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Boys' Basketball: Uniontown, New Castle get wish in AAAA title showdown

Friday, March 01, 2002

By Mike White, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

It has been thought about and talked about for months. Finally, it's a reality.

New Castle's Mark DeMonaco must handle Uniontown's pressure. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)


WPIAL Boys' Basketball Championships Pairings


New Castle vs. Uniontown.

Calling it one for the ages wouldn't be an overstatement.

New Castle meets Uniontown for the WPIAL Class AAAA championship at noon tomorrow at the Palumbo Center. New Castle comes in with a 27-0 record; Uniontown is 25-1.

It has been 35 years since a title game of this magnitude. This is the first time since 1967 a championship in the largest classification has matched two teams with only one loss between them. That year, Ambridge (23-0) knocked off Mt. Lebanon (23-1).

Uniontown has been the Post-Gazette's No. 1-ranked WPIAL Class AAAA team since the preseason, and New Castle has been No. 2. Uniontown is ranked No. 1 in the PIAA and New Castle No. 3. They scrimmaged each other in the preseason.

"We can't wait to play them," New Castle senior Mark DeMonaco said. "Even before that scrimmage, we wanted to play them and we wanted it to be in the championship."

 
 
Dream Matchups Past

The New Castle-Uniontown game tomorrow marks the first time since 1967 that a WPIAL championship in the largest classification has matched two teams with only one loss between them. Here are some other top WPIAL championship matchups in the largest classification the past 40 years.

1977
Fox Chapel (24-1)
vs.
Beaver Falls (24-1)

Beaver Falls leads, 43-40, but Fox Chapel comes back for a 50-46 win at the Civic Arena. Stu Lyon scores 20 points for Fox Chapel and freshman Dwight Collins 15 for Beaver Falls.

1976
Farrell (21-1)
vs.
Valley (23-1)

In front of 9,931 fans at the Civic Arena, Farrell holds Valley star B.B. Flenory to 13 points and defeats the Vikings, 58-53, to give Coach Ed McCluskey his 11th WPIAL title.

1967
Mt. Lebanon (23-1)
vs.
Ambridge (23-0)

Dick DeVenzio scores 26 points, Dennis Wuycik 12 and Frank Kaufman 11 as Ambridge knocks off the Blue Devils, 62-52, at the Civic Arena. Ambridge goes on to win the PIAA title and is considered by many as the best team in WPIAL history.

1968
Donora (22-0)
vs.
Laurel Highlands (23-2)

Donora has Ken Griffey Sr., but Laurel Highlands has Will Robinson. Laurel Highlands wins, 74-53, at the Civic Arena as Robinson scores 35 points.

1964
Uniontown (24-0)
vs.
Midland (24-0)

Some call it the "dream game." In front of a capacity crowd at the Civic Arena, Uniontown prevails, 46-43, as Pat Yates scores 13 points for Uniontown. Simmie Hill scores 26 for Midland, but star guard Norm Van Lier is held to three.

   
 

The feeling is mutual. During Uniontown's semifinal game against Mt. Lebanon Wednesday, the score of the New Castle-Kiski Area game was announced to the crowd. Uniontown's fans cheered loudly when they heard New Castle won.

"Kiski Area is a good team, but we wanted New Castle," Uniontown senior guard Chris Jacobs said. "They may be undefeated and they may be talking about how great they are, but we feel as though we are the favorites. And come Saturday, all that talking won't mean anything."

A packed house of more than 5,000 is expected at Palumbo. Uniontown and New Castle have big fan followings. For the semifinals, Uniontown sold 1,000 tickets. Athletic Director John Fortugna expects to sell around 2,000 for the game tomorrow.

"I'm surprised people aren't already at Palumbo lining up," WPIAL Executive Director Larry Hanley said with a laugh. "I don't remember a championship like this in recent memory. Back when we were playing games at the Pitt Field House, there was a good package of games. But this game is a feature in itself."

Uniontown's only loss this season was to Bishop Gorman (Nev.), 72-61, in a Las Vegas holiday tournament. Bishop Gorman won the Nevada 4A championship last week.

"I believe Uniontown is the favorite, and I believe they've proven to be the best team," New Castle Coach John Sarandrea said. "It's going to take a monumental effort for us to win."

Sarandrea believes a key to the game will be how well his team handles Uniontown's presses and half-court traps. That means DeMonaco, a 5-foot-9 point guard, will be in the spotlight. DeMonaco has averaged 17 points in three playoff games.

"Uniontown's quickness is something that's tremendous," Sarandrea said.

All four championship games will be televised live by Fox Sports Net.

The other finals

It will be a clash of styles when Highlands (25-1) takes on Steel Valley (23-3) in the Class AAA championship at 9 p.m. today at Palumbo. Highlands likes a fast-paced game and likes to shoot 3-pointers. Steel Valley plays more methodical on offense.

"I told our kids that if you ever want to know the definition of team, that's Steel Valley," Highlands Coach Rich Falter said. "They're so well-coached and their spacing of the floor is beautiful. They remind me a lot of Princeton in Princeton's early days."

Sto-Rox (23-1) will try for its second Class AA championship in a row when it takes on Beaver Falls (24-2) at 2 p.m. tomorrow. Sto-Rox's only loss this season was to Chartiers Valley, 52-49, in the second game of the season.

In the Class A championship at 7 p.m. today, Duquesne (23-3) plays Monessen (21-5). Monessen is the defending champion, but the Greyhounds split two games with Duquesne this season. Monessen won the first, 64-57, and Duquesne the second, 72-55.

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