Motivated Central Catholic slams Upper St. Clair to reach Class 6A title game

Tuesday, February 28, 2023 | 11:25 PM

Same round, same venue, much different results for Central Catholic.

A year after losing to Fox Chapel in the Class 6A semifinals at Peters Township, the Vikings relieved the bad memory, then created a new script as they soundly defeated Upper St. Clair at the same site Tuesday, 65-41, to earn a trip to the district finals.

“So we watched the final part of that game against Fox Chapel a year ago just to get that disappointment feeling back in our gut, to use it as motivation to not feel that way again.” Central Catholic coach Brian Urso said. “When we found out it (the game) was coming down to here, we couldn’t wait to get here.”

Central Catholic (15-9) played a near-perfect basketball game on offense, defense and on the glass to send Upper St. Clair (15-9) to the 6A consolation bracket, where the Panthers will battle rival Mt. Lebanon for a PIAA playoff berth on Thursday.

The game started well enough for USC as junior Devin Hall hit three straight baskets to give the Panthers an early 6-5 lead.

Central Catholic then scored 12 straight points thanks to the outside shooting of senior Randy Wilkerson, who connected on three 3-pointers in the opening quarter, which ended with the Vikings leading 17-6.

“We knew we had to come here and play a really good basketball game and play all four quarters,” Urso said. “Defensively was where it had to start. If we played some solid defense at the beginning of the game, that would ignite and fuel our offense, and we did just that. We had the momentum the whole game.”

In the second quarter, the Vikings had a 6-0 run to build their lead at halftime to 35-17.

Upper St. Clair pulled to within 12 points midway through the third quarter, but Central Catholic scored 14 of the last 20 points to take a 20-point lead into the fourth quarter.

Vikings senior Dante DePante scored 10 of his game-high 25 points in the third quarter.

“This kid has put in so much time behind closed doors,” Urso said. “I’m so proud of that young man because he’s gone through so much this year with injuries and sickness. He is, in my opinion, the best guard in the WPIAL. He’s smart, he’s savvy, and he’s leading his team to the WPIAL championship.”

While he was hard to stop on the floor, he found his team’s success hard to put into words afterward.

“It’s just amazing, really. The past three years, I’ve had to watch it (championship game) at home because we came up short. But now, to be in it, it’s amazing,” DePante said.

DePante led a balanced attack with four Vikings in double-digit scoring.

Wilkerson had 14 points for Central Catholic while junior Payton Wehner and senior Debaba Tshiebwe each scored 11 points.

“They shot it well in the first quarter and we just couldn’t score,” Upper St. Clair coach Danny Holzer said. “Their size hurt us.”

Three Panthers had nine points: seniors Nick Sukernek and Christian Wieczenski and sophomore Julian Dahlem.

This is the first trip to the WPIAL title game for Central Catholic since it lost 49-39 in the Class 4A finals to Gateway in 2012.

The Vikings will be trying to win the school’s second WPIAL basketball crown with the first coming 15 years ago in 2008.

To do that, they must beat top-seeded New Castle after the two Section 1 foes split their regular season games.

“We got them at their place. They got us at our place,” Urso said. “They’re a great basketball team, and coach (Ralph) Blundo is one of the best around. We’re going to have to be in for a fight. If we can come in with this energy and this intensity, we’ll see what happens in the end.”

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