded," Emerson said. "We're a half-court shot away from winning four straight WPIAL titles. That's pretty impressive."
What was most impressive was the play of Pope. The 6-foot-9 junior forward battled Bishop Canevin's bruising defense to draw shooting fouls. He converted 19 of 22 free throws, including 10 of 12 in the fourth quarter, to finish with a game-high 27 points.
"Honestly, I was impressed with his effort to get the ball in the post," Bishop Canevin coach Rich Brennan said. "We thought we could push him outside and he'd stay outside.
"What he really did was he made his foul shots. That's what really hurt us. If he makes 10 percent less of his foul shots, we win the game."
Bishop Canevin (24-4) controlled the pace, holding the WPIAL's highest-scoring team (78.6 points per game) to its third-lowest output of the season. Aliquippa lost its only other games when it scored less than 60, falling to both Quaker Valley (87-56) and Schenley (56-53) in December.
The Crusaders used forwards Robert Eberlein and Mike Midgley - who both fouled out - to try to keep Pope from dominating the paint. The strategy worked, as Pope made only 4 of 15 shots from the field. But he grabbed 21 rebounds and was repeatedly sent to the foul line.
"He's so big, it's hard to box him out," Midgley said. "He has those 6-foot arms and can reach over you. You can't do anything about it."
The Crusaders led 14-12 at the end of the first quarter and 23-21 at the half, but the Quips took control with an 8-0 run to start the third quarter. Midgley led Bishop Canevin with 15 points, with 11 coming in the first half. Duquesne recruit Antonio DiMaria scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half despite being hounded by Aliquippa's Antonio Reddic.
"I'm so proud of my guys for not quitting," Brennan said. "They could have quit numerous times. It's to their credit they didn't. A lot of people wanted Beaver Falls here, but I know this: Bishop Canevin belonged here."
Dominic DiPaolo's 3-pointer with 3:53 left in the game tied it at 47, but Pope energized the Quips by stripping DiPaolo and racing down court to score off a spin move.
After Kevin Smith added another 3-pointer to tie it at 50, Aliquippa went with a smaller lineup to switch through picks and contain the perimeter shooting. Bishop Canevin took a brief 52-51 lead on Eberlein's corner jumper, but Pope was fouled and made both to regain the advantage.
A key play for Aliquippa came after D'Mar Jeter missed the second of two free thows and Patrick Pettis rebounded it with 43.3 seconds left. Pope was fouled and made both shots for a 55-52 lead.
Then Nee's 3-point attempt fell short, and Reddic added two free throws with 5.3 seconds left for the difference. This time, Aliquippa left wearing the gold medals.
"It feels good because last year it was a terrible feeling to come home with the silver medal," Pope said. "We all sat in the locker room and said we were going to do what it takes to win the gold."