Penn Hills boys’ 5th WPIAL championship lifts spirits
By: Andrew John
Saturday, March 10, 2018 | 12:01 AM
Heading into the season, Penn Hills boys basketball coach Dan DeRose believed he had the missing ingredient to a WPIAL championship team: senior point guard Cory Fulton.
DeRose was proven right when the No. 5 Indians (23-3) defeated No. 6 Pine-Richland, 60-56, in the WPIAL Class 6A boys basketball final at Petersen Events Center on March 3.
The Indians, who denied Pine-Richland's bid for a three-peat, captured their fifth WPIAL title and their first since 2003. Before that championship, the Indians captured WPIAL crowns in 1987, 1994 and 2000.
“This is something I just felt that myself, the players, the school and the whole community really needed. It brought some excitement into the city. I'm so glad that we were able to lift a lot people's spirits,” DeRose said.
“The kids, myself and the parents really came together and stuck together and fought through everything that we had to go through the last couple of years.”
DeRose, who took over as Indians coach in 2015, has been having problems silencing his phone since the victory.
“I have received close to 150 texts within the last three days congratulating me. It really meant a lot to me. It really shows you the impact you have on people and how proud they are of you and the kids,” DeRose said.
Fulton, who missed last season due to an ACL injury, finished with 23 points in the title game for the Indians. Fulton believes his performance in the title game was validation of how hard he worked.
“It's a testimony on how hard I worked because last year I had to watch all season. This year, once I got back, I knew it was going to be different for the team,” Fulton said.
Senior guard/forward Daivon Stephens also finished with 23 points in the win for the Indians.
Stephens expressed the belief the Indians had what it took to win a WPIAL title even after the 65-56 loss to Woodland Hills on Feb. 6.
“I've been telling Coach D since he came to Penn Hills we were going to win it our senior year. After the loss to Woody, I told him we are still going to get it done,” Stephens said.
“I feel like we should've won the past two years, but we fell short. We just moved the ball better and played more together this year.”
During the WPIAL playoffs, the Indians demonstrated their ability to come back in the second half after being down at halftime in all four playoff games.
In the title game, the Indians trailed Pine-Richland, 34-27, but scored 13 of the first 17 points in the second half. Stephens and Fulton combined to score 29 of Penn Hills' 33 second-half points.
The Indians' turnaround was created by increased energy and intensity as well as an ability to get stops on the defensive end.
“They responded well when they came back out. I really felt that we were really getting anything we wanted offensively (and) we would be OK and wear them out in the second half,” DeRose said.
Penn Hills' WPIAL playoff run started with a 52-51 win over Upper St. Clair in the first round, followed by a 59-49 win over Central Catholic in the quarterfinals. The Indians earned a spot in the WPIAL title game after defeating No. 1 Mt. Lebanon, 69-66, in overtime.
Even though the Indians won the WPIAL title, the team understands there is some unfinished business: a PIAA championship.
“We're ready to go to states,” Fulton said. “We want to be the first team in Penn Hills history to get a WPIAL and state title in the same year.”
Andrew John is a freelance writer.
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