2011 WPIAL Year in Review – Top 25 Stories: #25 – #21
Tuesday, December 27, 2011 | 7:18 PM
2011 has been a tremendous year in high school sports in the WPIAL. It was a year where some familiar champions wore the golden crown again while some new faces surfaced in the championship picture. It was a year when there was plenty of streaking (not like the 70’s) in both the good direction and the not so good direction. It was a year in which we welcomed some while sadly saying so long to others. Over the final few days of 2011, we here at the MSA Sports Network (who once again were there for it all) count down the Top 25 stories from around the WPIAL sports scene starting with #25 through #21.
#25 - BIG COMEBACK BUOYS CHAMPIONSHIP RUN
Down by 11 points with less than two minutes left AND without their leading scorer who had fouled out midway through the fourth quarter, things looked bleak for 5th-seed Gateway in their Class AAAA Quarterfinals boy’s basketball playoff game against Upper St. Clair. But a comeback for the ages helped lead the Gators to a stunning win and an eventual district crown. The Panthers struggled at the foul line as they tried to salt away the win down the stretch, missing 6-10 foul shots in the final three minutes of regulation. Down five points with under a minute remaining, Luke Kochka hit a 3-pointer for Gateway to cut the lead to 55-53. After a time-out, Barnett Harris (16 points) stole the USC inbounds pass which led to his left-handed lay-in to tie the score at 55-55. The Gators then went on to outscore USC 10-6 in overtime. Devon Cotrell, Gateway's go-to offensive player all game fouled out with under four minutes left in regulation, still ended up with 16 points, 7 rebounds and 7 blocked shots. USC's Steve Limberiou had a game-high 19 in the 65-61 overtime loss. Gateway would then move on to beat Butler in the Semifinals and Chartiers Valley in the Championship Game to win the Gators first ever WPIAL boys basketball title.
#24 - MARS AND GREENSBURG CENTRAL CATHOLIC GIRLS PERFECT ON THE PITCH
Three district soccer teams finished the regular season without losing a match – Mars, South Park and Greensburg Central Catholic. The Fighting Planets and the Eagles met in the WPIAL Class AA Championship where Mars squeaked out the win. Mars was able to score the only goal of the first half as Samantha Brueckner scored in the 23rd minute on a free kick from nearly 30 yards. Brueckner was able to twist her shot just inside the near goalpost past Eagle goalkeeper Sierra Davis in a first half that saw Mars dominate play. After South Park tied it, Mars took over and regained dominance the rest of the way, getting the game winning goal in the 64th minute on a goal by midfielder Amber Fichter. Like Brueckner’s goal, Fichter scored off of a free kick except on this occasion, she was able to re-direct Bethany Perri’s free kick into the net from about 8 yards away. The title was the second straight for the Fighting Planets, who went on to win the PIAA title as well and finish with a record of 25-0-1. GCC was perfect with a final regular season mark of 16-0-0 followed by three WPIAL playoff wins to put the Centurions in the title match against Springdale. Greensburg Central Catholic’s Frannie Crouse scored three goals in a seven minute span in the first half as the Centurions won 3-1. GCC’s perfect season would end though in the PIAA Semifinals when Springdale delivered revenge in the form of a 2-0 victory for the Dynamos.
#23 - ELIZABETH FORWARD AND CHARTIERS-HOUSTON DISCOVER DIAMOND GOLD
Two WPIAL teams enjoyed perfect springs on the diamond that led to championships for both the Elizabeth Forward baseball team and the Chartiers-Houston softball team. EF finished the regular season 18-0 before tow more wins put them in the AAA title game against Hampton. In that game, senior Dan Altavilla tossed a two-hitter, including 5.1 perfect innings while striking out ten to improve his record to 10-0 in a 7-0 whitewash of Hampton. The Warriors won a WPIAL baseball championship for only the second time and first since 1976. Elizabeth Forward also becomes the fourth team to win a WPIAL title with a perfect record, the others were Freeport in 1979, Bishop Canevin in 1993 and West Allegheny in 2007. The perfect season however ended when EF lost to Northern Yrok 6-4 in the PIAA Semifinals. Char-Houston was 16-0 before winning four more games in the WPIAL playoffs capped off by a 9-3 rout of Fort Cherry in the Class A softball championship game. Kayla Briggs hit a grand slam, Colby Miller homered and Kiersten Conwell held Fort Cherry to five hits as the Buccaneers captured their eighth WPIAL softball title. Again though, perfection was lost in the state playoffs when the defending champion Bucs lost in the PIAA Semifinals 3-2 to Clarion, snapping a 25-game winning streak.
#22 - PIHL PENGUIN CUP CHAMPS SWEEP FLYERS CUP WINNERS IN PA HOCKEY FINALS
Now if only the NHL versions would follow in the footsteps of high school hockey. The three winners of the 2011 PIHL Penguins Cup Championships, Upper St. Clair, Bishop Canevin and Mars swept the Flyers Cup winners to win all three state title games in the 2011 Pennsylvania Cup Championships at the Ice Line Arena in West Chester. It took overtime, but CJ Murray scored the golden goal as the USC Panthers upset the LaSalle College Explorers 4-3 in Class AAA. Matthew Walsh had a pair of tallies to lead the BC Crusaders to a 4-1 victory over Council Rock South in Class AA. Nick Blaney and Elliot Tisdale each had a pair of goals to lead the three-time Penguins Cup a Champion Fighting Planets to a 5-2 triumph over Springfield-Delco. The sweep is the first for either side since Penguins Cup winners Mount Lebanon, Pine-Richland and Quaker Valley swept the Flyers Cup winners in 2006.
#21 - ALAIN GIRMAN PERFECT IN LEADING SERRA CATHOLIC TO ELUSIVE STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
You’ve heard of the perfect picture. Alain Girman is the perfect pitcher. Girman is now a senior pitcher at Serra Catholic and has been a mainstay on the varsity pitching staff since his freshman year. He still doesn’t know what it’s like to be a losing pitcher in high school. Girman will begin his senior season with a perfect 24-0 record in his career. He was 6-0 as a freshman, 8-0 with a no-hitter in the 2010 WPIAL Class A title game as a sophomore and was 10-0 this past spring as a junior. He has struck out 210 batters the past two seasons. The two-time defending champion Eagles were STUNNED in the WPIAL playoffs when they fell to Chartiers-Houston 9-3 in the district Semifinals without Girman starting. However the Eagles soared in the PIAA playoffs and after losing in the state finals two years in a row, Serra Catholic won their first PIAA baseball championship with a 4-0 win over Reading central Catholic behind Girman’s 3-hitter with 13 strikeouts. Girman has a ways to go next season to break the WPIAL record for most career baseball pitching victories. It is held by Carmichaels graduate Jared Lapkowicz, who was 38-4 from 2002-05.