Behind big night from Dante DePante, Central Catholic stops New Castle to win 2nd WPIAL title
Saturday, March 4, 2023 | 8:31 PM
Central Catholic hadn’t won a WPIAL title in 15 years, but Dante DePante made himself at home in Petersen Events Center, an arena that’s about a mile from the Vikings’ gym.
The big college floor seemed advantageous, said DePante, who found lanes into the paint and scored a game-high 29 points as No. 3 Central Catholic defeated No. 1 New Castle, 61-52, in the WPIAL Class 6A final Saturday night.
DePante also drew 10 fouls that caused the Red Hurricanes trouble.
New Castle was making its sixth championship appearance in the past seven years, but the 6-foot-3 guard has upped his game here in the postseason, scoring 88 points combined in three wins.
“I feel like I’ve been playing better throughout the playoffs,” said DePante, who went 10 for 19 shooting in the championship. “Throughout the season there were injuries and stuff, but I feel like, it’s my last year, why not make every game count?”
Vikings teammate Cole Sullivan, a major-college linebacker recruit in football, added 16 points and 10 rebounds.
The WPIAL title was Central Catholic’s second overall and first since 2008. This also was the first championship for fourth-year coach Brian Urso, a former Robert Morris assistant who left the college ranks for the Central job.
“I love coaching basketball. I love this game,” Urso said. “This feeling is surreal. For me it’s not vindication at all. It’s doing what I think I’m called to do.”
Central Catholic (16-9) and New Castle (22-3) share a section and split two regular-season matchups this winter.
New Castle was trying to add a 15th WPIAL title to its record total, but instead the Red Hurricanes lost in the finals for the second year in a row. Jonathan Anderson led New Castle with 22 points, but the team had trouble getting to the basket.
The Red Hurricanes shot 42% from the field — 10% lower than Central Catholic — and went 4 for 17 from 3-point range.
“They did a good job of sitting in the gaps,” Anderson said. “The other two games they were less gap-oriented. … Unfortunately, we didn’t shoot it as well as we shot earlier in the season. This was just one of our off nights.”
New Castle’s Da’Jaun Young added 14 points.
Central Catholic had lost its most-recent meeting with New Castle, 67-53, on Feb. 3. DePante had 11 points that day. This time, he had 11 by halftime and the Vikings led 27-23.
When New Castle took a one-point lead late in the third quarter, DePante answered with three-point play. He then added a runner seconds later, giving Central Catholic a 38-34 lead entering the fourth.
New Castle never retook the lead.
“I don’t think their coach gave them a lot of opportunity to make some plays,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said of himself. “We didn’t do enough right offensively. We probably didn’t press enough buttons.”
Urso said his team spent the week tailoring its defense to matchup with New Castle. The key, he said, was the defensive positioning of senior guards Randy Wilkerson and Tommy Kristian in relation to Payton Wehner.
“If you got past our initial defense, which was Payton, we had really good guys who understand defense and gap activity waiting for them,” Urso said.
Central Catholic also had a size advantage in the paint with Sullivan, a 6-foot-5 junior, and 6-7 senior Debaba Tshiebwe. New Castle’s tallest starter was 6-2. Central Catholic won the rebounding battle 27-20.
“The last three days we spent an enormous among of time reviewing New Castle,” Urso said. “They’re really good. To me, they’re the standard of excellence in basketball. I have a lot of respect for Coach Blundo and how he gets his guys to truly battle for him. So we knew we were going to have to be airtight on defense.”
This was Central Catholic’s third appearance in a WPIAL final and the team’s first since a runner-up finish in 2012. The Vikings also finished second in 1987. This year’s team now joins the 2008 roster as WPIAL champions.
“It’s just amazing,” DePante said. “I’ve never felt anything like it.”
Central Catholic and New Castle both advance to the state playoffs next Saturday. Central Catholic faces Wilson (18-8), the seventh-place team from District 3. New Castle draws Erie High (16-9) of District 10. The PIAA previously said teams listed higher on the bracket can host in the first round, if their gyms meet PIAA guidelines to host.
“Most people think we’re a football school,” said Wehner, who doubles as the Vikings’ starting quarterback. “Yeah, we’re good at football, but I’m glad to bring back a championship to Central in basketball. It means a lot to the school.”
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 email@example.com.
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