Trib HSSN boys basketball player of the week for March 6, 2023

Monday, March 6, 2023 | 5:18 PM

Central Catholic beating New Castle to win the WPIAL 6A boys basketball championship last week may have raised an eyebrow or two, but not to one of the Vikings.

Senior Dante DePante felt this title was a long time coming for No. 3-seeded Central Catholic.

“It was amazing,” DePante said. “After four years and a lot of hard work, a lot of hard practices, it was amazing to finally get that done.”

“That” was hoisting district gold, only the second time a team from Central Catholic accomplished that feat and the first in 15 years.

DePante and the Vikings began last week with a WPIAL semifinals matchup against No. 2 Upper St. Clair.

Central Catholic jumped out to a 17-6 lead after the opening quarter and increased the advantage in the second quarter, taking an 18-point edge into the locker room.

The Vikings held off the Panthers in the second half to win 65-41.

Before the game, Central Catholic coach Brian Urso had his team watch the previous year’s semifinal game at Peters Township, where the Vikings lost to eventual champion Fox Chapel.

“Last year was a heartbreaker,” DePante said. “We played a really good game that came down to the wire, but we came up short. Coach replayed our heartbreak, and it was definitely motivating to say the least.”

DePante had a game-high 25 points against USC.

“Dante’s maturity really stood out on Tuesday,” Urso said. “He is our most experienced player in the program, and he has played in some really big games over his career. On Tuesday night, he was more than ready for that game. His demeanor was perfect for a semifinal game. He was poised but confident, and his confidence spread throughout our lineup that night.”

The win set up a third meeting this season between the top two teams in Section 1, New Castle and Central Catholic.

Both teams won road games during the regular season with the Vikings winning at New Castle by 11 points on Jan. 10, and the Red Hurricanes earning victory at Central Catholic by 14 points on Feb. 3.

Did having knocked off top-seeded New Castle earlier in the season help the confidence of Central Catholic going into the 6A championship game?

“It definitely let us know they were not unbeatable because we beat them before,” DePante said. “It gave us a lot of confidence going into the game; we just had to come out ready to play, and that’s what we did.”

Even though New Castle reached the finals last season, it was Central Catholic that came out strong like they had been there before. The Vikings led by five after the opening quarter and enjoyed a four-point lead following quarters two and three.

The Vikings never blinked in the final quarter, outscoring the Red Hurricanes, 23-18, and winning the district crown, 61-52.

DePante had 29 points, five rebounds and a couple of assists for Central Catholic.

“Saturday night was the biggest game of his high school career, and Dante was an absolute star,” Urso said. “He was the best player on the floor that night, and he controlled the entire tempo of the game. He was aggressive right from the opening quarter, and he found his groove right away. His decision making was at a very high level, and the way he handled the New Castle pressure was tremendous.”

DePante was a freshman when Urso took over as head basketball coach at Central Catholic. His coach has watched him grow into one of the top players in the district.

“Dante is an elite scorer,” he said. “He can score from all three levels, and he has the capability to make plays at the rim. In the open court he is lethal. He just has a great feel for the game, and he is constantly looking to make the right play on the floor. He is a willing passer as well which gives him more opportunities to make plays.

“His skill set is off the charts. His ball-handling ability does not receive enough credit. He understands the importance of keeping the ball low to avoid traps, and he is extremely difficult to rattle or press. Dante is an absolute gym rat as well. He never wants to put the ball down.”

Central Catholic will try to avoid the WPIAL hangover Saturday when it opens up the PIAA playoffs against District 3’s West Lawn Wilson at Gateway at 3:30 p.m.

“We are really excited for the state tournament,” Urso said. “Our guys are very interested in keeping our momentum going. It is a one game at a time mindset and our entire focus has to be on our first-round game. Staying locked in on the defensive side of the ball is going to be critical, and, if we do that, we will have a great opportunity to keep playing deep into March.”

2022-23 Trib HSSN Players of the Week

Week 8 – Rodney Gallagher, Laurel Highlands

Week 7 – Dunny Rowe, McKeesport

Week 6 – Shea Champine, Bishop Canevin

Week 5 – Vinnie Cugini, Aquinas Academy

Week 4 – Makahi Valentine, Steel Valley

Week 3 – Royce Parham, North Hills

Week 2 – Jaydis Kennedy, Geibel Catholic

Week 1 – Joe Roth, Ellwood City


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