Aquinas Academy’s Vinnie Cugini breaks WPIAL basketball all-time scoring record

Tuesday, January 31, 2023 | 7:42 PM

There’s a new all-time leading scorer in WPIAL basketball history, but the newly crowned record holder had a somewhat subdued celebration.

Aquinas Academy senior Vinnie Cugini broke the WPIAL record with a 33-point effort Tuesday night, bettering a mark that had stood for 30 years, but was slightly disappointed the achievement came in a 68-62 section loss at Neighborhood Academy.

The 6-foot-2 guard needed 30 points to tie the record and scored his 31st on a free throw with 2 minutes, 8 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The game was briefly paused with Aquinas trailing by six, and Cugini was greeted on court with giant balloons that celebrated his 2,839th point.

“It feels great,” Cugini said. “Obviously, I wanted to get the win, but it is what it is. It feels good. It’s a huge accomplishment.”

The event drew a standing-room crowd to the 350-seat gym at Neighborhood Academy, a private school in Stanton Heights, just down the road from Cugini’s home. Aquinas, the school Cugini attends, is in Hampton Township.

Much of the crowd was there to witness history, but it wasn’t clear the record would fall until the fourth quarter, when Cugini scored his last 12 points. Afterward, the student section waved signs that said: “There was no doubt about it!”

“I knew a lot of people were going to come,” he said. “I wish it would have ended a little bit differently, but it’s something I’m never going to forget.”

The previous record was set by former Valley star Tom Pipkins, who graduated with 2,838 points in 1993.

It became clear early in Cugini’s high school career that the WPIAL record might someday be his. The Pitt-Johnstown recruit needed only 29 games to reach 1,000 career points, and 55 games to reach 2,000, a milestone he celebrated last February.

This winter, Cugini wasn’t counting down to the record himself, he said, but others around him surely were.

“It was a fun process,” he said. “I really appreciate everyone coming out and all the attention I’ve been getting. But it is kind of like a sigh of relief. Now we’ve just got to worry about playoffs.”

Aquinas Academy coach George Yokitis added: “I think everyone is glad to have it over, especially Vinnie. He’s not the kind of kid that wants a bunch of attention. That’s not him. He wants the team to win. All he worried about tonight was trying to win this game. It was an important game for us. This record would happen when it happened.”

Tuesday’s game was a key matchup in Section 3-A where Neighborhood Academy (13-4, 4-3), Aquinas Academy (14-3, 3-3) and Summit Academy (8-4, 3-3) are all battling for second place.

Aquinas Academy led 25-24 at half and 40-39 after three quarters, but Neighborhood Academy scored nine consecutive points early in the fourth and had six straight with about a minute left.

John Wilkins led Neighborhood Academy with 24 points, Courtney Wallace had 20 and Shamar Simpson added 11. Their coach, Jordan Marks, had urged them to stay focused on the outcome, not on Cugini’s record.

“I told them, ‘Don’t worry about the scoring record. Play to win the game,’” Marks said. “I’m happy a lot of people came and saw them, too.”

Still, after Cugini had clinched his spot in WPIAL history, many took time to congratulate their rival.

“That’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” said Neighborhood senior Nathan Hargrove, adding that he‘d known Cugini for years. “Breaking the scoring record is something nobody is probably going to do again for years and years. He’s a good guy. I’m happy for him.”

Cugini scored 55 when these teams met Jan. 6, a game Aquinas won 81-77. But this time, Cugini had a surprising slow start for a player who averages more than 40 points.

He finished the first quarter with four points but found his touch in the second, letting him reach halftime with 16. He added five more points in the third, pushing his total to 21.

“I wasn’t really nervous,” Cugini said. “I knew it was going to be a good atmosphere. That’s just how the game happened.”

He made a 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter and then added two free throws and a couple of layups, the second tying the WPIAL record with 2:27 left.

He finished 8 for 18 from the foul line but had two chances to make history with 2:08 left. He missed the first free throw but made the second — the cue to bring in the balloons.

“He’s a great athlete, a super student and a gentleman,” Yokitis said. “He’s the trifecta, so I couldn’t be happier for a young man like that.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at

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