With heavy hearts, OLSH ties WPIAL record for longest winning streak

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Tuesday, January 25, 2022 | 12:01 AM


As Our Lady of the Sacred Heart made WPIAL history Monday night, the boys basketball team wasn’t focused on what it was playing for, but rather who.

Jake DiMichele scored 31 points, Dawson Summers had a triple-double and the Chargers tied for the longest winning streak in WPIAL history — 52 games — by defeating Avonworth, 84-47, in a nonsection game that drew an energetic home crowd eager to see history.

In the final seconds, the OLSH student section chanted, “52! 52! 52!”

Yet, the basketball team wore T-shirts with the No. 51 on the back, a tribute to the football jersey number of senior basketball teammate Al Magnelli, whose father “Big Al” died days earlier from injuries he suffered in a car accident.

Their teammate was in the car, too, and survived, but hasn’t yet rejoined the team.

The crash happened shortly before Christmas on the way to practice. Magnelli Sr. was hospitalized and died Jan. 13.

“Our community, our program, we’ve had a tough two weeks,” said DiMichele, who called Magnelli Jr. his best friend. “His dad would be at every game, front row. Coming into this year, his dad said: ‘We’re going to get that streak!’ We were kind of down because we lost him, but Coach Rod said … ‘Forget about what you’re playing for. Think about who you’re playing for.’”

With win No. 52 in a row, OLSH tied a record set by Uniontown in 1963-65. Washington also tied the mark in 1983-85.

“You really need to cherish all of these moments,” DiMichele said. “What we just did tonight, that’s something special. It hasn’t been done in however many years.”

OLSH (12-0) can own the record outright with a section win Friday at South Side (6-8). The team also has a game Saturday against Shady Side Academy (10-4) in the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Classic at Montour.

The Chargers haven’t lost since Jan. 7, 2020.

After that loss to Aliquippa two years ago, the Chargers went on a 16-game winning streak, won the WPIAL title and reached the state quarterfinals. But the PIAA then canceled the rest of the 2020 tournament in the early days of the covid pandemic. Last winter, the team went 24-0, winning WPIAL and PIAA Class 2A titles with an undefeated record, pushing the team’s winning streak to 40 games.

Along the way, OLSH coach Mike Rodriguez has insisted the streak never became the focus.

“We really don’t talk about it,” he said. “We know there’s covid and it’s a pandemic, (but) it’s a wonderful, wonderful honor to be mentioned with Uniontown and Wash High.”

It became clear early in Monday’s game that OLSH would tie the record. The Chargers raced to a 21-9 lead in the first quarter, and the margin reached 20 when DiMichele made a step-back 3 just before halftime.

OLSH led 41-21 at half and 69-34 after three.

Summers, a 6-foot-5 senior, contributed 19 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocks. He was one of four Chargers in double figures. Rocco Spadafora had 13 points and 10 assists, and Bryson Kirschner added 12 points.

OLSH isn’t just winning. The Chargers have won games this winter by an average of 32 points. Avonworth (11-4) tried but didn’t slow them down.

DiMichele, a senior, has played in all 52 wins in the streak.

“Once you learn to win, you start to win a lot,” DiMichele said, “because you’ve been in basically every situation before. We’ve played in the WPIAL championship. We’ve played in the state championship. It’s helped us be locked in for games like this.”

There was no jubilant postgame celebration, in part because the team hasn’t focused on the streak, Rodriguez said. But also, he added, the players have had heavy hearts with the Magnellis on their minds.

Rodriguez described Magnelli Sr. as “kind” with a “larger than life” presence. He worked the first-down sticks for OLSH football games, and made meals for the basketball team.

“We didn’t give any big speeches after the game or before the game,” Rodriguez said. “We just went over the game plan. But (the players) were kind of huddling together before the game and going over their own decisions. I think they were on a mission tonight.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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