With school about to close, Vincentian Academy to face Cornell in emotional Class A final

Wednesday, February 26, 2020 | 8:23 PM

When Vincentian Academy and Cornell square off at the Petersen Events Center on Thursday night, it will be the 11th time the teams have met in the last four years. None of those contests has meant more than this one.

No. 1 Vincentian Academy (20-4) is looking for its fourth WPIAL title since 2011. The Raiders are looking for their first since 2000.

The Cornell senior trio of Kaden DiVito, Zaier Harrison and Isaiah Langston are looking to end their high school careers by lifting WPIAL gold. The Royals are trying to do the same thing. But they are trying to win the last WPIAL title in school history.

Earlier this week, Vincentian Academy announced that its doors would be closing at the end of the school year. The disappointing news shocked coach Tim Tyree and his team but also gave them that much more motivation to go out on top.

“You have a very family environment, and a lot of people have been here well before my time here,” Tyree said. “You have kids here where this is everything they know from a high school standpoint.

“It’s big motivation for us for sure. The news was kind of out of left field, so we are just trying to use that as motivation and make sure that we are going out on top in our WPIAL history.”

The Section 1-A rivals met twice this season and split the contests as both teams protected their home court. The Royals won the first contest, handing the Raiders a 92-61 loss Jan. 14.

About a month later, DiVito and Langston scored 21 points apiece on their senior night and the Raiders earned a nine-point victory to cap off their section schedule with an exclamation point.

“They have a very small gym, and it’s very hard to play there,” Cornell coach Bill Sacco said. “There isn’t much room to get stuff done, so we had a rough time. Then they came to our floor, and the difference was there was room. There was space.”

Both teams have been a representation of the best Class A has to offer. With four players at 6-foot-4 or taller, the Royals have the length and athleticism to score in a multitude of ways while still being strong defensively.

They’ve averaged a Class A best of 73.3 points per game while only allowing opponents to average 51.6 points per game against them.

“When we have the ball in our hands, we have to be patient with the ball, and we have to look for good shots, and we have to hit them,” Sacco said. “If not, that will be a problem because we are an outside shooting team. So, if we’re not making any shots, that will hurt us. Their size inside will keep us from getting inside.”

The Raiders, on the other hand, implement a fast-paced offense that looks to score in transition. Langston, DiVito and Harrison are what makes the offense flow, but seniors Blaine Sams and Jeavontae King-Walden provide depth and experience in the starting lineup as well.

Cornell averages 70.5 points per game, which is the second-highest in Class A behind Vincentian while only allowing 53.5 points.

“They have that core group of seniors over there, and I’ve kinda been going back and forth with those guys throughout their whole career at Cornell,” Tyree said. “So, to kinda go out in the sixth matchup in the past two years, and this time for a piece of the WPIAL Championship, is really a great opportunity. We just want to go out there and make sure we are putting our best foot forward to bring it home.”

Two teams will take the court Thursday night with a lot on the line, and only one will come away as WPIAL champions. Tip is set for 7 p.m. at the Petersen Events Center.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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