OLSH, Sto-Rox to rekindle rivalry in boys Class 2A championship game

Thursday, February 27, 2020 | 4:40 PM

OLSH must go through a familiar foe to defend its WPIAL Class 2A championship.

The Chargers (23-1) meet former section rival Sto-Rox (18-6) at 5 p.m. Friday at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center. The squads competed in Section 3 before reclassification split them up after the 2017-18 season.

“We thought we built a pretty good rivalry with them,” Sto-Rox coach Ryan Hughes said. “It’s a shame we were moved apart because we’ve been improving year by year. We’ve thought we could compete with them and some of the other top teams. Now, we get the chance to see how far along we’ve come. We’re looking forward to it.”

After falling in the WPIAL championship in 2017 and ’18, OLSH broke through last year for the title. The Chargers hope to make it two in a row.

“It feels great to get back,” OLSH sophomore Jake DiMichele said. “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.”

While OLSH hopes to defend its title, a lot of the Chargers will be playing different roles than they did last season. The team graduated eight seniors from last year’s squad, though standouts Dante Spadafora and DiMichele returned.

“At the beginning of the year, if you would have told me that we’d be back in this game, I would have said you were nuts, absolutely nuts,” OLSH coach Mike Rodriguez said. “Jake and Dante both averaged 13 points per game last year, and I have asked them to take on a much bigger role this year and given them the green light to shoot.

“Everybody else, the role players we had off the bench last year or the JV guys that are stepping up are assuming big roles for the team. Matt Reese is playing tremendous. Jake Kocin came off the bench last year and he’s playing outstanding. Jake Gartley, Eric Olexa — these guys have just stepped up and are doing a great job.

“We talk about making your own memory,” he continued. “Guys were talking about last year’s team or the one before that. I said to the guys that those are different teams. This is your team. Make your own memory. And I think they’re taking it to heart. What a great accomplishment it is getting back there.”

DiMichele and Spadafora lead the way this season. Both rank among the WPIAL’s top scorers. DiMichele, whose mother and father are former Sto-Rox standouts, rifled in 36 points in the team’s 73-19 semifinal win over Winchester Thurston. He surpassed 1,000 career points in the process.

“We had a great team last year. At this point, we’ve all proven we can play just as good as last year’s team, maybe even better,” OLSH senior Matt Rees said. “We’re just focused on the WPIAL championship and getting that championship.”

The second-seeded Vikings haven’t had an easy path to The Pete. They overcame an 11-point deficit against Brentwood and erased a 14-point deficit against Shenango in Tuesday’s semifinal.

“I am proud of the way we’ve battled back,” Hughes said. “I wish we wouldn’t get ourselves in such big holes. As long as we keep getting out of them, I guess I am OK with it, though.

“As long as we play together and no one tries to do more than they need to do, I think we have a good shot at it,” he continued. “We’re a team filled with a lot of seniors who have been through everything. They have been waiting four years for this. Now, we get to see how they react to it.”

Sto-Rox likes to push the ball and play pressure defense. That’s why depth — the Vikings will play up to 12 players per game — is vital for the squad.

“Our numbers help us out. Since we play so many guys and with the style we play, if guys get tired, we can bring a lot of bodies into the game,” Hughes said. “We benefit in that category a little bit.”

Sto-Rox spreads the ball around, too. Jamil Williams led the squad with 19 points against Shenango. Jamal Williams had 15, Malik Smith added 13, and Davontae Johnson finished with 10.

“We’ve made tremendous strides from the beginning of the year to where we are now,” Hughes said. “It’s always somebody different for us. If one is not having a good day, I can count on someone else being capable to step up and pick up the slack.”

The Vikings face a challenge in OLSH’s defense, which allows 48.5 points per game.

“Although we have a team with a pretty good amount of scorers, defense wins championships,” Spadafora said. “This year, we’ve keyed in on our defense. If we keep playing like this, we can go a long way.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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