North Catholic boys hold off upstart South Allegheny, make Class 3A championship game

Monday, February 24, 2020 | 11:12 PM

In this season’s WPIAL Class 3A tournament, three of the final four teams — North Catholic, Lincoln Park and Aliquippa — were routine playoff participants and traditional statewide powers.

The fourth team, however, was in uncharted territory. South Allegheny had never reached the WPIAL semifinals round in its history, and its 23 victories this season were more than its had won in the previous four years combined.

The storied program handled the upstart Monday night, but not without some anxious moments.

South Allegheny limited high-scoring North Catholic to 18 first-half points and trailed by just five points in the final quarter. But North Catholic’s defense limited South Allegheny to just one field goal in the final 2 minutes, 41 seconds, which proved to be its undoing.

North Catholic advanced to the WPIAL title game for the third time in the last four seasons with a 51-40 win over South Allegheny at North Hills.

North Catholic, which has not lost to a WPIAL team this season, improved to 23-2.

“That was a very good basketball team we played tonight,” North Catholic coach Dave DeGregorio said of South Allegheny. “They were 23-1; that doesn’t happen by accident. Some people might have thought they weren’t going to be as good as their record because they don’t have the history, but they were tremendous.”

South Allegheny matched North Catholic’s defensive intensity in the first half. Trailing, 18-12, South Allegheny ended the half with a 3-point basket by Ethan Kirkwood and a drive to the hoop by Antonio Epps to cut North Catholic’s lead to 18-17 at halftime.

The Trojans threatened to break the game open, starting the third quarter with a 10-1 run before South Allegheny rallied behind the play of freshman point guard Bryce Epps. He scored 10 of his team-high 14 points in the third quarter as North Catholic led 35-29 entering the final quarter.

DeGregorio was duly impressed with the Epps brothers.

“(Antonio Epps) was outstanding,” DeGregorio said. “And (Bryce Epps) controlled the tempo of the game.”

South Allegheny cut the deficit to five, 38-33, on a drive to the basket and two free throws by Antonio Epps with 6:19 left. But North Catholic’s Jake Tomer connected on a spin move to the basket and added a 3-pointer to extend The Trojans’ lead back to 10. A basket by Antonio Epps got South Allegheny to within seven with 2:41 left, but the Gladiators could get no closer.

North Catholic’s hard-fought victory earned it a rematch with Lincoln Park in Thursday night’s late-night title game at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center. Tip-off is set for 9 p.m.

“Like a west coast game,” DeGregorio joked.

Asked his thoughts on Lincoln Park, DeGregorio hesitated. The veteran coach wasn’t about to give his opponent any bulletin board material.

“My thoughts on Lincoln Park?” DeGregorio said. “I have no thoughts on them right now.”

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