Mt. Lebanon achieves rare feat capturing boys and girls WPIAL AAAA crowns

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The Gateway boys basketball team was flying high a week ago after finally earning its first trip to the WPIAL championship in school history. That moment of excitement was replaced with a dose of reality after experiencing a heartbreaking 57-51 loss to Mt. Lebanon in the Class AAAA final last Saturday night at the Palumbo Center. Evan Pierce, a Wagner recruit, led Mt. Lebanon with 21 points all in the second half.

With the Gators carrying as many as five Division I prospects on their roster, the sky is truly the limit for this bunch.

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EVAN PIERCE from Mt. Lebanon holds off Gateway’s Anthony Smallwood Keel as he drives to the hoop. Pierce scored 21 points to lead the Blue Devils to a 57-51 win over the Gators.

This kind of talent in general, let alone on one team, hasn’t been seen in these parts too often, if ever, in recent years. Schenley’s run with DeJuan and Greg Blair, D. J. Kennedy, Deandre Kane and Jamaal Bryant a couple years back was the rare exception.

The Gators’ top five are actually taller than Pitt’s starting five at every spot.

In his fifth year as head coach, Mitch Adams has slowly but surely turned around the basketball program at a school that has a well-earned reputation as a football powerhouse, having dominated Class AAAA for most of the past several decades.

Tough love has always been Adams’ calling card. He’s an in-your-face drill sergeant and it’s his way or the highway.

The silver lining is that the Gators have qualified for the PIAA state playoffs and are looking forward to facing Mt. Lebanon again.

“We are a very young team that is capable of playing some great basketball,” said assistant coach Marvin Wright. “We play the City champion Allderdice next week. If we get hot we are capable defeating any team in the state.”

Anna Kestler, a talented junior guard for Mt. Lebanon, the No. 1 ranked team in the state, and No. 7 ranked team in the nation, led her team to a 59-43 victory against No. 3 Baldwin. Her father, Hal, is Seton-La Salle’s coach.

“Mt. Lebanon is a great team,” said MSA announcer Jonathan Whaley. “But next year watch out for Baldwin with Belma Nurkic and speedy Taylor Wentzel both coming back.”

T.J. McConnell, a Duquesne University recruit, led Chartiers Valley to a 63-50 WPIAL AAA championship victory over Hampton. McConnell scored 34 points and have scored 144 points in four WPIAL playoff game, three points shy of the record for most points in a tournament set by Penn Hills’ Drew Schifino in 2000.

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CHAMPIONS—The New Castle girls basketball team raise their trophy after winning the WPIAL girls AAA championship, defeating Hopewell, 66-61. Head coach Jason Rankin celebrates with the team.

Behind super sophomore Kaylynn Waters 33 points, New Castle defeated Hopewell in triple overtime to capture the girls’ WPIAL class AAA championship.

The Scarlet-and-Gold of North Catholic took the “long way” to win back-to-back WPIAL class AA championships. Coach Dave Long ordered his son and nephew, Martin, and Jesse Long to play “sic ’em” defense against the Rochester Rams. The Trojans earned a hard fought 51-48 victory.

Behind Kayla Cook, a Coastal Carolina recruit, Jeannette defeated Seton- La Salle 39-36 with Rose Bowl MVP quarterback Terrelle Pryor cheering them on. “I feel pretty good and my knee is nearly 100 percent healthy,” said Pryor. “Right after the season I got some minor surgery on my knee.”

Tom Droney, a Davidson recruit, tied a WPIAL championship record when he scored 40 points in the championship game last season. Droney drilled a game-winning 3-point shoot with less than 10 seconds remaining to give Sewickley Academy a 49-48 victory over Lincoln Park and back-to-back WPIAL class AAA championships.

The biggest upset of the tournament was the 57-31 blowout by Vincentian over North Catholic in the girls’ WPIAL class A championship. Vincentian had lost to the North Catholic Lady Trojans 11 consecutive games, but this one was never even close.

Gateway is not the only team that wants to face Mt. Lebanon again. City League champion Allderdice is looking for respect.

“We wanted to play Mt. Lebanon again,” said Allderdice coach Andre McDonald. “We are looking forward to playing Gateway next week and we are one of the few teams that match up well with them from an athletic standpoint.”

With Gateway, Mt. Lebanon, Allderdice, Chartiers Valley and Sewickley Academy all entering the PIAA state tournament. March Madness is alive and well in “Six-burgh.”

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