And there remained only one.
One football game left pretty much anywhere—Super Bowl LIII, on Feb. 3, from Atlanta, between the Los Angeles Rams (featuring Penn Hills’ Aaron Donald) and New England Patriots (featuring 41-year-old boy wonder Tom Brady).
Which means it’s time to turn our attention to basketball, more specifically local high school basketball, where so far this season I’ve witnessed a possible superstar (Keandre Bowles, Woodland Hills), a senior baller with a high IQ in the classroom (Allderdice’s Jackson Blaufeld, signed to Ivy league school Dartmouth), and a team that might have what it takes to repeat as WPIAL champs even though they lost all of their stars from last year (Penn Hills).
In 2018, it was Penn Hills’ Daivon Stephens and Cory Fulton whom scored 23 points apiece in beating favored Pine-Richland for the WPIAL 6A Title at Petersen Events Center. It was the Indians’ first WPIAL boys hoops title since 2003.
Little did anyone know that they would open eyes this season, but they took an undefeated WPIAL 5A (they’ve moved from Class 6A to Class 5A) record into their house on Tuesday, Jan. 15, to face rival Woodland Hills, who came into the game undefeated overall (9-0).
Duquesne University might have been jealous at the attendance at this game. Both sides of the gym were packed for this prime-time battle. Sure, there were more people there in red, but the Woodland Hills fans creatively restructured their side by creating a de facto student section, similar to the section Penn Hills students had on the other side.
Both teams felt like mirror images of each other. They are fast, trap the ball, force turnovers and make quick decisions with the ball. Woodland Hills had a slight 16-15 advantage at the end of the first quarter, but Penn Hills dominated the second frame. The Indians outscored the Wolverines, 27-9, to take a 42-25 lead into the locker room at halftime.
You can attribute Penn Hills’ offensive outburst to Wes Kropp, a scrappy sophomore who can score in the paint, where most of his 14 points in the half originated. Tyree Spencer, the Penn Hills senior guard, had 12 points in the first half, while Kyrie Hairston-Mitchell added 11.
Finally, the Woodland Hills fans had something to cheer about in the third quarter when Bowles decided to take over the game. Bowles, the 6-foot-3 senior guard, swished a 3-pointer on his first shot of the third quarter to give him 14 points in the contest. He followed it up with a right-handed dunk, another 3-pointer, and two mid-range jumpers to tally 23 points at the end of three quarters. But Penn Hills’ lead was too much to overcome, along with the continued scoring of Kropp and Spencer. Woody High was down by 22 points heading into the fourth quarter, and when the final buzzer ended, the Indians silenced any doubters, winning, 79-57.
Bowles finished with 34 points. Kropp finished with 22. Spencer and Hairston-Michell both contributed 18.
The only real fun in the game’s final moments came from the teams’ student sections. While Penn Hills students pointed to the scoreboard at their team’s insurmountable lead, Woodland Hills students countered with chants to the Penn Hills section such as: “You ain’t got no money!” drawing the ire of Wolverines athletic director, Ronald Coursey.
No matter the lighthearted banter between both sides, it was a jam-packed atmosphere that Penn Hills coach Dan DeRose wasn’t sure his team could handle, even though they were at home.
“I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. It could have gone many a ways where I just thought we wouldn’t be able to contain Bowles, maybe get caught up in the atmosphere of the crowd,” DeRose told the New Pittsburgh Courier after the Jan. 15 game. “But I also knew the way we’ve been playing defense these last five or six games that if we did that and forced turnovers, then we would continue doing what we’ve done.”
Woodland Hills (11-3, 6-1 in-conference as of Jan. 21) only shot 35 percent from the field for the game. Penn Hills (12-3, 6-0 in-conference as of Jan. 21) shot 52 percent.
DeRose said only Spencer had previous game experience playing in this type of environment—standing-room-only attendance, television cameras rolling, and a crowd that was about 40 percent for Woodland Hills.
“So this was good for these (other) kids to play in, to show me and to show themselves that ‘hey, I can handle this environment,’ because if you’re going to go a long ways you gotta be able to do that,” DeRose said. “I’m proud of them.”
As for Spencer, DeRose said: “He knows what I want to be done, and because he understands the system, he’s taken advantage of the system, used it to his benefit, and he’s getting everybody else to do what needs to be done out there.”
Can anyone truly challenge Allderdice in the City League? It feels like yesterday when Pittsburgh Obama was the favorite over Allderdice in the 2014 City League championship game at Obama High School. But when Allderdice pulled off the upset, 55-54, that started this “Kings of the City League” reign that the Dragons have enjoyed. They defeated Westinghouse in the 2018 City League championship game to claim its fifth consecutive City League title. I see no one that can stop them from getting title number six in a row in a few weeks.
But what about Carrick? What about Brashear? Westinghouse? Obama? Perry? I personally saw Allderdice destroy Carrick, though Carrick has a pretty good team, led by 6-foot-1 senior guard Vernon Washington. In their contest, Jan. 11, at the Carrick gym, Allderdice got out to a 17-5 lead in the opening quarter and led by 23 points at the half.
It’s no wonder Allderdice has made it to the PIAA (state playoffs) quarterfinals three of the past four years, including last year, when they eventually lost to Pine-Richland. There is no unnecessary chit-chat amongst the players while they’re on the court. I call them, “pleasantly robotic.” Whether it’s Blaufeld, Bobby Clifford, Terrell Childs, Rob Jones or Dalen Dugger, they just go out there and play the game. They have great spacing in the halfcourt offense. Everyone is always in the right spot. Their passing is pinpoint. Their guards have no problem driving to the basket, taking the contact.
Allderdice (12-3, 5-0 in-conference as of Jan. 21) ended up beating Carrick, 84-45. On Jan. 18, the Dragons faced another City League contender, Brashear, but again, no contest. Final score at Brashear—Dragons 81, Bulls 53.
The last time a City League team won six basketball titles in a row was…never. Westinghouse won five in a row from 1950-54, currently matched by Allderdice. But ‘Dice wants more. They want consecutive title number six. They want to rewrite history.
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