Northgate beats Bishop Canevin, earns 1st WPIAL finals trip since 1988

Tuesday, February 28, 2023 | 11:50 PM

The other three teams still alive in the WPIAL Class 2A boys basketball semifinals Tuesday night had much more storied recent histories than sixth-seeded Northgate.

Second-seeded Bishop Canevin had won the previous two WPIAL Class A championships. Aliquippa had been to the WPIAL semifinals six straight seasons and Greensburg Central Catholic had made three straight semifinals visits.

None of that mattered to the Flames, who overcame a first-half deficit to beat the Crusaders, 63-54, and earn a spot in the WPIAL championship game for the first time since 1988.

“It’s wonderful,” said energetic Northgate coach Cam Williams. ‘When I got the job three years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. All I know is to try and be a winner. I just had those guys believe. Last year, we missed the playoffs by one game. I knew that I had everybody back and that this team was going to be something special.”

Bishop Canevin started hot and built a 14-point second-quarter lead. Northgate gained steam and cut the lead to 26-24 by halftime.

The Flames tied the score 26-26 and took their first lead of the contest 37-36 with 1:04 left in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by junior Josh Williams.

Williams, who averages over 29 points a game, led all scorers with 38 points, the second time in three playoff games that he has netted more than 30 points. He is averaging 32.3 points per game in the postseason.

“We were trying to keep our composure through the game,” Josh Williams said. “We make mistakes, but we make up for it and we just kept playing.”

In the high energy, intense contest, Williams went 16-for-16 from the free-throw line.

Williams said he tries to remain calm in these types of situations.

“For sure. Just making sure I stay in the game and play good, so we can come out with the victory,” he said.

Coach Williams was also impressed with his junior guard.

“We have scorers too, and No. 5 – Josh Williams – is an unkept secret,” he said.

Shea Champine, one of the top scorers in the WPIAL, paced Bishop Canevin with 18 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out with 2:47 remaining.

“The game plan was to attack (Champine) and hopefully he gets into foul trouble,” said coach Williams.

Jason Cross added 17 points, including 3 three-pointers for the Crusaders.

Landon Lockett scored 10 points for Northgate, the second time he has reached that mark in the playoffs.

The Flames’ second leading scorer, Stephen Goetz, who averages over 19 points per game, only scored five on the night for the Flames, but one basket was a big 3-pointer in the fourth quarter that gave Northgate a six-point lead.

“My bench kept saying, give Stevie (Goetz) a break, but I always believe in my players,” coach Williams said.

That confidence paid off for the Flames coach.

“I told him you’re going to hit a big one. I don’t know when you’re going to hit it, but you’re going to hit a big one,” he said.

Freshman Desmond Williams, Josh’s younger brother, came off the bench and contributed 10 points for Northgate.

“That’s special,” said the elder Williams brother. “Because he’s a freshman and he’s going to the Pete with us. I want that with my brother because that’s family.”

In the Class 2A title game Saturday at the Petersen Events Center, the Flames will meet section foe Aliquippa for the third time this season. The top seeded Quips (19-6) swept the regular season series against Northgate on their way to winning the section title.

Aliquippa will be in search of its 13th WPIAL title. Northgate finished as the runner-up 35-years ago. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m.

“It feels good,” Josh Williams said. “We’ve just got to work hard, and work hard at practice, to make sure we’re prepared for Aliquippa.”

It will be a hard-fought game, coach Williams said.

“Aliquippa’s a tough team. When you’re playing them, it’s like a football game out there,” he said. “They go after everything and play stud defense. They are going to come right at you with full court man-to-man pressure, and we have to deal with that.”

Bishop Canevin (20-5), which had already clinched a spot in the state playoffs, will face Greensburg Central Catholic in the third-place game Thursday to determine PIAA playoff seeding. The Quips and the Flames will occupy the top two spots from District 7 when that tournament gets underway March 11.

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