Butler tops Mt. Lebanon for WPIAL Class 6A title, team’s 1st since 1991
Saturday, February 29, 2020 | 10:27 PM
Ethan Morton waited four years for this celebration, but he had tears in his eyes knowing that his coach and his hometown had waited far longer.
“It’s even better than I’d imagined,” said Morton, who had 20 points, 14 rebounds and five assists Saturday night as No. 1 seed Butler defeated No. 3 Mt. Lebanon, 70-61, in the WPIAL Class 6A boys basketball final at Petersen Events Center.
The WPIAL title was the team’s first since 1991 and only its second in the last 100 years.
“I can’t even describe it,” he said. “This community, the fans, my family, the coaches, my teammates, I’m lost for words. I was literally crying after the game. I just couldn’t even believe it.”
They’d come so close twice before.
Morton brought Butler to the WPIAL finals both as a freshman and a junior. He left each time with a silver medal including after a five-point loss last year to Mt. Lebanon. Butler’s most recent title came 29 years ago when coach Matt Clement was a sophomore.
Before that, Butler won WPIAL titles in 1912, ‘14 and ‘15.
“For a long time I’ve been thinking about this (winning coach) interview,” said Clement, who’s in his 11th season as coach. “Unfortunately, the last two times I’ve had to give the other one. I’m pretty dang blessed. What a team. What a community. What an atmosphere.”
The Class 6A boys and girls championship games drew 6,900 to the arena Saturday night, raising the three-day attendance to 23,000.
“I downplayed this game the whole season because I didn’t want us to try to fast forward to this and ruin our season,” Clement said. “That’s probably the most stress I’ve been under … because I’m usually the one that’s talking about banners and cutting down nets.”
Butler (20-4) won with a scoring tandem of Morton and sophomore Devin Carney, a combination that’s proven unstoppable here in the WPIAL playoffs. Carney led Butler with 24 points including 21 in the first half. He made three 3-pointers in the first quarter alone — two from well beyond the arc — as Butler raced to a 42-30 halftime lead.
Mt. Lebanon’s only lead was 2-0.
“Devin was just on fire,” Morton said. “That opened up the floor for me and everybody else, and it forced them out of the defense they were in. Credit to him. … As a sophomore? I don’t know if I could have done that as a sophomore.”
Carney made two early 3s in a 30-second span that pushed Butler’s lead to 15-4. The 6-foot guard went 6 for 10 shooting in the first half and converted all six free throws.
“Devin gets off to such fast starts,” Clement said. “He was cooking really good early and we were finding him.”
Jake Hoffman led Mt. Lebanon (18-7) with 20 points including four 3-pointers. Butler’s has typically favored a zone defense, but Clement opened against Mt. Lebanon playing man-to-man with an emphasis on denying Hoffman the ball.
“Make him work hard, maybe take his legs out a little bit,” Clement said. “And if I was coaching the other team, I wouldn’t be expecting man.”
Hoffman, who’s Mt. Lebanon’s leading scorer, didn’t make a shot until midway through the second quarter. He missed five of his first six attempts.
Mt. Lebanon closed to within three points late in the third quarter, but Butler responded with a 12-3 run. Butler junior Mattix Clement scored 12 of his 15 points after halftime including the 3-pointer that sparked the run that let the Golden Tornado pull away.
“There were times when I was really down throughout these last four years, where I was just like, ‘I want to feel this so bad, but I’m never going to get another chance,’” Morton said. “There are always doubts. No matter how good you are, I think there are always times when you’re down. Shoot, there were times in the last week where I (thought): ‘Is it not going to happen?’ I was scared.”
Butler won its semifinal in overtime and its quarterfinal in double overtime.
Clement understood how much winning a WPIAL title meant to Morton, who’d always considered the championship a vindication of his career. Without one, he thought, his high school career would fall short of others who had won.
“In my mind, it is true,” Morton said. “Anybody that’s been great at anything has a championship. … It always sort of circles back to that.”
His coach tried to convince him otherwise, but that no longer matters.
“This meant the world to him getting this WPIAL title,” Clement said. “It meant the world to all of them but I knew that Ethan was going to put a lot of the pressure on himself. That he had to win a WPIAL title or his career wasn’t going to be good enough. Let’s be serious, he’s a pretty decorated high school basketball player.
“But that’s how much he cares.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .
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