Strong 2nd half lifts OLSH boys past Serra Catholic in WPIAL Class 2A title game

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Friday, March 1, 2019 | 6:52 PM


With his team up by 17 late in the fourth quarter, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart’s Mike Rodriguez, still coaching up his players with the comfortable advantage, yelled at a reserve to “Take the charge.”

The Chargers took charge, all right. And it led to WPIAL glory.

Denied a boys basketball title in five previous trips to the finals, including the last two years, OLSH finally broke through.

The top-ranked Chargers put together a strong defensive second half, pushed the pace and forced turnovers, to down No. 2 Serra Catholic, 65-46, and celebrate their first WPIAL title in the Class 2A final Friday night at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.

OLSH (22-2) had lost to Sewickley Academy on the same floor the last two years.

Senior Daren DiMichele led four OLSH scorers in double figures with 16 points, while senior Austin Wigley and sophomore Dante Spadafora had 13 apiece, and senior Ricco Tate chipped in 10 points and nine blocks.

“It was a close game in the first half, and they hadn’t seen our press,” DiMichele said. “Because we were saving it. That (press) got us that big lead and that won us the game. We like to speed it up, run-and-gun, play good defense and don’t slack on defense.”

OLSH, with several of the same players, won a WPIAL Class A football title last fall.

“I have some great players who don’t play football,” Rodriguez said. “But I do believe that football winning was a big boost for us. It gave them the confidence to get over that hump in a big game and it taught them how to win. That set the tone for us and gave us the belief that we can do it as well.”

Serra Catholic (20-4) waited a decade to return to the WPIAL boys basketball finals but could not combat OLSH’s full-court pressure, which led to the decisive run.

“We have a bunch of sad boys in the locker room right now,” Serra coach Jason Walther said. “When you turn the ball over 29 times, it’s tough to swallow. That’s 29 shots we gave away and we lost by 15. When you play good teams like this, you can’t turn it over like that. We paid for it.”

Accompanying zone pressure also made it difficult for Serra star forward Jimmy Moon. The 6-foot-9 senior still managed 25 points and 15 rebounds, but only senior Chris Salemi joined him in double figures, with 10.

OLSH made it a double-dip at the Pete: The Chargers girls team also won a title Thursday.

The Chargers boys led by just a point at halftime, but used a 17-0 run to take command in the third and maintain a double-digit lead the rest of the way.

OLSH’s run in the third helped it take a 42-25 advantage.

“We usually jump on teams in the third quarter,” Walther said. “And they jumped on us instead. It just snow-balled.”

DiMichele scored eight in a row during the spurt.

Daren’s father, Daren, won a WPIAL and PIAA title at Sto-Rox in 1983.

“I try to let the game come to me,” the younger DiMichele said. “I am not trying to get my points. I got a couple easy layups and free throws.”

Serra was held without a field in the quarter until Moon’s putback with about three minutes left.

Led by Moon, Serra closed the gap to 46-35 heading to the fourth, but OLSH kept pushing the pace.

DiMichele’s 3 made it 55-38 after a 3 from Moon cut the margin to 12.

Moon worked for his points against the Chargers’ pressure.

“He’s a tremendous basketball player,” Rodriguez said. “We wanted to front him and back him in our zone. We were taking a chance by leaving their shooters open, but we were doubling down in the post. Those are the things we prepared for.”

The lead never got above six in the first half, and it changed sides seven times before OLSH took a 27-25 advantage into the break.

OLSH came in averaging 75.6 points, second in the WPIAL to Pine-Richland. The accelerated pace clearly favored the Chargers.

“When we share the ball, we’re a pretty good basketball team,” Rodriguez said. “That showed in the second half.”

Serra, which won a WPIAL title in 2008, returned to the finals for the first time since 2009.

Both teams will now get ready to play in the PIAA playoffs. OLSH reached the state final last season before falling to Philadelphia Constitution, 81-71.

“In other areas of the state, it’s all about the state title,” Rodriguez said. “In the WPIAL, the championship is big. I have seen many teams win it and then struggle in the state playoffs. It’s not lost upon me how hard it is to get here.”

Said DiMichele: “This is big for our school. It’s nice to win it for Coach Rod. Now, we want a state championship too, so we have to stay focused.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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