Ellwood City boys basketball beats South Allegheny 53-50 for their first WPIAL championship in 35 years

The Roth brothers, Alexander, left, and Joe, right, surround South Allegheny’s Antonio Epps during their WPIAL 3A championship game Monday at North Allegheny High School. [Lucy Schaly photo]

There won’t be matching gold medals for Ellwood City Lincoln this season.

The Wolverines, who stormed through the WPIAL Class A tournament as the No. 11 seed and captured the championship, saw their hopes for a PIAA title dashed Saturday afternoon. Brookville scored in the waning seconds to post a 62-60 win at Ellwood City in a PIAA Class 3A quarterfinal.

“It’s a blur how the game ended. I am trying to wrap my head around it,” Ellwood City coach Steve Antuono said. “All of those ticky-tack turnovers, nobody could hang onto the ball.”

The Wolverines (14-5) were coming off a thrilling run to their first WPIAL championship. In their first trip to the PIAA playoffs since 1998 when they beat Martinsburg Central, 68-66, in the first round, they battled to stay with the Raiders (22-2).

“Our team stayed the course and came out ready to go. That was a challenge,” Antuono said. “That is a good team. Their size hurt us a little.”

Brookville, the District 9 champ, held off Ellwood City for a majority of the afternoon. The Wolverines pulled ahead, 60-59, with 1:01 remaining on Alexander Roth’s free throw. The Raiders quickly equalized with Jace Miner’s freebie with 50.9 seconds left.

Both teams endured a rocky final minute as they both committed crucial turnovers. The Wolverines got the ball back with 13.2 seconds left, but Miner raced in, deflected the inbounds pass and sprinted in for a layup and a 62-60 edge with 11.7 seconds on the clock.

Ellwood City had a final opportunity, but its shot never made it to the bucket.

“It was a very sloppy ending and not something you’d expect in this kind of game,” Brookville coach Dalton Park said. “We had two where we couldn’t catch and threw it to nobody — bang, bang. That last one, I thought we were done for or we were going to overtime.

“Then, I saw Jace kind of creeping up. He’s done that for us all year. He’s really quick. It’s a shame he has a baseball scholarship instead of playing basketball somewhere.”

Miner, a Wichita State baseball recruit, produced a game-high 28 points for the Raiders.

“He’s pretty athletic. He takes good shots and kicks when he doesn’t. Right now, he’s really matured as a player,” Park said. “That’s the reason why we are where we are is because he doesn’t just shoot every time. He does set the tone for us and he did a great for us on both sides.”

“He’s a load,” Antuono said. “We saw him on tape and he’s better in person than on tape. He’s so athletic and long — he gets there. We tried three different things to not let him get there and he got there. He can elevate and finish awkwardly.”

Brookville meets Bishop Guilfoyle, a 53-45 winner over Franklin, in Tuesday’s semifinals. Park is thrilled his squad was able to edge the Wolverines.

“I sort of had a feeling it was going to be this way. I watched them play. I watched some tapes from early in the year and thought, ‘Wow.’ Then, I watched them play late in the year and they were a whole different team,” he said. “You could tell the coaching took over. What they were from the beginning of the year to the end of the year was awesome. They did a great job with this team.”

Freshman Joseph Roth led Ellwood City with 22 points. Junior Steve Antuono had 18, while junior Alexander Roth added 14. Junior starter Milo Sesti returns next year, too, for Ellwood City, which hopes to build on its success.

“It’s amazing what these guys accomplished. It’s just a great group of kids — good families and good kids. We don’t get this far without that,” Coach Antuono said. “We have our top four coming back, but we need to get in the gym and work. I need a fifth, sixth and seventh man. Someone has to step up. We need some more depth to do what we would like to do.”

ncsports@ncnewsonline.com

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Joe Sager is a former full-time sports writer for the New Castle News and currently freelances for the News and other Western Pennsylvania newspapers.

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