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Boys' Class AAAA Final: Red Raiders score last 4 points, nip New Castle, 60-57

Sunday, March 03, 2002

By Mike White, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Despite all the success Uniontown has enjoyed the past few years, the Red Raiders were starting to become known as the team that couldn't finish.

Carl Farrell of Uniontown goes for a loose ball against New Castle's Dom Joseph yesterday at the Palumbo Center. (Lake Fong, Post-Gazette)

Two years ago, Uniontown lost in the WPIAL semifinals and then in the PIAA title game. Last year, the Raiders were knocked off by an upstart Chartiers Valley team in the WPIAL championship game.

So when Uniontown blew a 12-point fourth-quarter lead yesterday in the WPIAL title game and fell behind by a point late in the contest, the Raiders couldn't help but feeling something clogging their airways again.

"We let one get away last year, and, for a while, I thought it might happen again," said Uniontown Coach Dave Shuck.

But this time, Uniontown choked off its opponent in the title game, and the Raiders won one of the biggest games in recent WPIAL history.

Uniontown scored the final four points and defeated New Castle, 60-57, to win the WPIAL Class AAAA championship in front of a capacity crowd at the Palumbo Center.

 
 
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Playoff Information

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"It's like we got that big monkey off our back," said Uniontown senior guard Terrance Vaughns, who scored a game-high 23 points. "We had the talent to win the last three years, but something always happened."

Free-throw shooting was vital to the Raiders' title. Uniontown (26-1) made 16 of 17 free throws and scored the final four points of the game from the free-throw line. Chris Jacobs made two with 1:13 left, and Vaughns hit both ends of a one-and-one with 5.1 seconds remaining. New Castle never got off a final shot.

It was a fantastic finish to a memorable title game. Uniontown had been the Post-Gazette's No. 1-ranked Class AAAA team since the preseason and New Castle No. 2. New Castle came in with a 27-0 record, and this was the first time since 1967 that the championship game in the largest classification matched two teams with only one loss between them. The crowd got to be so big that the WPIAL stopped selling tickets for a while before tipoff. Although the game was a noon start, a couple hundred people were already lined up at the gates at 9 a.m.

Attendance was estimated at close to 6,000.

And for the most part, the game lived up to its billing.

"It was just a great game," said New Castle Coach John Sarandrea. "They just happened to have the last answer."

It was the first championship for Uniontown since 1981 and its eighth overall, which ties Midland for third in WPIAL history. Farrell leads with 13 and Duquesne has 11.

"New Castle's a great team. It's a shame someone had to lose in a game like this, but I'm just glad it wasn't me this time," said Shuck, who will retire after this season.

Vaughns scored all of his points after the first quarter and brought the Raiders back from a seven-point second-quarter deficit. Jacobs added 12 points and nine rebounds and Carl Farrell 10 points.

Senior forward Dom Joseph led New Castle with 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Leon Ward added 13 and Mark DeMonaco 12.

New Castle made a big comeback in the fourth quarter to turn it into a nail-biter. Uniontown led, 50-37, after three quarters and held a 52-40 advantage with 7:04 left in the game. That's when New Castle's 1-2-2 half-court trap started causing problems, and the Hurricanes pulled within 54-52 with 3:06 remaining.

Ward hit a 3-pointer with 1:26 left to give New Castle a 57-56 lead, and it looked Sarandrea might get his fifth title in the past 10 seasons.

"We knew they spent a lot of energy and effort to get back into it," Shuck said. "We thought if we could only get a couple baskets, we'd be all right."

After New Castle took the lead, Jacobs made two free throws 13 seconds later to put Uniontown ahead. The teams traded turnovers before Ward missed a shot in the key with 11 seconds left. Uniontown rebounded, and Vaughns was fouled. His two free throws made him 8 for 8 in the game, but his shooting performance shouldn't be a surprise. He is a 91 percent free-throw shooter for the season.

"Terrance is at his best when the game is on the line," Shuck said.

Both teams begin the PIAA playoffs Saturday. New Castle will play North Allegheny and Uniontown will take on Trinity.

"I have a feeling we might see New Castle again," Shuck said. "I don't think they're going to go away and die."

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