Jake DiMichele, OLSH dominate Winchester Thurston in WPIAL Class 2A semifinals

Tuesday, February 25, 2020 | 9:08 PM

On paper, Tuesday’s WPIAL Class 2A semifinal between OLSH and Winchester Thurston looked like a mismatch.

It played out like one on the court, too.

The top-seeded Chargers cruised past the 12th-seeded Bears, 73-19, at North Hills Middle School.

“I didn’t see that coming,” OLSH coach Mike Rodriguez said. “I have to take my hat off to Coach (Jordan) Marks and Winchester Thurston. They are a really solid basketball team. I wonder if they’ve expended so much energy in two very close games against two very good opponents that it could have been a factor in this game because I know they are a good team.

“We thought about that, so we wanted to go baseline to baseline on them. We wanted to pressure them all game long. Even though our press wasn’t so much to get steals, it was to keep them in front of us all night long and make them work. It worked amazingly.”

Indeed. OLSH’s defensive pressure smothered Winchester Thurston (12-12) and took the Bears out of their offensive rhythm.

“We pride ourselves on defense. Defense first — defense into offense,” OLSH’s Matt Rees said. “It felt good to bring our best defense today. To give up only 19 points in a high school game — that’s really impressive. We have to build on that.”

The Chargers’ offense picked up in the first quarter as the team built a 22-9 lead. Jake DiMichele’s 11 points in the frame gave him an even 1,000 for his career. He stayed hot in the second quarter. The sophomore scored all 15 of the team’s points as OLSH (23-1) cruised to a 37-11 advantage at intermission.

“Getting to 1,000 points is something I’ve been working towards since I was young. I always had that goal in my mind. It’s great to accomplish it,” DiMichele said. “My dad, mom and brother all had it. I was the only one without it, and they’d always mess with me about it. They can’t say anything to me anymore. It feels great for all the work to be paying off.”

DiMichele finished the night with 36 points.

“It’s definitely up there with one of my top performances,” he said. “I told myself I was going to come out in attack mode. Shots started falling. Dante (Spadafora) did a great job of finding me. When my shots are falling and when our shots are falling, we’re definitely a tough team to beat.”

Now, the Chargers turn their attention toward defending their WPIAL title at 5 p.m. Friday at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center. It’s the team’s fourth straight title game appearance.

“It feels great to be going back,” DiMichele said. “Four times in a row — that’s how you know you’re a top program when you can go back to The Pete four times. That’s not done very often. To be put in that company, it’s a great feeling.”

Though the Bears’ historic WPIAL run, which included the program’s first two WPIAL playoff wins (upsets over Laurel and Springdale), is over, they will make the program’s first PIAA tournament appearance.

“We’re a young team. We start three sophomores, a junior and a senior,” Mark said. “I think, at times, we got sped up a little too much. Once it got out of control, a young team could cave in. At that point, it’s hard for even an NBA team to come back from what we were down.

“They are young, but they’ve improved so dramatically that it’s hard to be upset with one loss. They’ve done the unthinkable already. We weren’t supposed to win the first game or the second game. We weren’t supposed to win this game and, even though people were right, we’ve made such strides that it’s hard to hang your head.

“We’ll get into the film room and watch this game and figure out where we fell short, which was in a lot of places. They are a great team and a well-coached team,” he continued. “We have to figure out a way to get back to where we were. We were defending really well out of our matchup zone, and we didn’t do it tonight. Now, it’s about regrouping and trying to find a way to get over the top.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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