Central Catholic boys upset No. 2 Fox Chapel in WPIAL quarterfinals

Saturday, February 22, 2020 | 5:10 PM

Central Catholic boys basketball first-year coach Brian Urso never doubted his team Saturday afternoon.

His confidence was justified.

The seventh-seeded Vikings knocked off Urso’s alma mater— one-loss, second-seeded Fox Chapel — by a 42-34 score in the Class 6A quarterfinals at Plum.

Central Catholic players and assistant coaches joined an emotional Urso, who played for the Foxes from 2000-04, in a joyous celebration on the court.

Before heading into the locker room to talk to his team, Urso had a brief, intense moment alone to let his feelings marinate.

“Our guys fought all game, followed our plan to be tougher and to be the hungrier team,” said Urso, who took over after Chuck Crummie was fired following 39 years at Central Catholic. “Our guys are a bunch of fighters.”

The Foxes (21-2), who have lost two out of three games since a 20-0 start to the season, were held to a season-low 34 points. They now must root for Central Catholic. The Foxes will qualify for the PIAA playoffs if the Vikings win the WPIAL championship. Otherwise, their season is done.

Central Catholic (14-10) is getting hot at the right time. The Vikings, who went 5-5 in Section 1-6A and 5-7 down the stretch, reached their first WPIAL semifinal since 2012. The Vikings play Mt. Lebanon (17-6) Wednesday at a site and time to be determined.

Saturday’s game was a physical battle from the start with both teams reaching 10 fouls in the first half and 36 total fouls for the game.

After trailing by a point through one quarter, the Vikings capitalized on the early fouls committed by Fox Chapel, making eight free throws during an 18-point second quarter.

“We knew the game would be a fight. Central and Fox Chapel is a rivalry, so we prepared for that, but we prepare for it every game,” Urso said. “We played Lebo. We played (Allderdice). We played New Castle. We played Lincoln Park.

“Big games are what we are supposed to be in, and physicality is something we embrace and is part of our culture right now.”

Senior forward Ben Sarson scored 10 points in the second quarter, finishing with a game-high 21 points and seven rebounds for Central Catholic.

Fox Chapel’s Arnold Vento, a 6-foot-3 senior, finished potentially his final high school game with a team-best 15 points and eight rebounds.

The Vikings entered halftime with a four-point lead.

Fox Chapel coach Zach Skrinjar sent out his players motivated in the third quarter, and the Foxes produced a 8-0 run to start the second half.

“I thought we came out aggressive in the second half,” he said. “We attacked the rim, but we missed a lot of wide-open shots.

“We defended very well. If you hold a team to 42 points, and 25 come at the foul line, it’s pretty good game. We did everything we wanted except take more shots.”

The run — which included a 3-pointer from sophomore Eli Yofan, an alley-oop from Yofan to Lorenzo Jenkins and a turnover by Central Catholic’s Collin O’Toole — earned Fox Chapel a 29-25 advantage and led to Urso calling timeout at the 6:45 third-quarter mark.

Yofan finished with nine points and four rebounds. Jenkins finished with four points but committed four fouls off the bench by the third quarter. O’Toole finished with eight points for Central Catholic.

The Vikings answered Fox Chapel’s third-quarter run by scoring seven of the next 10 points to close the quarter and tie the score 32-32.

Fox Chapel’s fourth-quarter scoring consisted of two points on a Sam Brown basket.

The Foxes committed 10 second-half fouls, which led to six points off fourth-quarter free throws for Central Catholic. The Vikings’ last seven points were from the free-throw line.

“We won the physical game,” Skrinjar said. “We expected one, but letting a team shoot that many foul shots (is not going to win games).”

Robert Scott III is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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