As school prepares to close, Vincentian Academy wins WPIAL championship
Thursday, February 27, 2020 | 8:50 PM
Earlier this week, just a few days before the boys basketball team was set to play for a WPIAL Class A championship, Vincentian Academy announced that it would be closing its doors at the end of the school year for financial reasons.
The Royals were stunned. Players texted coach Tim Tyree and even he couldn’t comprehend what he had learned.
“I didn’t believe them, and then they showed me and I was still in disbelief,” Tyree said. “I probably still won’t believe it until the doors are locked and my keys don’t work anymore.”
Rather than let the news distract them from earning their fourth WPIAL championship since 2011, the Royals used it as motivation. They wanted to become the final team in school history to raise a WPIAL basketball trophy.
That’s exactly what they did.
Led by a 12-point, 17-rebound performance from 6-foot-6 junior forward Angelo Reeves, the top-seeded Royals (21-4) led for all but two minutes of the championship game and cruised past Section 1-1A rival Cornell, 63-51.
“These guys work hard day in and day out to get to this point,” Tyree said. “So I am just really happy to see them go out there and lift that gold.”
With the thought of their school closing and the future of their underclassmen undecided, the Royals could’ve lost focus throughout the week. They could have allowed it to affect their preparation.
Instead, the Royals used basketball as their escape. They used preparation as their distraction.
“Once we get in the gym, everything clears our heads,” senior Ethan Embleton said. “We’re focused on one thing and one thing only. Knowing that this is the last year that Vincentian is going to be open, we wanted to go out on a high note — being No. 1 in the state, being No. 1 in everything.”
It showed Thursday night at Pitt’s Petersen Event Center.
Cornell led for the first two minutes of the game, but the Royals responded by producing a 5-0 run to take a 6-2 lead with just under five minutes left in the first quarter. From there, they never looked back.
After eight minutes, they led by two, and then they took a nine-point lead into the locker room. Although the Raiders only trailed by single digits, they seemed hampered at times throughout the game.
Senior guard Kaden DiVito picked up his second foul with four minutes left in the first, then was forced to take another seat with three minutes left in the second after picking up his third.
Due to their lack of size compared to Vincentian Academy, which has four players over 6-foot-4, the Raiders had to play a little more physical, and they got penalized for it.
“At home, we were able to play a little bit rougher defense without getting calls like that,” DiVito said about the difference between their Feb. 7 matchup, which they won 66-57, and Thursday night’s contest. “I feel like tonight it was really touchy, and when you’re a small team like this, you have to be a little more physical with them 6-6 guys.”
The Raiders couldn’t quite find their range from deep either. They hit six 3-pointers, and four of them came from Zaier Harrison, who scored a game-high 22 points.
With just under four minutes left in the third quarter, the Royals extended their lead to 15 on a Reeves dunk, which all but signified a nail in the coffin.
Neither team is done yet, though, as both turn their attention to the PIAA tournament. Last season, the Royals lost to Sankofa Freedom Academy in the PIAA championship game, and they are looking to set the bar even higher in their final season.
“We have an opportunity to go down in history,” Tyree said. “And not just go down as the 2020 champion, but forever because after these guys, no one will put on a Vincentian jersey, and it really means a lot.”
The Royals will play the fourth-place finisher from District 9 on Friday while Cornell will play the third-place finisher from District 6.
Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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