For the first time in 15 years, the Central Catholic Vikings are WPIAL champions.
Dante DePante scored 29 points and Cole Sullivan added 16 points and 10 rebounds to lead Central Catholic past New Castle, 61-52, in the Class 6A boys basketball championship Saturday at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.
It’s the second title for No. 3-seeded Central Catholic (16-9) and its first since 2008. To do it, the Vikings took down No. 1 New Castle (22-3) in the rubber match between the teams this season. The Red Hurricanes, who were trying to add to their record 14 titles, were led by Jonathan Anderson’s 22 points.
Central Catholic led for most of the game. New Castle took a brief lead late in the third quarter, but Central Catholic closed the quarter strong before outscoring the Red Hurricanes, 23-18, in the final quarter.
A big key to Central Catholic’s win was its excellent play defensively. The 52 points scored by New Castle was its second fewest of the season, topped only by the 45 it scored Jan. 10 in an 11-point loss to Central Catholic. New Castle was just 19 of 45 from the field (42%), including just 4 of 14 in the first quarter when Central Catholic raced to a five-point lead after the first eight minutes. The Red Hurricanes were only 4 of 17 from 3-point range, and leading scorer Isaiah Boice was limited to only 7 points after coming into the game averaging 17 points a game.
“The last three days we just spent an enormous amount of time reviewing New Castle,” fourth-year Central Catholic coach Brian Urso said. “They’re really good. To me they’re the standard of excellence in basketball, and I have a lot of respect for Coach [Ralph] Blundo and what he does and how he gets his guys to truly battle for him. So we knew we had to be airtight on defense.”
DePante, a 6-foot-3 senior guard and one of the top players in the WPIAL, continued his postseason tear. After averaging 15.9 points a game in the regular season, DePante poured in 34, 25 and 29 in three playoff wins, an average of 29.3 a game.
“I feel like I’ve been playing better throughout the playoffs,” DePante said. “I feel like throughout the season there were injuries and stuff. I feel like it’s my last year, so why not make every game count.”
Sullivan, a 6-5 junior forward, also played a key role. Sullivan might be best known for his football talent — the linebacker has offers from Notre Dame, Michigan, Oklahoma and many others — but he’s also a basketball standout who hurt an undersized New Castle team with his ability to score, rebound and defend the post. He was 7 of 8 from the field, pretty impressive for a player who didn’t even play on the varsity team last season. He played JV instead.
Both teams move on to PIAA tournament play and will play first-round games next Saturday.
“We didn’t do enough right offensively,” Blundo said. “I probably didn’t press enough buttons. They just had more opportunities to score the basketball. It’s just somewhere it started going sideways where it just became, we were just driving it and I couldn’t get a hold of it. And guys out there are just trying to compete and win, and trying to make plays, but it wasn’t very good. We just didn’t play well, and credit Central Catholic for that.”