Comfortable in underdog role, Jeannette to face massive challenge at OLSH

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Tuesday, March 9, 2021 | 5:24 PM


Jeannette is an underdog on a big stage. Sound familiar?

Think back to the fall when some considered the Jayhawks heavy underdogs in the WPIAL Class A football championship against Clairton.

This is basketball — apples to oranges, yes — but the challenge is oddly similar on the surface for fifth-seeded Jeannette (15-4) as it prepares to face top-seeded Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (19-0), the prohibitive favorite to win it all since last season was cut short by covid.

The teams will play at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the WPIAL Class 2A semifinals at OLSH in Coraopolis. The winner advances to the championship game at 5 p.m. Saturday at Peters Township to play Sto-Rox (11-5) or Greensburg Central Catholic (15-3).

In football, Jeannette throttled Clairton, 40-13. Can another upset be in the works on the hardwood?

OLSH has been untouchable, especially at home.

The two-time defending WPIAL champion Chargers are riding a 35-game winning streak.

“It’s going to be a fun game,” Jeannette senior guard Toby Cline said. “We have a couple guys that were a part of (the football win), so we will definitely have the same mentality. We have been waiting to play them.”

Jeannette brushed aside Winchester Thurston in the quarterfinals, 83-38, to avenge an earlier loss to the Bears. With a lineup that has been strengthened by the return of key starters and a few reserves, the Jayhawks are nearly at full strength.

“We have to not be afraid of the moment,” Jeannette coach Adrian Batts said. “We have to think of it like Villanova-Georgetown (in the 1985 NCAA Tournament).”

Batts joked he was going to bring former Division I athletes and Jayhawk alumni Terrelle Pryor, Julian Batts and Demetrious Cox back to suit up against the high-powered Chargers.

“It’s our toughest challenge,” Batts said. “But if there was ever time to upset them, it’s during covid time. We are going to compete.”

OLSH, led by junior Jake DiMichele and senior Dante Spadafora, is one of the fastest-paced teams in the state, averaging better than 75 points with a get-it-and-go approach.

“We have to keep playing hard on defense and rebound the ball,” Cline said. “We need to make sure we get back in transition.”

OLSH beat Jeannette in the semifinals in 2018, 72-64, when Spadafora was a freshman.

Scoring runs are what make OLSH go. Defensive stops are critical, particularly early, against the Chargers.

“We are going to prepare the same as we did for last game and all the other games,” Jeannette senior guard James Sanders said. “Defense is going to be key to winning, and that’s what we are going to work on to prepare for the game.

“They score a lot of points, and we know we can do the same thing.”

Cline and Sanders were key players on the football team.

Jeannette is looking for its first WPIAL finals appearance since 2014-15 when it lost to Monessen, 73-57, at Petersen Events Center.

“We can’t try to do too much individually,” Jeannette senior guard Keith Rockmore said. “We play our best when we’re all in sync.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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