New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
In order to get over the second-round hump, the Union High basketball team must take down a bear.
Fifth-seeded Clairton stands in the way of an elusive WPIAL Class A semifinals appearance for the fourth-seeded Scotties. The teams are set to tango at 8 p.m. today at North Hills High School.
Union (17-5) was dismissed in Round 2 a season ago, a 49-33 decision to North Catholic and hasn’t made it past the second round since the 2008-2009 season.
The Bears (14-6) proved their strength in a first-round victory over St. Joseph, 74-38. A big fourth quarter by the Scotties was enough to upend first-round opponent Quigley Catholic, 78-60.
THE KILLER Ts
This will be the second time this school year that a Lawrence County team has played a Clairton team in the playoffs. The Neshannock High football team was the victim of a 37-7 defeat at the hands of Clairton in the semifinals of the WPIAL Class A playoffs. The game held historic significance as the Bears tied a Pennsylvania record with their 59th consecutive victory in football (a record it would claim its own with a win over Sto-Rox the following week). Key members of that squad known as the “Killer Ts” — Terrish Webb, Tyler Boyd and Titus Howard — also are skilled on the basketball court. Webb recently announced his intention of joining Boyd and Howard to play football at Pitt in the fall. All three players start for the basketball team, with Howard, a 6-foot-4 forward, posing as a big threat under the basket.
“Howard is a nice player for them; he’s more of an athlete,” Union coach Dave Smialowski said. “He rebounds well and finds a soft spot in the zone.”
A drawback to the success of the three is their time away from the court. Because of recruiting visits, the trio didn’t make an appearance together in Clairton’s starting lineup until the team’s 13th game of the season.
“They’re an athletic bunch. It’s hard to get a read on them because they haven’t played much together,” Smialowski said. “I’ve talked to other coaches who have had some solid looks at them. They like to push the ball. Their defensive intensity is what they try to rely on.”
Despite all the media attention going to the Killer Ts, Bryon Clifford makes perhaps the biggest impact. The 5-9 senior point guard carries a team-high 18.4 points a game.
“He makes them go. If he can penetrate, he will go baseline to baseline if he can,” Smialowski said. “If he can’t finish, he’ll look to help and dish it to other guys who can finish too.”
LOVE FOR PEACE
Markel Peace claimed a career best for the Scotties with his 31 points last week against Quigley Catholic. The 6-1 senior forward leads Union at 19.1 points a game this season and will be asked to do the heavy lifting for the offense again in this matchup. Inside, he is complemented by forwards Benjamin Young and Tre Major. Young, a 5-11 junior, is second on the team at 13.2 points a game and has swished 20 3-pointers. Major, a 6-2 senior, chips in 10.2 points a game for the squad. “They have athletic ability and all their guys are able to knock down 3-pointers. Peace is very active. He’s all over the boards and gets out in transition,” Bears coach Matt Geletko said. “He runs with a lot of energy.
“Major has a little bit of length to him and is a good rebounder. He’s easily their best inside threat.”
Leading the team into the offensive zone is Joe Salmen. At 6-0, the senior has averaged 12.6 points a game.
“He controls their offense, it seems like,” Geletko said. “He has a nice jump shot. He gets them to where they want to be. Their offense really goes through him and Peace.”
Because of its athletic ability, Clairton doesn’t see much man-to-man defense against its offense. The Scotties won’t shy away from man coverage in this matchup.
“It looks like they like to match up the whole game that way,” Geletko said. “We didn’t see that a lot in our section, I think, because we can have matchup problems for some teams. A lot of our guys can do a lot of things on the floor.
“We’re going to need to take care of the basketball and play good, solid defense. We need to make good decisions on our offense and not rush shots. I think that’s something they weren’t used to doing in the past — being patience against the better teams you play.”
A key for Union is to neutralize the athletic ability of the Bears and keep them to the outside.
“If we can stop their penetration, we force them to beat us from the perimeter,” Smialowski said. “That’s easier said than done.
“We worked at it pretty good this week. We have to push the ball first, and we’re going to try to get the easy ones. We have to play a little disciplined on their end and make them work defensively.”
(Relive magic moments from the past with our “Big Shots” feature today on The Bounce. To view the latest video, CLICK HERE.)