MSA Sports Countdown – Top 25 WPIAL Stories From 2014 – 01/07/2015

Wednesday, January 7, 2015 | 4:26 PM

It has become a tradition like no other…at least during the holidays here at MSA Sports. Here is a look back at another great high school sports year with the top stories from around the WPIAL in 2014. We conclude our countdown with all 25 stories from #25 through #1.

#25 – Game, Set, Match and Gold

The unique streak continued in 2014 for Sewickley Academy. 2009 was the last time a Panthers duo did not win gold the WPIAL boys doubles tennis tournament. back in April, the Sewickley Academy tandem of Ryan Gex and Luke Vith won gold in Class AA.

In fact, it was ANOTHER golden year for the Panthers on the tennis court. The dynasty continued in May as Sewickley Academy made it ELEVEN consecutive boys team tennis district championships with a victory over Mars in the Class AA Finals.

It’s not just the boys either as the Sewickley Academy girls team claimed a fourth WPIAL Class AA championship in the last seven years with a victory over Indiana in the district team finals in October.

#24 – Ice Climate Changes

Jim Black, a fixture in Western Pennsylvania hockey, was hired in August to be the new Commissioner of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League, replacing Ed Sam, who held the position since 1999.

An eight-year Coach of North Allegheny, Black won PIHL Penguins Cup Championships in 2007 and 2013. In both seasons, the Tigers won the Pennsylvania Cup as well. Additionally, Black won a PIHL Penguins Cup and Pennsylvania Cup in 2006 at Pine-Richland.

Black will focus on making the PIHL a more competitive, transparent and noteworthy league. Already, he helped contribute to the realignment of the entire League, forming two divisions at the Varsity Level and two tiers of Class A.

The opportunity to become PIHL Commissioner came at a perfect time for Black, who was contemplating a break from coaching.

“It was the right time to step down,” said Black. “It was a good time to transition and take a break from coaching, because it was something that I put a lot of energy into.”

With a wealth of experience in Western Pennsylvania hockey, Black looks to dwell on his years in the sport. Before North Allegheny and Pine-Richland, Black spent time at Beaver and North Hills. He also coached for a season at the University of Pittsburgh and for numerous amateur teams.

But competition will be Black’s main goal. He cited the success of the highly competitive Pittsburgh Amateur Hockey League as a great source of development for young players.

“Kids need to play against like talent,” claimed Black. “Nobody benefits from games that are 10-0.”

He will also look to sit down with the former Open Class teams (now called Division 2) and try to help them grow their programs into “pure” teams, meaning that they will strive to compete in Division 1 with the rest of the PIHL varsity. The handling of the Open Class, which is intended for developing programs, has been a prime subject of discussion over the past few seasons.

#23 – Leaving Early

It is very rare to see a head coaching change during a high school season unless it is due to health reasons. during the 2014 football season, a pair of WPIAL coaches resigned before the regular season was even to the midway point.

Mauro Monz’s tenure as Carlynton’s coach lasted only three games before he handed in his letter of resignation in September.

Monz was quoted in media outlets as saying he resigned because he feared for the safety of his players and he complained about Carlynton not doing anything to stay in Class A instead of Class AA. But Carlynton can’t do anything about its classification. It is based on enrollment figures. And Carlynton has known since December that it would be in Class AA. Monz was hired in April and knew the team would be in Class AA.

Then one week later, Ron Coder resigned as Canon-McMillan’s coach. Coder was in his second season at Canon-McMillan and had won only one game in the two seasons. But Coder said he resigned because of conflict among the coaching staff.

Coder, a former Penn State and NFL lineman, resigned after a meeting with Canon-McMillan athletic director Frank Vulcano. Both Vulcano and Coder said it was a mutual decision that it would be better if Coder resigns.

“There have been some internal things within the staff and within the program that were issues,” said Vulcano. “Between he and I, we felt the best decision for him and best for the program was to resign.”

#22 – Central Valley Ends West A Gridiron Run in a Classic

In what was an instant classic — but what would anyone expect from two Parkway Conference teams — the Central Valley Warriors scored in the final minute to defeat the West Allegheny Indians 35-28 to claim their second WPIAL Class AAA football championship in the school’s five year history.

BJ Powell caught his second touchdown from John George on a fade route with 19 seconds remaining for the winning score. This after West Allegheny tied the game on a Terence Stephens two-yard run to cap a 14-play drive with 2:28 left in regulation. The loss for West Allegheny was the first for head coach Bob Palko in eight title game appearances. It also ended the Indians two year runs as Triple-A champions.

The Warriors got a huge effort from Jordan Whitehead. The Pitt recruit ran 12 times for 107 yards and a score and caught 6 passes for 179 yards, giving him 279 yards of offense on the night. George threw for 276 yards on 10-of-15 passing.

The teams have met seven times now, with Central Valley taking a 4-3 lead and gaining revenge for the 16-6 loss to West Allegheny in last year’s title game. The Parkway Conference has won six straight titles since 2009, as during that period five of the last six championship games have been all Parkway affairs.

Central Valley ended up winning in the PIAA Quarterfinals and Semifinals and joined fellow undefeated WPIAL champions Pine-Richland, South Fayette and Clairton in Hershey in December, playing for a state crown. District 7 stubbed their toes at Hersheypark Stadium, losing three of the four finals, including Central Valley’s 33-14 loss to defending PIAA Class AAA champion Archbishop Wood.

#21 – Diamond Perfection

It took nearly 46 hours to complete, but in the end it was perfection that prevailed. California became the sixth team in WPIAL history to win a WPIAL baseball championship and finish league play undefeated, running away with a 6-1 win over section rival Carmichaels (14-3) at Consol Energy Park in late May.

The game, which was delayed on a Tuesday night in the fourth inning after severe weather hit the Washington, PA area and again delayed Wednesday by more storms, was resumed at a 1-1 tie on a Thursday afternoon.

The delay, which was met with controversy, forced Carmichaels Pitcher Brandon Lawless to discontinue pitching, as PIAA rules state that after pitching into a fourth inning, a pitcher must have two days of rest before pitching again. Lawless, who entered the WPIAL Championship with a 1.96 ERA, pitched into the top of the fourth inning on Tuesday night. His counterpart, California’s Josh Luko, did not pitch in the fourth inning and, therefore, was allowed to pitch Thursday.

When action resumed, Carmichaels elected to throw Sophomore Billy Bowlen. After inheriting two runners from Lawless, Bowlen would allow three straight singles, including an RBI single by Jake Columbus and a two-RBI knock by Louden Conte, giving California a 4-1 lead. Conte, who had an RBI triple in the third inning which tied the game at 1-1, finished 2-for-3 with three RBI.

California would get insurance runs for Luko in the sixth inning on a two-RBI double by Ron Baron, extending the Trojans’ lead to 6-1.

But two runs were all that Luko needed. The senior pitcher would hurl a complete game, giving up one unearned runs on seven hits, while striking out nine batters and walking none.

The championship is the fourth for California in school history and first since 2006. The Trojans advanced to the PIAA Playoffs where they suffered their first loss of the season is the First Round when they were stunned by Cranberry 2-1 to finish the season with a 20-1 record.

#20 – NA Tigers:  Kings of the Pool

For the third straight year and for the fifth time in six years, North Allegheny can tell a golden ‘tail’ about the WPIAL Swimming Championships. The Tigers girls teams cruised to their sixth straight WPIAL team swimming championship back in late February, while the boys team edged Upper St. Clair to capture a third straight title and the teams eighth in the last nine years.

North Allegheny under first year head coach and long time assistant Patrick Wensel can not be stopped in AAA swimming. In girls it was over before it started in the second day of competition They easily defeated Mount Lebanon by 278 points. For the boys it wasn’t decided till late in the session. They would win with point on the last boys solo event, the Breaststroke as junior Casey Melzer’s gold medal sealed the deal.

There were a few new WPIAL records set by NA swimmers as well. In the Girls 100 yard freestyle, North Allegheny’s Katie Ford set a new record with a 50.63. Jacquelyn Du of North Allegheny set a new record in the girls 100 yard back stroke with a 54.20 beating her record she set last year. Finally in the Girls 400 yard freestyle relay North Allegheny set a new record with a 3:26.41 beating last years record.

#19 – NA Tigers:  Kings of the Court

For an unprecedented eighth year in a row, the North Allegheny Tigers won the WPIAL Class AAA championship in boys volleyball.

The Tigers used a furious rally in game one to build momentum and propel them to a 3-0 victory over Norwin for the Class AAA crown in May by scores of 25-23, 25-11 and 25-21.

Senior Mitch Higgins set the tone for a big night for himself with six kills, two blocks and an ace in the opening game alone. Classmate Brendan Brown added four kills and two blocks to aid the comeback.

Norwin jumped out quickly in the first set, scoring the game’s opening four points and building a seven-point advantage. With the score at 16-9, however, North Allegheny began chipping away at the Knights’ lead. By late in the set, the Tigers had stormed all the way back to tie the score at 22. Then, with the score knotted at 23, a block by senior David Haus and a Norwin miscue gave North Allegheny the come-from-behind victory.

Carrying all of the momentum on their side, the Tigers flexed their muscles in game two. With the score still tight at 7-5, North Allegheny embarked on a 12-2 run that created separation and then put the Knights away. Haus paced the Tigers in the second set, tallying five kills and five digs.

Game three proved to be a back-and-forth affair, as neither team managed to gain an edge of more than three points until the last point of the tournament. After a kill by Norwin’s Aaron Shaffer moved the score to 22-21 in favor of the Tigers, North Allegheny used two Brown kills and an unforced error by the Knights to rattle off three straight points and secure yet another championship.

Brown tacked on another five kills and three blocks in the third set, bringing his totals to 11 and seven, respectively, on the night. Higgins finished with a team-high 15 kills to go along with three blocks, two aces and a dig. Haus turned in another solid all-around performance with nine kills, eight digs and two blocks. Senior setter Antonios Balouris once again passed well throughout the contest, registering 39 assists. He also added three blocks and a kill. As he typically does, junior defensive specialist Ethan DeRubbo led North Allegheny in digs with 12.

The Tigers advanced to the PIAA Class AAA championship match in the state playoffs, but lost in three games to Central York.

#18 – Tribal Uprising on The Pitch

Peters Township turned the same trick they did last season and treated their fans to a ninth WPIAL championship in soccer on Halloween night at Highmark Stadium.The Indians playing in a constant cold. light rain built a 3-0 against their conference rival Upper Saint Clair and eventually won going away 5-1.

The Indians entered the game as the three seed against the top-seeded Panthers. USC, just as they had done last year entering the championship tilt had beaten Peters Township twice during the regular season.

Peters though, just as they did last year though proved winning the last game trumps winning the first two.

The Indians led at the half 2-0 thanks to a pair of Nicco Mastrangelo goals. The first coming with 17:23 to play in the half off a corner kick to the near post the Mastrangelo headed between the post and USC keeper Kenny Rapko. then just less than three minute later Nicco took a feed from his brother Mario and blasted a shot in traffic from eight yards out into the back of the net for the halftime score.

Jonathan Sion would push the lead to 3-0 off  Mario Mastrangelo dazzling tassist on the right wing in the fifteenth minute of the second half for a 3-0 lead. At that point the matter seemed pretty much decided as Peters had only allowed four goals all season long coming into the championship game.

USC would get on the board as Shayne Sibley scored his 19th goal of the season with 19:51 to play to make it  a 3-1 game but Peters was too strong on this night Matt Massucci converted a penalty kick with 15:20 to play after USC was called for a foul in the box to make it 4-1 and Mario Mastrangelo would add to his two assist night with his 18th goal of the year with USC pressing the action and 7:35 to play in the game.

From there the powerful Peters defense took control and the celebration was on again for Indians fans as the Panthers tasted defeat for the first time.

Another golden soccer ball headed to the Peters Township High School trophy case two weeks later after the Indians won the PIAA Class AAA state title Saturday 2-1 at Hersheypark Stadium. The state title was the fourth for the Indians, which also won in 1988, 1989 and 2007.

#17 – A Golden Goodbye

The Ford City Sabers took home the AA Girls Volleyball Championship with a dramatic win in five sets over Thomas Jefferson in October.  The victory was hard fought as both teams battled to the end and gave it their all.  For Ford City, it was their first WPIAL girls volleyball championship in school history.  Remarkably, it comes in the last year of Ford City’s WPIAL existence.  Next year the school is set to merge with Kittanning.  Head coach Andrea Lasher was ecstatic as she saw her team win the final set 15-13 to seal the deal and hand TJ it’s first loss.

Thomas Jefferson started out hot winning the first set 25-16 on the strength of some big time hits by Rachel Stover.  When the match was over, Rachel had recorded a total of 20 kills on the day.  Despite the kills, Ford City was able to stick their plan and maintain the “team” mentality in order to win.  They were severely undersized in comparison to their opponent, yet that did not seem to faze them.  Justyne Lasher was spectacular for the Sabres.  On top of having 12 kills on the day, she was all over the court and stepped up as the team’s leader.  Her younger sister Kenzie was excellent as well.  The fifteen year old freshman did not let the big stage get to her. The libero never came out of the game and made numerous digs on powerful spikes from TJ.

TJ took set three 25-19 and looked to be close to obtaining the title.  Ford City did not see that as the case though.  The smaller squad had bigger heart and fought back to win sets four and five.  Their backs were against the wall from the start of the match.  The #4 seed had to face an unbeaten #2 seed in TJ, but had already overcome #1 Freeport in the semifinals and their confidence carried over into the championship match.

The Sabers season ended in their next match when they were stunned by Corry 3-2 in the opening round of the PIAA Class AA state playoffs.

#16 – Sweet Sixteen

16-seeds are not supposed to be still playing in late May. Teams with overall records under .500 are only supposed to see the district championship game if they purchase a ticket. Don’t tell any of that to Seneca Valley.  The Raiders bucked all odds by beating Baldwin 5-2 in late May to win the schools third WPIAL Quad-A baseball title in the last four years.

After barely making the playoffs as they finished tied for third place in Section 3, the Raiders became the first team to qualify for a fourth straight district baseball championship game with upset victories over top-seed Hempfield, Shaler and Pine-Richland.

It didn’t look like the magical postseason run for Seneca Valley would produce another gold crown early in the title game as the Baldwin bashers connected early and often. Nick Bernick lined a single to second. He was forced at second on a ground ball to Raiders shortstop Alex Hajduk, but the throw to first bounced away and allowed Morgan Schmitt to reach second. After Tom McCarthy was hit by a pitch, Alex Pantuso and Chris Eisel connected on back-to-back RBI singles to make it 2-0 Highlanders. Dylan Finocchi was then hit by a pitch to load the bases, but senior Connor Coward, who missed the regular season with a back injury but returned to go 2-0 in the postseason, struck out Jordan Gitzen and Tony Martinez to keep it a two run deficit.

An inning later, Seneca Valley cut the lead in half when with two on and two out, the Raiders #9 hitter, Hajduk singled home Matt Wagner to make it 2-1.

Baldwin senior starting pitcher Alex Pantuso struggled through four innings but was able to escape trouble more times than not. His luck ran out though in the fifth inning.

It started for the Raiders with a mammoth home run over the left center field fence by Matt Rafferty to tie the game at 2-2. Vince Augustine followed with a triple to the fence in right center field and Coward helped himself with an RBI single as the Raiders took their first lead of the game. Baldwin catcher Zach Murray had Coward picked off first base, but a botched run down throw allowed Coward to reach second. That was huge because two outs later when the inning should have been over, John Davis singled home Coward to make it 4-2. Davis then scored on a John Harper base hit to finish off Pantuso and the scoring for the night.

Coward was brilliant after the first inning. Baldwin, which had averaged nearly 9 runs a game in three previous playoff victories, had only three base runners against the Raiders senior after the first inning. Coward, the losing pitcher in last years title game, allowed 2 runs on 6 hits with no walks and 11 strikeouts.

Baldwin does not win their first ever WPIAL baseball title while despite four WPIAL playoff wins, Seneca Valley was still under .500 at 10-11 overall when they began the PIAA playoffs. they won two more games before falling to Conestoga in the state Semifinals to finish a roller coaster season at 12-12.

#15 – Rebels With a Cause

Seton-LaSalle High School colors are green and gold. This past basketball season, there was heavy emphasis on the GOLD. The Rebels were one last second shot away from making history by having both the boys and girls hoop teams sweep both district and state championships.

It all started on the final day of February when the Rebels rolled to their sixth WPIAL girls basketball championship at A.J. Palumbo Center, defeating the Burrell Buccaneers by a score of 55-34.

The Rebels opened the game with an 11-0 run and never looked back. Burrell had trouble with the Rebels pressure defense turning it over on their first four possessions and eight times in the first quarter. The Bucs turned it over 26 times on the night. The Rebels were able to convert many of those turnovers into fast break points.

The next day in a classic matchup that saw 16 lead changes, Seton-LaSalle boys won their second WPIAL championship and the first since 1989 with a 52-51 victory over the Greensburg Central Catholic Centurions.

The Rebels took the lead for good on two free throws and then a runner by Malik White with 2:20 remaining in regulation. Seton-LaSalle sealed the win after a Christian Hyland miss on a three pointer from the left wing. Ryan Norkus grabbed the rebound and was fouled. The junior drained two free throws with 32 seconds left to put the Rebels up 51-46. Brian Graytok scored for GCC, but had to foul; the senior fouled out of the game with 7.5 seconds left. Cletus Helton drained a free throw for insurance. Greensburg Central Catholic had no timeouts. Billy Hipp hit a right wing three pointer with one second left, but the clock harmlessly ran out to give the Rebels the title.

Three weeks later, Seton LaSalle claimed their third PIAA girls basketball championship with a 58-50 win over the previously unbeaten Neumann-Goretti Saints. The victory gave the Rebels their second Class AA title in three years.

Senior Yacine Diop had one of the most dominant performances in years in the championships. The Pitt recruit scored 10 point and grabbed 23 rebounds, adding six blocks to lead the Rebels to a 50-36 rebounding advantage.

The Rebels took the lead back on a great cut to the basket by fellow Pitt recruit Cassidy Walsh. Her layup down the lane made the score 48-46. Things got very interesting for Seton LaSalle , missing five straight free throws down the stretch, but the Saints came up empty on every opportunity. Seton LaSalle figured out life from the charity stripe, hitting their last ten attempts as Nicolete Newman and Walsh converted when it counted most, in the final minute of play.

The following day, the ball was in the right hands at the end of the game as Seton LaSalle had a chance to claim victory in the PIAA Class AA boys championship game against Philadelphia Constitution but Levi Masua’s three-pointer from the right win was a tad long and the Generals took home a 61-59 win over the Rebels in Hershey.

It was the second state title for Constitution as the Generals hung on for the win, going just 3 of 8 in the final 2:27 from the free throw line. Masua hit a three to tie the game at 59 with 1:03 left but Christian DelGrego fouled Akeem King 59 seconds later as the Generals were ready to hold the ball for the final shot.

Seton LaSalle had a chance to take the lead but Dale Clancy threw up a wild off-balance shot, he fell to the floor, as he was laying, he caught the basketball but his body was on the end line, giving the Generals the ball. Again Constitution had a chance to seal the game, but Kimar Williams sunk 1 of 2 free throws, setting up Masua’s open look to end the game.

Seton-LaSalle just missed having the boys and girls combine for all four district and state titles in the same season since Blackhawk did it in 1999.

#14 – Ram Tough

The last time the Pine-Richland Rams tasted WPIAL football championship gold was 2003 when it was still a Class AAA team.  The mass exodus of the Allegheny population from the Pittsburgh city limits worked to the school’s advantage, warranting the WPIAL to raise the Rams’ status to Quad-A competition beginning in 2010.  Since that time, the program had experienced quite a few growing pains as they assimilated themselves to the competition…until this year! Pine-Richland beat defending champion Pittsburgh Central Catholic 21-13 in November at Heinz Field.

Ben DiNucci, who threw for over 3,400 yards and 34 TD’s before this game, was 16-29 for 174 yards and a TD while running for catching 2 others.  Michael Merhaut caught 8 of his passes for 114 yards and 1 TD.

The Rams were 15-0 heading into the state title game, but like 2003, the season would end for Pine-Richland with heartbreak in Hershey.

In 2003, the Pine-Richland Rams played what has been called the most memorable game in PIAA Championship history, falling to Manheim Central 39-38 in overtime in blizzard conditions. The 2014 Quad A championship game may also go down in the books as one of the best ever, as the Rams rallied from a 21-point, fourth quarter deficit and had a chance to claim the title, before falling to St. Joseph’s Prep 49-41 at Hersheypark Stadium. The Hawks claimed their second consecutive championship with the victory.

Pine-Richland scored with 2:15 left in regulation when D’Andre Gastion scored his second touchdown of the night on a 31-yard screen pass from Ben DiNucci. Coach Eric Kasperowicz elected to go for two points and the lead, but DiNucci could not find an open receiver as his pass failed.

The Rams then elected to try an onside kick, which they could not recover. Three plays later, Hawks running back De’Andre Swift scored his fourth touchdown of the game on a 48-yard run to put the Hawks up eight points. But Pine-Richland was not done, as DiNucci led the troops down field again, using both his arms and legs to set up a final play at the Hawks 25-yard line. The Penn recruit was forced to scramble and avoid tackles, throwing a jump ball that Olamide Zaccheaus intercepted in the end zone to end an amazing game and a memorable season for Pine-Richland.

#13 – Eight is Great!

Some things never seem to change. This is especially true when it comes to high school wrestling in Western Pennsylvania. For the eighth straight season, Burrell won the WPIAL Class AA team championship with a 34-28 thriller over previously undefeated South Fayette.

In a rematch of last season’s title match, the Bucs jumped out on top, 17-3, by winning four of the first five bouts. A technical fall by Anthony Marra at 126 pounds, decision victories by Damon Greenwald (138) and Corey Falleroni  (145), and a pin by Steve Edwards (152) helped the Bucs build the early 14 point lead. The Lions, however, came roaring back with three successive victories to take a 19-17 lead, the first of six lead changes in the second half of the match.  Falls by Grant Fetchet  (160) and Jack Previte (182) sandwiched around a major-decision win by J.J. Walker (170), his 100th career victory, gave South Fayette the two point lead eight bouts into the match.

The teams traded victories the next four matches, leaving the Lions with a 28-26 lead with just two bouts remaining. After Dillon Jeffrey scored a technical fall victory at 113 pounds to give Burrell a 31-28 edge, Jason Roberts locked up the title for the Bucs with a 7-1 decision at 120 pounds. It was the second successive season that Roberts clinched the title match for Burrell. Both times he was carried off the mat on the shoulders of his teammates.

#12 – National Champions

After losing to Peters Township in the PIHL Penguins Cup hockey championship game in mid-March, the Bethel Park Black Hawks regrouped in a major way and now they have a NATIONAL title to show for it. Bethel Park became the first Western Pennsylvania team to win the USA Hockey National Championship when they edged Providence, Illinois 2-1 in Omaha, Nebraska.

Both Bethel Park and state champion Peters Township were a part of the 32-team national tournament. While the Indians were eliminated in pool play, the Black Hawks won their pool to advance to the Quarterfinals.  There they beat Sioux Falls, South Dakota 3-0 on Saturday morning, then knocked off Des Moines, Iowa 3-1 in the National Semifinals Saturday night.

In the championship game after a scoreless first period, Providence scored two minutes into the second period to take a 1-0 lead.

However the Hawks tied it at 1-1 with four minutes left in the second when #21 Chris Siak scored on a 2-on-1 break on a nice set up by Tyler Kruczewski.  Just over two minutes later, Siak set up fellow senior Jake Salak who buried a wrist shot with 1:35 left in the second to give Bethel Park a 2-1 lead.

In the third period, the Hawks defensive style, along with several outstanding saves by BP goaltender Tre Lowe, helped them hold on for the thrilling national championship.

Siak was the top scorer for the tournament with 5 goals and 9 assists in six games while Lowe picked up four wins between the pipes for Bethel Park, who finish this memorable season with a final record of 24-5-0.

#11 Move Over Miggy

While a lot of eyes were on Brendan McKay this past spring and his dominance on the mound, there was another district player who was just as dominating at the plate.

Norwin senior shortstop J.J. Matijevic had a season for the ages in 2014, becoming possibly the first WPIAL baseball player to hit for the triple crown.

For the season, Matijevic hit .607 and finished with 10 home runs and 37 runs batted in.

He helped to lead the Knights to a 14-3 overall record and second place in Quad-A Section 2 behind top-seed Hempfield.

However after being seeded 7th in the Quad-A playoffs, Norwin was shut down in the First Round in a 2-1 loss to Plum. Matijevic did not reach base in his four plate appearances.

#10 – The Storm Ends

It was going to happen at some time this season that the New Castle Red Hurricanes boys basketball team would taste defeat. New Castle had an amazing run over the last three years, claiming consecutive WPIAL championships and finishing the run with a 31-0 season and a state title in March.

The winning streak of 33 in a row came to an end December 11th at the hands of the Hampton Talbots, a 87-67 victory for Hampton at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House in front of a full house. Senior guard Joey Lafko led the way for the Talbots with 37 points as the Talbots led by nine at the end of the first quarter and never looked back. David Huber tossed in 13 as Hampton beat New Castle for the first time in ten tries, including the last three WPIAL championship games.

New Castle also saw a 70 game regular season unbeaten streak come to an end, the Canes had not lost since February 8th, 2011, a 58-54 loss at Blackhawk. Also coming to an end tonight was a 38 game winning streak at home and 49 straight against WPIAL opposition.

Hampton had not beaten New Castle since December 14th, 2010, a 53-46 victory for the Talbots on their home floor.

New Castle still has another streak still alive into 2015 has they have a section winning streak of 44 consecutive games.

#9 – Out of Hibernation

After a one year hiatus, the WPIAL Class A championship camed back to Clairton. The Bears improved to 13-0 and won their sixth district title in the last seven years with a convincing 46-14 triumph over the Avonworth Antelopes at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh in November.

Super sophomore Lamont Wade rushed for 128 yards and scored two touchdowns while also picking off four passes. He ended up with 2,765 yards on the season with 47 touchdowns. Quarterback Ryan Williams had a huge game throwing the ball, connecting on 16 of 24 passes for 301 yards and five touchdowns vs Avonworth. For the season, he finished with 3,037 yards passing and 40 touchdown tosses.

The Bears celebrated their 11th WPIAL football crown and seventh in nine years with a record breaking offense that averaged 59.9 points per game and shattered the WPIAL and PIAA record for points in a season with 958.

But the season did not end on a high note the Clairton.

The old saying is that defense wins championships and that was the case in the PIAA Class A State Championship on December 12th as the Bishop Guilfoyle Marauders shut down the Clairton Bears offense when it counted to claim a 19-18 victory at Hersheypark Stadium. The Bears entered the championship game averaging 62 points per game and had a chance of breaking a national scoring record. The win for Bishop Guilfoyle gave the Marauders a perfect 16-0 season and ended the Bears’ dreams, finishing at 15-1.

The Bears had two chance to win the game. After scoring in the opening minute of the final quarter, when Lamont Wade broke a 64 yard touchdown with some serious moves. The Bears would go for two and the win, but Harrison Dreher was ruled short of the goal line. Coach Wayne Wade said he thought Dreher scored by stretching the ball over the goal line, just one of several controversies with the officials on the afternoon.

The second came in the final two minutes, with a first and goal at the 10 yard line, Lamont Wade was held to just three yards on two plays. After an incomplere pass, Ryan Williams scrambled away from the BG defense and was able to find James Hines on the back line of the end zone. But Hines was not able to get a foot down after making a circus catch and the ball went over on downs to the Marauders, who were able to run out the clock.

On the final play of the game, Clairton was assessed a personal foul and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a brief fight broke out. Both team’s coaches and PIAA officials separated the teams and did not allow the post-game handshake line. Several of the Clairton starters came across the field and shook hands with the Bishop Guilfoyle players. An investigation into the game ending incident is on-going by Clairton school officials.

#8 – The Golden Girls

Much like football which had all four WPIAL champions advance to the PIAA state finals this fall, there was a large District 7 flavor to the PIAA state basketball finals this past spring in Hershey. Unlike the 1-3 showing in football though, there were plenty of golden moments for the district hoopers.

Six WPIAL teams made it to the basketball finals at the GIANT Center, and they were nearly perfect, going 5-1 with the lone loss coming when a game winning 3-point shot at the buzzer rimmed out for the Seton-LaSalle boys teams. Both New Castle in AAAA and Lincoln Park in A were able to capture elusive state championships.

But it was the play of the WPIAL girls that will be remembered by many and they went three for three on championship weekend in chocolate town.

The Blackhawk Cougars used a dominant third quarter to claim their first PIAA girls Class AAA title since 2000 and third in school history by defeating Archbishop Wood 51-43 at the Giant Center on Saturday night. Chassidy Omogrosso scored 26 points and allowed the Cougars to stay in the game in the first half.

Omogrosso, then a junior, added 3 steals and was a perfect 8 of 8 from the line. Denman scored 13 points and led the Cougars with 8 rebounds and 4 steals. Blackhawk was 14 of 42 for 33 percent from the field, with two three-pointers. The Cougars made the night at the line, going 21 of 24, Blackhawk turned the ball over just 6 times, three in each half.

Blackhawk finished 28-2, the WPIAL champions won 13 straight games. The Cougars’ only losses came to Central Valley in the first half of section play and Class AA WPIAL and PIAA champion Seton LaSalle.

Speaking of Seton LaSalle, the Rebels (as noted in #15 of our countdown) won their third PIAA girls basketball championship and second in three years with a 58-50 win over the Neumann-Goretti Saints.

In Class A, the second trip was the charm for Ron Moncrief and the Vincentian Academy Royals. Vincentian fell to Tri-Valley 59-42 in the return for PIAA basketball at the Giant Center in 2013, but the Royals finished 2014 in a big way, beating Old Forge 58-34 to win the second PIAA girls basketball championship in school history.

Junior Brenna Wise dominated the first quarter, scoring 12 of her game-high 21 points in the first eight minutes. Wise hit a three late in the quarter that put Vincentian Academy up 18-9 after one. Vincentian Academy led 27-10 but some sloppy play and fouls led to 6 straight free throws for the Blue Devils and a 27-16 deficit at the break.

The Royals pulled away for good in the third, Maia Joiner nailed back to back threes, then Kayla Key took after, with 6 of 8 points coming on consecutive baskets. The Royals led 47-27 at the end of the quarter and hit the gas in the fourth for the win.

Wise added 11 rebounds and nailed a pair of threes in the first to her cause. She also had 5 assists, 5 blocks and 3 steals for an all-around game. Joiner scored 11 points. Key dished out 3 assists. Kiersten Elliott scored 6 points and grabbed 6 rebounds.

Vincentian Academy was 22 of 50 for the game at 44 percent with 5 three-pointers. The Royals were just 9 of 19 from the foul line and only committed 8 turnovers. Vincentian Academy ended the season at 27-3, winning their last 11 games.

It was the most successful state basketball playoffs EVER for WPIAL girls with the three championships. Nine times since the first PIAA gilrs basketball postseason in 1873, District 7 girls hoops teams came home with two state hoop titles, including South Park and Bishop Canevin in 2013.

#7 – Shutout from Happy Valley

As noted above, it was a great run through the PIAA playoffs for WPIAL teams in basketball and football in 2014. Not so much for their spring brethren in baseball and softball.

For the first time since 1979, no WPIAL baseball or softball team makes it to a PIAA state championship game.

The WPIAL sent twelve baseball teams in the four round PIAA playoffs in June, including district champions Seneca Valley, West Allegheny, Steel Valley and California. The twelve were a combined 3-9 in the First Round with Class AA going 0-3. Only Seneca Valley in AAA survived the Quarterfinals and the Raiders season ended with a 3-2 loss to Conestoga.

The twelve softball teams from the WPIAL that qualified for the PIAA state playoffs, including champions Shaler, Thomas Jefferson, Beaver and Neshannock, had better results in Round One going a combined 6-6. However only Greensburg-Salem in AAA and Neshannock in A made it to the state Semifinals…where they both lost. The Golden Lions fell 3-2 to Springfield while the Lancers fell to Claysburg-Kimmel 5-4.

#6 – King of Kittanning

There have been a lot of great milestones in the wrestling career of Kittanning senior Jason Nolf. He added to his milestones when he was able to join a special group of wrestlers in February, when he became the 23rd WPIAL wrestler to ever win 4 WPIAL Championships.

Nolf earned his fourth title in dominating fashion at 145 pounds. He won by a pair of falls over George Rogers of Washington and Austin Mears of Mount Pleasant to put him into the finals against Beth-Center’s Tony Welsh. In the finals, Nolf jumped out to a quick 4-1 lead before turning Welsh and pinning him in 1:22.

Then it was onto the PIAA postseason and the search for state gold for Nolf. After winning two matches by fall and one by a major decision to get into the finals, Nolf wasted no time and picking up his third straight state title. After a takedown within the first ten seconds, Nolf allowed an escape to his opponent, Billy Barnes of Williamson, to make the score 2-1. But then it was Nolf who got in deep on a shot and leaned in to Barnes, putting him on his back and pinning Barnes in 1:42. For his dominating performance, Nolf was awarded the outstanding wrestler award of the AA tournament. Nolf ended his high school career with a record of 176-1 with 3 state championships. He attends Penn State University.

#5 – Sister Power

In 2013, the Kluska sisters made news when older sister Alyvia forfeited her WPIAL Class AA Consolation match to Michaela, thus earning the then freshman a spot in the PIAA girls individual singles tennis playoffs.

Both sisters were at the top of their game in September when they each won First Round, Quarterfinals and Semifinals matches, setting up an All in the Family title match.

The battle of sisters never materialized, as the Kluskas of Greensburg Central Catholic agreed to forfeit their match. After warming up and initially preparing to do battle, Alyvia, a junior, and Michaela, a sophomore, decided to call off the contest.

WPIAL officials instructed the sisters that they must play at least one point, however, or the sister who forfeited would lose her spot in the PIAA tournament. Thus, the Kluskas played four games, with older sister Alyvia ultimately prevailing by default.

In the PIAA playoffs in October, both Kluska sisters won in the First Round, however Alyvia lost to Lin Robertson of Berks Catholic 7-5, 6-3 in the Quarterfinals and Michaela fell in the Semifinals to Bronwyne Mellott 6-1, 7-6 (7-2). Michaela later lost to Robertson in the Consolation match 6-4, 6-4.

#4 – Rock Me Like a Hurricane

The New Castle Red Hurricanes did what they had to do, just remain perfect. New Castle finished an amazing three year run with a PIAA Quad-A championship, claiming a 52-39 victory over LaSalle College at the Giant Center back in March.

New Castle finishes 31-0 on the season, joining Williamsport in 1984, Carlisle in 1988 and Chester two years ago to go undefeated in Quad-A. The Red Hurricanes are the first WPIAL to finish unbeaten since Sto-Rox accomplished a perfect campaign in 1983.

The Red Hurricanes had come up empty in three other trips to the title game, falling in 1936, 1982 and 1998. New Castle is 87-2 in the last three seasons, winning 3 straight WPIAL championships. 78 of those wins came by 10 or more points.

Malik Hooker led the way with 13 points, the Ohio State football recruit added 13 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 highlight reel blocked shots. The pace was not normal for a New Castle game, the Red Hurricanes led 10-9 after one quarter. The teams combined for just 5 field goals and 13 points in the second, with some tough defense at both ends of the floor.

New Castle pulled away in the third quarter. Drew Allen drove and scored to put New Castle up for good.  Jake McPhatter, a Ball State football recruit, nailed his second three-pointer of the quarter, Drew Allen turned on another gear and blew past the Explorers defense for a six point advantage. Leading by three points, Stew Allen picked up his third foul, forcing Coach Ralph Blundo to go to the bench and bring in Levar Ware. The senior, who had played very limited minutes in the last two state playoff games, recorded just 7 minutes, but in that time scored 5 points and snagged 3 rebounds and heightened the enthusiasm for New Castle into the fourth quarter. Blundo said that is what great teams do, that kids come off the bench when their number is called in reference to Ware’s performance.

Leading 30-24 entering the final frame, the Canes started to pull away. McPhatter hit three of four free throws to go up by 9 with 3:54 left in regulation. LaSalle College started to foul to try and extend the game. New Castle, which is not a good free throw shooting team, went 14 of 22 from the line in the fourth, including a stretch of six straight from the charity stripe to put the lead into double digits and start the sea of red and black clad fans into celebration mode.

Drew Allen also scored 13 points. McPhatter scored 9 points and grabbed 6 rebounds. Anthony Richards, who is the third best career three-point shooter in WPIAL history, was held off the board for the first three-plus quarters and finished without a field goal and just 4 points.

New Castle shot 17 of 41 for the game at 41 percent, McPhatter had the only trifectas for the Canes. The Red Hurricanes had just 7 turnovers and finished 16 of 27 from the line. New Castle controlled the battle on the glass 36-23.

Three weeks earlier, there is a major storm brewing for Western Pennsylvania, but it paled in comparison to the storm that has been crushing the WPIAL for three basketball seasons now. The New Castle Red Hurricane continued their dominance of District 7 boys hoops with a 55-49 victory over the rival Hampton Talbots at a jam-packed A.J. Palumbo Center at Duquesne University.

The ‘Canes historic run continues with a third straight WPIAL championship, with all three capping off undefeated seasons. It Marked the third consecutive season that New Castle beat Hampton in a WPIAL title game, beating the Talbots in the Class AAA finals in 2012 and now back-to-back times in the Class AAAA title game. Ironically, both the Red Hurricane and Talbots are back down to Class AAA this season.

#3 – Golden Runner

Shaler senior Brianna Schwartz continued to make her sales pitch as the greatest female long distance runner in WPIAL history in 2014.

She started at the rain delayed WPIAL Track & Field championships at Baldwin High School in May when she won gold and set new records in the 800, 1600 and 3200-meter races.

There was some anticipation in the PIAA Track & Field meet later that month at Shippensburg University for Shaler’s super distance runner as she tried to break the record in the Class AAA 1,600, set by Upper Dublin’s Kim Gallagher in 1981. Schwartz won the race for the second year in a row, but failed to reach Gallagher’s record of 4:41.08. Schwartz ran a 4:46.95.

Then in October, Schwartz captured a three-peat at the WPIAL Cross-Country Championships as she once again proved unbeatable at Cooper’s Lake Campground in Butler.

Schwartz, now a senior, secured the first-place finish in Class AAA in the 3.1-mile trek with an impressive time of 17:25, besting North Allegheny’s Madeleine Davison, the second-place finisher, by more than 40 seconds.

The golden career of Brianna Schwartz had another championship chapter written in November in Hershey. The three time WPIAL Class AAA girls cross-country champion finally captured an elusive PIAA championship.

Schwartz finished first in the near record setting course time of 17:39 , the second fastest time ever by a female runner on the Hershey course on a raw, rainy and windy afternoon with temps in the mid-40’s.

#2 – King of the AA Jungle

Led by the WPIAL’s all-time leading passer in Brett Brumbaugh, South Fayette registered a second straight 16-0 season with district and state gold added to their 2013 championships.

The South Fayette Lions successfully defended their WPIAL title in November as they knocked off Aliquippa 31-22 in the Class AA Championship at Heinz Field.

In a rematch from last year’s title game, the Lions again bested the Quips, as South Fayette senior quarterback Brett Brumbaugh threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns. With the triumph, South Fayette captures its third WPIAL Championship in five seasons, while Aliquippa falls for the fourth time in its record seventh-consecutive finals appearance.

In addition to Brumbaugh’s prolific performance, Hayes finished with 109 yards on the ground, while Ponikvar produced 157 yards on six receptions. Kaezon Pugh accounted for 111 yards rushing in the defeat for the Quips, while McGinnis contributed 85 yards receiving on four receptions.

After a pair of wins in the PIAA playoffs, South Fayette joined fellow WPIAL champions Pine-Richland, Central Valley and Clairton with 15-0 records in the state finals, yet they were the only team to come back west with gold.

One decision can change everything. Just ask Jack Henzes. After electing to go for a touchdown on a 4th and goal at the South Fayette 5-yard line, up 16-14, and failing, Henzes, the long-time Dunmore coach, would see his grip on the PIAA AA Championship slip away.

On the first play after the defensive stand, South Fayette (16-0) tailback Hunter Hayes would burst through a hole and go 95 yards for a go-ahead score, lifting the Lions to a 28-16 win over Dunmore (14-2) at Hersheypark Stadium.

The win is the second in a row in the AA Championship for the Lions, who routed Imhotep Charter 41-0 a year ago. The victory also extended South Fayette’s winning streak to 32-straight games, making them the first AA team to ever repeat as champions.

The win also marked the end of the record setting career for Brumbaugh. The Duquesne University recruit set the WPIAL and PIAA record for passing yards in his career with 11,084 passing yards. He has completed 675 of 1,068. He holds the WPIAL record for career touchdown passes with 127. He is the first quarterback in WPIAL history to throw for 3,000 yards in two different seasons.

Brumbaugh moved into the starting lineup late in his freshman year and his record as a starting quarterback is 45-2. He led South Fayette to a 32-game winning streak, fourth-best in WPIAL history.

#1 – Diamond Domination

Blackhawk’s Brendan McKay spent the spring making history every time he took to the mound. He did things this baseball season that hadn’t ever been done in the WPIAL before.

Some believe McKay could be the best pitcher in WPIAL history. You certainly could make a point for it.

McKay put himself in the national spotlight when he ran together a scoreless streak of 72 1/3 innings, dating back to last season. The streak, which was broken by West Allegheny in the WPIAL AAA title game, ties for the second-longest ever in high school baseball in the country.

McKay (6 feet 1, 220 pounds) finished his career with a 30-2 record and allowed only 24 runs, 18 earned in his career. He was close to unhittable for much of this season. He finished 8-1 with 130 strikeouts in 63 innings and only 12 walks. He gave up only six runs (five earned). But McKay also hit better than .400 with two home runs and eight doubles.

The incredible thing about McKay’s season is that it ended without a championship. The Cougars lost to rival West Allegheny in the WPIAL AAA championship game 5-3 in 8 innings, then fell 2-1 to Harriton in the PIAA Quarterfinals.

McKay was drafted in the 34th round by the San Diego Padres, but will instead play for the University of Louisville.

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