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GCC senior class has run to remember

| Friday, March 23, 2012

Greg Bisignani studied the weathered program he'd saved from the 1980 PIAA Class AA boys basketball championship game.

It's meant a lot to him.

"I was there. I was pretty young then. I was just a kid. But I was there," said Bisignani, an orthopedic surgeon by day (and sometimes at night) and the coach at his alma mater, Greensburg Central Catholic, by night (and sometimes during the day).

He might still be feeling like that kid for a time, thinking about GCC's third consecutive trip to the PIAA playoffs, but he won't forget how the Centurions were knocked out on this latest occasion.

They were beaten — handled decisively on Saturday — by Beaver Falls in the Class AA quarterfinals.

To Bisignani's dismay, the state's unofficial No. 1 team in Class AA crushed GCC, 78-49, behind versatile senior guard Sheldon Jeter's incredible double-double of 40 points and 15 rebounds.

"He took over the game. He really came out and performed," Bisignani said. "It was a tough situation for us."

GCC lost decisively last season, too, but it was in the PIAA championship game, to Philadelphia's Imhotep Institute Charter. Unlike the years immediately before and after, the 2010-11 team was going for all the accolades.

It was playing for a prestigious state title.

"What we did last year was remarkable, and these current seniors were a part of it," Bisignani said. "We've won at least one game in the state tournament the last three years and they've all been a part of it. Before that, we'd won in only one season that we'd made the state playoffs.

"And we didn't make them very often."

GCC opened its doors in 1966.

That 1980 team, which also nearly won it all before losing, 71-63, in the PIAA final to Susquehanna Township, was led by 6-foot-10 Larry O'Neill, who played briefly at the University of Syracuse before retiring from basketball with a serious wrist injury.

"You know, these guys I've had this year did something remarkable for this school," Bisignani said. "They not only matched the record (21-7) of the 1980 team, they played in a state championship game, too."

While the current GCC squad possesses no Division I recruits, the five outgoing seniors who made three PIAA appearances include 6-7 forward P.J. McLaughlin, the team's leading scorer and rebounder, who prior to the season signed a scholarship offer from Division II Seton Hill.

"I had a great experience," McLaughlin said of his high school career. "I can't imagine playing for anybody else."

Guard Ben Klimchock, another of the seniors, lugged his gear to the team bus outside North Allegheny High School following Saturday's season-ending loss.

The slick and feisty point guard was shocked about ending his high school playing career.

"It was a fun ride. Three years to the state playoffs," Klimchock said. "It was definitely fun, and there are a lot of memories. Hopefully, we offered enough incentive to the younger kids for them to realize how hard you have to play every day."

Forward Tim Johnson and guards Dan Sinwell and Tom Cochenour are the other GCC seniors who were playing in their 21st and final postseason game.

They had hoped to extend their time on the court, and GCC trailed Beaver Falls by just eight points early in the fourth quarter. But shortly after McLaughlin, who led GCC with 16 points, had fouled out, the Centurions stumbled with no chance of recovering.

"It was a tough way to end it," McLaughlin said.

Dan Sinwell's layup to start the third quarter pulled GCC within 30-23 before Jeter, who's been weighing multiple Division I scholarship offers in advance of the spring signing period in April, scored three quick points on a free throw and putback to help Beaver Falls rebuild a double-digit lead.

Sinwell (14 points) and Klimchock (10) joined McLaughlin in double figures for GCC, which cut the deficit to 47-39 in the fourth on a pair of Sinwell free throws after trailing by as many as 15 points.

With McLaughlin out of the game, though, Jeter continued his rampage, scoring 12 of the Tigers' 33 fourth-quarter points.

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