Shady Side Academy knocks off Aliquippa to earn spot in Class 3A championship game

Monday, February 28, 2022 | 10:10 PM

A parade of basketball players in dress clothes emerged from the Shady Side Academy locker room and passed by coach David Vadnais, some tapping him on the shoulder, others offering a shout-out.

Sophomore Peter Kramer took his turn and proceeded towards the exit.

Just then, Vadnais looked back and called Kramer’s name, insisting he hang around until the coach was finished with reporters.

“They’re all just thrilled,” Vadnais said. “It’s an opportunity to play for a championship.”

Kramer scored 21 points and Eli Teslovich added 14, including eight free throws in the final 2½ minutes, to power No. 3 Shady Side Academy to a 56-51 victory over No. 2 Aliquippa on Monday night at North Allegheny, sending the Bulldogs to the WPIAL Class 3A championship game for the first time in Vadnais’ nine seasons as coach.

Shady Side Academy (18-6) will play an unlikely opponent in No. 8 Avonworth (18-6) at 5 p.m. Friday at Petersen Events Center.

Shady Side Academy lost in the quarterfinals a year ago to another unlikely opponent.

“Last year in the quarters, we lost to (eventual champion No. 11) Ellwood City. That’s all I need to tell my guys,” Vadnais said. “We can’t take anybody for granted at this point. (Avonworth) is playing really really well.”

The Antelopes defeated No. 5 South Allegheny, 46-43, in the other 3A semifinal at UPMC Events Center.

Eventually, Kramer worked his way back over to his coach.

“I love playing with this team,” he said. “These are like the best moments of my life so far. I’m just pumped. I’m so ready for the Pete.”

Cameron Lindsey’s 20 points led Aliquippa (17-8). Donovan Walker added 16 for the Quips, whose season continues in the PIAA playoffs next week, despite falling short in the WPIAL semifinals.

“We’re still alive and kicking. Don’t put the dirt on us just yet,” Aliquippa coach Nick Lackovich said. “We’ll still be heard from.”

Kramer’s hustling plays in the third quarter helped Shady Side Academy forge a 39-39 tie heading to the fourth, where the Bulldogs used a 10-0 run to turn a one-point deficit into an insurmountable lead.

“Those steals got us a little bit of momentum,” Vadnais said.

Kramer stole the ball at midcourt and scored on a breakaway dunk to tie the score at 35-35 at the 3:02 mark of the third. He later stole the ball under the Aliquippa basket, converted the shot and was fouled.

His three-point play knotted the score again at 39-39 heading to the fourth.

Teslovich, who scored 10 fourth-quarter points for Shady Side Academy, put the Bulldogs in front, 44-43, with a three-point play, then stole the ball at midcourt before Kramer took a pass on the right wing and sank a 3-pointer to increase the margin to 47-43 and ignite the Shady Side Academy crowd.

“When they were up one and he hit that 3, that gave them a cushion, a boost,” Lackovich said.

Teslovich’s cluster of free throws — he was was 8 for 11 in the fourth quarter — helped to keep the Bulldogs in control, though Aliquippa managed to close within 54-51 in the final seconds.

The Quips got no closer.

“We didn’t shoot well from the line at the end,” Vadnais said, “but we made enough.”

Shady Side Academy was 11 for 19 from the charity stripe in the final eight minutes and finished the game just 16 for 25, compared to 8 for 13 for Aliquippa.

“It was big that our guys kept their heads up and stayed in it,” Vadnais said. “For Eli, that’s two games in a row now where he’s made foul shots late when he hasn’t scored much in the game. He stepped up and made them and that’s so important that he stays involved, stays positive and makes those plays for us.”

Vadnais was surprised by the pace of the low-scoring affair, saying, “When it became a half-court, defensive game, every possession mattered.”

Aliquippa, with Walker sinking back-to-back 3-point shots, surged to a 17-14 lead after the first quarter and remained on top at halftime, despite Shady Side Academy outscoring the Quips in the second quarter, 11-10.

If the first half was a battle, the second half was a war. Lackovich insisted the result could have been different if his Quips would have done a better job on the boards, where Shady Side Academy continually beat Aliquippa to the ball.

“Most of their points in the first half were on put-backs,” he said. “It shouldn’t have happened. We just didn’t rebound the basketball. We did a very poor job of it. We did too much standing around, watching, waiting for the next guy to do it. If we just halfway rebound, we win this game. It’s that simple.”

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