Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Bears Basketball

We've discussed the Clairton Bears football program at length but the basketball program has been pretty quiet - until now! Several of the players did not even suit up until well into the season because of football obligations, injuries, and the like. But now it is playoff time and their mediocre record seeded them as #5. Last night they played #1 seed, Lincoln Park, a powerhouse team that has at least three starters taller than 6'6" and generally blows out their opponents by more than 40 points per game. They were predicted to annihilate Clairton by a similar score but our Bears did not get the message. What follows is a newspaper article by a Lincoln Park area writer:

DORMONT – Fans crammed their way into every nook and cranny of the gym. They came to watch some of the WPIAL’s premier athletes compete under intense playoff conditions.
Lincoln Park and Clairton didn’t disappoint Tuesday night in a thriller of a Class A semifinal game.
But, after a furious finish, it was the top-seeded Leopards who were 71-70 upset losers. The fifth-seeded Bears (16-6) joined their fans in a wild mid-court celebration when Lincoln Park’s Elijah Minnie missed a long 3-pointer just before the final buzzer.
“We’re devastated,” Minnie said. “I mean, I’m speechless.”
“It hurts. I know how bad our kids feel right now,” Lincoln Park coach Mark Javens said. “I feel like throwing up.”
Minutes before tip-off, the Keystone Oaks gym was jammed in anticipation of a game featuring the reigning WPIAL basketball champs (Lincoln Park) and a football dynasty (Clairton). The overflow crowd sat, stood and knelt in all four corners of the gymnasium.
Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch was doing radio commentary. Standing in one corner of the gym were Pitt assistant coach Brandin Knight and former Panthers star Curtis Aikin.
Every member of Clairton’s basketball team also played for the school’s football team that has won 63 straight games and won four straight WPIAL and PIAA Class A titles. Three of the Bears are headed to Pitt to play football: Tyler Boyd, Titus Howard and Terrish Webb.
Lincoln Park doesn’t have a football team. But it has a strong basketball program that was trying to repeat as WPIAL champs. It has three underclassmen on the NCAA Division I radar: Minnie, a 6-foot-8 junior forward; Ryan Skovranko, a 6-6 junior forward; and Maverick Rowan, a 6-5 freshman guard.
On this night, it was those amazing athletes from Clairton who pulled off a stunning upset.
“Man, I’m loving this,” Webb said after exchanging hugs with teammates and fans. “Everybody doubted us. But I knew in my heart, we could beat anybody.
“Call us football players if you want. We are football players. But we are basketball players, too. We’re athletes. We’re everything. We do it all. We were just ready to play tonight. We were ready to win. Everybody else who has played Lincoln Park was scared of them. But we don’t go into any game scared of anybody.”
That was obvious from the opening tip. A blowout victory Lincoln Park (19-6) is accustomed to wasn’t going to happen on this night. Even when the fourth quarter began with the Leopards up by 11 at 61-50, never did Clairton seem out of it.
And in the fourth quarter, the Bears rallied with a 21-9 run.
With 25 seconds left, Boyd made a basket that made it 71-70. Twice in the last 21 seconds, Lincoln Park had a chance to go ahead but failed to do so. With eight seconds left, point guard Antonio Kellem drove the lane and threw up either an air ball or perhaps a pass intended for Minnie. Either way, it was a botched possession.
Then, after Clairton’s Byron Clifford missed the front end of a one-and-one foul situation with six seconds left, Minnie missed on his long-range 3-pointer.
“That last shot … it haunts me right now,” said Minnie, who scored a game-high 24 points. “It’s going to haunt me for probably the rest of the season and probably next season.”
It would serve Minnie well to put that missed shot behind him as soon as possible. Lincoln Park’s season isn’t over. They won’t repeat as WPIAL champs, but they still have the PIAA playoffs to look forward to. That tournament begins next weekend.
From a more moderate reporter:
Trailing by 11 points at the start of the fourth quarter against No. 1 seed Lincoln Park, Clairton could have thrown in the towel.
But losing is not in the Bears' DNA.
Led by a starting five of players who all were part of Clairton's four consecutive PIAA titles and 63-game winning streak on the football field, the No. 5 Bears (16-6) rallied for a 71-70 victory against the No. 1 Leopards (19-6) in a WPIAL Class A semifinal Tuesday at Keystone Oaks.
"These guys are used to playing in big games," first-year Clairton coach Matt Geletko said. "Not so much in basketball, but that football experience and the pressure of winning 63 games in a row, getting the other team's best shot every week. So in pressure situations, it doesn't bother them.
"They always tell me, 'We got this coach. We got this.' And so far, they've answered the bell."
The two teams were within five points of each other the entire game until Lincoln Park went on a 10-0 run to close the third quarter.
But the Bears didn't panic.
"We were just saying, 'Never quit,' " said Clairton senior Tyler Boyd, who finished with a team-high 20 points. "We were down by 11, but we fought hard and made adjustments and stayed at it."
Still trailing, 67-59, with 3:32 left, the Bears went on a 10-1 run to take the lead with 1:03 left.
Elijah Minnie scored on a lob pass to give the Leopards the lead back with 30 seconds remaining, but that's when longtime Clairton teammates and Pitt football recruits Terrish Webb and Boyd connected for the winning basket.
In the open floor, Webb found a cutting Boyd near the basket for a layup with 21 seconds left.
Minnie then had a chance to win the game for Lincoln Park, but his 30-footer hit off the back rim.
"These guys have been playing together and have been a tight group for long before I got here," Geletko said. "They play for each other and hate to lose."
Minnie finished with 24 points and Maverick Rowan had 16 for Lincoln Park.
Clairton's third Pitt football recruit, Titus Howard, had 19 points, Bryon Clifford finished with 14 and Webb added 10.
A little blogging music Maestro... "We Will Rock you" by Queen.
Dr. Forgot