HERSHEY, Pa. — Alier Maluk was “bullish” on his team’s chances in Thursday’s PIAA Class 1A championship.

Just as he has done before every game the past month and a half, Maluk, Imani Christian’s giant center, one of the top sophomores in the country, chugged a Red Bull on the bus ride to Giant Center for his team’s showdown with Berlin Brothersvalley.

“I did it before my last regular-season game,” said the 6-11 Maluk, who credited tossing back the energy drinks as the reason for a late-season surge. “I prayed, went out, took a Red Bull, and the rest is history.”

Maluk and Imani Christian made some major history Thursday, with Maluk leading the Saints to their first PIAA title after defeating District 5 champion Berlin Brothersvalley, 81-64.

Imani Christian’s Alier Maluk throws down a dunk for two of his 22 points against Berlin Brothersvalley. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Imani Christian (23-6), a small private school in the East Hills section of Pittsburgh, had never won a WPIAL or PIAA championship prior to this season. The Saints now have both.

“It’s super big for our community,” Imani Christian coach Omar Foster said. “We need a winning spirit in the community. All the love that we get, that’s what these kids thrive on. We don’t have the biggest facilities. We don’t have the best training. But what we do give our kids is love, and they’re fine with that.”

Foster loved what he saw from his team Thursday in a win against Berlin Brothersvalley (26-3), a squad whose only losses coming in were against New Castle and a team that went on to win a Maryland state title. Imani Christian shot 55% from the field (27 of 49) and got at least nine points from all five starters. The Saints went up by double digits midway through the second quarter, and the lead never slipped down to single digits the rest of the way. They took their largest lead (23 points) with about two minutes left.

Maluk, ranked by Rivals as the No. 16 sophomore in the country, was tremendous as he showed off his multitude of tools. He knocked down a pair of 3-pointers, drained a mid-range jumper, showed off nice touch around the rim, and added a thunderous dunk late. Maluk, whose college offers include Pitt, West Virginia and Auburn, finished with 22 points on 7 of 10 shooting while adding 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals. And those numbers came despite him missing most of the second quarter with two fouls.

“He’s got a big toolbox,” Foster said. “He’s got a lot of stuff to show. He’s doing really, really well. We’re trying to continue to develop him.”

Imani Christian’s Avery Wesley, who finished with 16 points, drives against Berlin Brothersvalley’s Caden Montgomery. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Imani Christian, though, is anything but a one-man show. The contributors were abundant in its latest win, with Avery Wesley adding 16 points, Dame Givner 15, Virgil Hall nine and R.J. Sledge eight. Markus Williams added six off the bench. Wesley made four of the team’s nine 3-pointers. It was Sledge’s second consecutive PIAA Class 1A title. He won one last season as a freshman at Bishop Canevin.

“They’re just extremely talented,” said Berlin Brothersvalley coach Tanner Prosser, a former star player at Brentwood High School. “They’re skilled. The guards can get to the rim and shoot 3s. They’ve got big guys that can post and stretch it. They just have studs out there at all times. Obviously, we’re undersized and we probably don’t have the speed and quickness that they have, but all that against us I thought our kids fought and fought.”

Berlin Brothersvalley competed and fought extremely hard, but came up short against a team that was more athletic and much taller. While Imani Christian features 6-11 Maluk and 6-8 Hall, the Mountaineers don’t have a player taller than 6-2. Prosser’s son, Pace, was outstanding. Pace Prosser, a 6-1 junior guard, finished with 23 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists. The Mountaineers shot 42% from the field (23 of 54).

But this day was about Imani Christian capturing another historic win.

“It’s always a goal,” Foster said. “This is the first time we were able to reach this final goal, but it’s always the goal.”

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.

Brad Everett

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.