Vincentian Academy boys ready for PIAA finals matchup against Sankofa Freedom Academy

Wednesday, March 20, 2019 | 4:21 PM

When the ball goes up in the air at Hershey’s Giant Center at 2 p.m. Thursday for the start of the PIAA Class A boys championship game, a team from the North Hills and the other from North Philly will add to the state’s already rich sports rivalry between East and West.

While it’s not Pirates/Phillies, Steelers/Eagles, or Penguins/Flyers, WPIAL Class A runner-up Vincentian Academy and District 12 champ Sankofa Freedom Academy will add another chapter in the history of the two rival sports cities.

“We have to get out against a team from North Philly,” Vincentian Academy coach Tim Tyree said. “They’re very talented, long, athletic, have very skilled wings and point guard.

“Even as good as they are, anybody is beatable. We’re going to go out there, stick to our game plan and try and execute.”

Sankofa Freedom Academy (18-10) won the District 12 title with a 76-64 win over Paul Robeson High School. The Warriors will arrive at Hershey riding a season-long six-game winning streak.

“Were a team that has been together for three or four years,” Sankofa Freedom Academy coach Isaiah Thomas said. “The guys on our team have been in our program since the middle school.”

Thomas has been the only Warriors coach since the K-12 charter school opened its doors 10 years ago. Sankofa is in its third straight trip to the PIAA playoffs. The last two seasons, the Warriors were shown the door in the second round.

The Warriors’ march to the school’s first PIAA finals appearance was paved with teams that were responsible for ending Sankofa’s PIAA runs the past two season.

The Warriors delivered payback to Faith Christian, 75-46, in the quarterfinals and finally broke through on Monday with a 66-49 win over last season’s PIAA Class A runner-up in Lourdes Regional.

“I think when we got an opportunity we used the loss last year (to Lourdes) to remind them,” Thomas said. “It’s been a roster-coaster season.”

The Warriors are a veteran team with a ton of height, athleticism and talent, and colleges having taken notice. Sankofa is led by a 6-foot-6 Rider commit in senior Khalil Turner. Thomas said he runs a “positionless offense.” In that, every player on the floor can play every spot. Thomas has the shooters and size to make it happen.

Junior Derrius Ward is coming off a team-high 25 points in the win over Lourdes. The 6-5 sharpshooter is getting lots of Division I attention.

Seniors Kobe Devine, Jaymes Savage and 1,000-point scorer Scott Spann round out the Warriors’ starting five. Devine and Spann put up 10 and 16 points, respectively, in the semifinal win. The Warriors are scoring an average of 77.8 points in the PIAA playoffs and giving up 42.3.

“It’s good that we’ve been able to face some of the same-type teams in Monessen and Nazareth Prep,” Tyree said. “This is gonna be a different type of monster.”

Vincentian Academy (20-8) is putting up an average of 64.5 points in the state tournament and allowing 53.5.

In his second season as the Royals’ coach, Tyree, a 2008 Monessen grad, has put his stamp on the program.

“We’re building a program and doing it the right way,” Tyree said.

The Royals reached the PIAA title game by beating Monessen, 57-43, Monday night at Mt. Lebanon. It was the second time this postseason Tyree and his Royals beat the Greyhounds. Vincentian also got the better of Monessen in the WPIAL semifinals, 61-49.

The wins over his alma mater were more sweet than bitter, but nevertheless, Tyree said he received support walking through the handshake line after Monday’s game.

“They said, ‘Bring it back to the WPIAL,’” Tyree said. “I got a lot of love from those guys.”

The Royals have the size to match up against Sankofa, just maybe not the experience. Like Sankofa was a few years ago, Vincentian is a young team. The Royals don’t have a senior starter. They are led by 6-foot sophomore guard Alex Griggs. Junior Nate Cullo and freshman Matt McDonough round out the guards. McDonough put up 13 points in Monday’s win over Monessen.

“We feel good about our offense executing in the half court against their man defense,” Tyree said.

Where the Royals match up well is down low. The Royals have two 6-6 forwards in junior Ethan Embleton and sophomore Angelo Reeves. Reeves scored a team-high 16 points, and Embleton added 11 against Monessen.

“We’re doing our homework,” Thomas said. “We know that they have some size over there and are rather hungry. We’re not taking them for granted, and we’re preparing for them like we did every opponent throughout the course of the state playoffs.”

Tyree had a feeling all season that his team would be playing in late March.

“We’ve been preaching to our guys all year long that we are one of the best teams in the state and now it’s time to go out there and put it all to work,” Tyree said.

William Whalen is a freelance writer.


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