Makhai Valentine is used to receiving extra attention from defenses, but nothing quite like what he had to deal with Wednesday night against District 6 champion Penn Cambria.

With Valentine and Steel Valley playing for a spot in the PIAA Class 3A quarterfinals, Penn Cambria made it clear from the opening tip that somebody other than Valentine would have to step up for the Ironmen (16-11). On every possession, Penn Cambria (23-5) had two defenders waiting to double-team Valentine as soon as he crossed midcourt, and if he made it past them, a third defender was right there waiting in the wings to pick him up.

Somehow, Valentine still managed to score 29 points while dazzling the crowd with his high-flying blocks and dunks, but it wasn’t enough to keep Steel Valley’s season alive. Penn Cambria controlled the fourth quarter from start to finish after an inspired rally by the Ironmen, icing the game with several clutch free throws to clinch a 66-57 win at North Allegheny High School. Senior forward and future Duquesne quarterback Garrett Harrold led Penn Cambria with 23 points on the night.

“Our shots weren’t falling. Then when they don’t fall, we lose our minds on defense,” said Steel Valley interim coach Lauren Varcelli. “For what they’ve been through over the last month, I couldn’t be more proud of them. … I told them not to hang their heads.”

After falling behind, 23-9, after the first quarter, Valentine began heating up and the Ironmen began roaring back. Valentine scored 12 points in the quarter, capped by a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from NBA range to cut the deficit to 36-30 going into the break.

Valentine continued to will Steel Valley back into the game with several high-difficulty shots, including another buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the corner to give the Ironmen a 51-48 lead heading into the fourth. But Penn Cambria started out the final quarter on a 10-0 run to take control of the game, polishing off the win from the free-throw line to clinch its first PIAA quarterfinal appearance in school history.

“[Valentine] is the most dynamic player that I’ve coached against, and this is my 15th year,” Penn Cambria coach James Ronan said. “The kid’s just special. We knew he could shoot from anywhere. … We wanted to make it tough on him.”

An emotional Valentine had to be consoled by coaches after the game, but after gathering himself in the locker room, he took the time to reflect on his spectacular senior season and extraordinary high school career. He will graduate as Steel Valley’s all-time leading scorer with 1,780 career points.

“My senior when I was a freshman, Cam Polak, that was my leader. He did his job. He paved the way for me, and I appreciate him, because everything I learned from him my freshman year, I just brought it to my team and I tried to do the same exact thing he did for me,” Valentine said. “I’m not necessarily sure yet where I want to go [for college], but stay tuned.”

Steel Valley’s Cruce Brookins goes up for a shot over Penn Cambria’s Garrett Harrold in a PIAA second-round game Wednesday night at North Allegheny. (Alexandra Wimley/Union Progress)

Other Class 3A

• Bryce Robson scored a team-leading 18 points while Nate Litrun and Collin Rodgers finished with 10 points apiece for WPIAL champion Deer Lakes (19-8), sending the Lancers to the PIAA quarterfinals for just the second time in school history with a 67-59 win against District 4 third-place finisher Loyalsock Township (16-12) at Altoona High School. Deer Lakes now will advance to take on Neshannock Saturday in the quarterfinals.

• There will be no three-peat for two-time defending PIAA champion Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (20-7), as the Chargers fell three wins short of a return trip to Hershey with a 57-45 loss to District 10 champion Franklin (23-4) at Westminster College. Jalen Wood scored 17 points to lead the way for Franklin.

Neshannock advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals for only the third time in school history, snapping a 20-game winning streak for District 9 champion Brookville (23-3) with a 44-40 win at Clarion University. Jack Glies knocked converted two clutch free throws with three seconds left to seal the victory for the Lancers, who now willface WPIAL champion Deer Lakes Saturday with a trip to the semifinals at stake.

Class 6A

New Castle (24-3) kept its season alive with a 67-57 victory against District 1 fourth-place finisher Downingtown West (20-8) at Bald Eagle High School, advancing to take on District 3 champion Reading (29-1) Saturday in a quarterfinal showdown.

Central Catholic became the first WPIAL champion eliminated from the state playoffs on the boys side, as the Vikings (17-10) fell to District 6 champion State College (25-2), 57-47, at Central Cambria High School.

Class 4A

North Catholic‘s dynamic duo of Andrew Maddalon and Max Hurray delivered another big game for the Trojans (21-7) in a 78-56 win against District 2 runner-up Valley View (22-5) at Central Mountain High School. Maddalon scored a team-high 24 points along with 23 from Hurray, and Max Rottmann chipped in with 14 points to send North Catholic to the quarterfinals Friday for an all-WPIAL showdown against Uniontown (22-5).

Class 2A

• Fresh off winning WPIAL titles in football and basketball, Aliquippa now is two wins away from reaching the state championship in both sports for the second year in a row. The Quips (22-6) made easy work of District 6 runner-up West Branch (20-9) at Armstrong High School in an 84-29 mercy-rule victory, advancing to the quarterfinals Saturday to take on Bishop Canevin.

• Standout senior Shea Champine scored a game-high 27 points and surpassed 1,000 career points in the process, finishing a perfect 10 of 10 from the free-throw line while guiding Bishop Canevin (22-6) to a 56-43 win against District 10 runner-up Mercer (21-6) at Hampton.

Northgate (20-8) couldn’t quite keep up with District 10 champion Erie First Christian (16-10), dropping a 67-52 decision at Sharon.

Serra Catholic (16-12) saw its season come to an end against District 9 runner-up Otto-Eldred (25-2), 64-44, at DuBois.

Eden Christian (20-7) came up short in its bid to upset District 3 champion Lancaster Mennonite (18-8), suffering a season-ending 59-46 defeat at Hollidaysburg.

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Steve Rotstein

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at