Sometimes in high school sports, with so many players graduating and different faces stepping in year after year, teams tend to forget about what happened the year before and turn the page the following season.

Not this Upper St. Clair team.

In case it wasn’t obvious during the game, senior guard Christian Ito made it clear after scoring a game-high 16 points in a chippy 61-46 WPIAL Class 6A semifinal win against defending champion Central Catholic (15-9) — this one was personal for the Panthers.

“It feels amazing,” Ito said. “I’m not even thinking about [Upper St. Clair’s previous title] three years ago. I’m thinking about last year, when we were in the same spot, and [Central] kicked the [crap] out of us. They had a better team last year, I’ll give that to them. But this year, we have the better team.

“We worked really hard for this. It’s payback time.”

The game started out with a strange twist, as Upper St. Clair (19-5) received two free throws and possession of the ball after a technical foul assessed to Vikings senior Peter Gonzalez for dunking during warm-ups. Senior guard Brett Meinert calmly drained both free throws with the Central student section doing their best to rattle him, setting the tone for a game the Panthers would control from start to finish.

One of two seniors on the team along with Ito, Meinert finished with 14 points while making some big shots early on to fire up his teammates and ignite the Upper St. Clair faithful in the crowd.

“I think we have a lot of balance and a lot of guys who can score in different ways,” said longtime Panthers coach Danny Holzer. “Ito has just taken over. The last two games, he’s been ridiculous.”

Upper St. Clair’s Tyler Robbins scored eight points with 19 rebounds and six blocks as the Panthers defeated Central Catholic in the WPIAL Class 6A semifinals, 61-46. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Upper St. Clair held a 28-17 halftime lead thanks to 11 first-half points from Meinert, then Ito began heating up in the second half alongside 6-9 junior forward Tyler Robbins. Although he didn’t score a point in the first half and finished with only eight points for the game, Robbins made a major impact as always with his rebounding and rim protection, recording 19 rebounds and six blocked shots while altering several more.

“It allows our defensive perimeter players to pressure the ball more, and force drives and force contested shots and force rushed shots,” Holzer said. “The stat that goes unnoticed is the impact [Robbins] has on the rest of our defensive play.”

After an emphatic putback dunk by Gonzalez cut the Panthers’ lead to 41-30 late in the third quarter, Upper St. Clair responded with a five-point swing on a 3-pointer by Meinert and a fastbreak layup by Julian Dahlem, effectively putting the game out of reach at 46-30 going into the fourth.

From there, the Panthers continued to pad their advantage before pulling their starters with a 20-point cushion in the final two minutes.

“2021 seems like just yesterday,” Holzer said about the Panthers’ most recent WPIAL championship. “We’re really, really excited. This is what you play for, this is what you work for, and I’m so, so proud of our team. … The feeling doesn’t get old, that’s for sure.”

Upper St. Clair coach Danny Holzer shouts to his team during a WPIAL Class 6A semifinal against on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, at Gateway High School. Upper St. Clair won, 61-46, to reach its fifth WPIAL championship game during Holzer’s tenure. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

In the other Class 6A semifinal, Baldwin followed up its first WPIAL playoff win in 21 years with an even bigger feat, rallying for a 54-52 upset win against top-seeded Mt. Lebanon (19-5) at Bethel Park to clinch its first trip to the championship game since 1985.

This is only the second trip to the WPIAL finals for the Highlanders (18-6), who fell to Latrobe in the 1985 title game, 67-59, after entering as a heavy favorite with a record of 25-0. This time around, hardly anybody anticipated No. 4 Baldwin’s surge to the championship game, but the Highlanders just keep finding ways to win.

Despite trailing, 38-32, going into the fourth quarter against the Blue Devils and their vaunted defense, which ranked No. 1 in Class 6A allowing 45.1 points per game, Baldwin came storming back with 22 points in the final quarter to complete the comeback. Junior guard Nate Wesling tallied a game-high 25 points for the Highlanders, including 10 in the final quarter, while senior guard Nate Richards scored eight of his 12 points in the fourth, including four clutch free throws to help seal the win.

Baldwin coach Jeff Ackermann will now try to help the Highlanders raise their first WPIAL championship banner while capturing his sixth title on Saturday night, with his first three WPIAL championships coming at Moon and the previous two at Pine-Richland.

Upper St. Clair’s Julian Dahlem claps as Central Catholic’s student section taunts him in the WPIAL Class 6A semifinals on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, at Gateway High School. Upper St. Clair won, 61-46. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 2A semifinals

Many have clamored for a matchup between top-seeded Aliquippa and No. 2 Greensburg Central Catholic all season, and those fans are going to get what they asked for on Saturday afternoon.

The Centurions took care of business with a 60-43 triumph against No. 3 Northgate (18-6) at Gateway, vanquishing last year’s Class 3A runners-up in convincing fashion. Standout senior Tyree Turner turned in another terrific performance with a game-high 21 points for Greensburg Central (23-2) — right on his season average of 21.7 points per game — and 6-5 senior forward Franco Alvarez tacked on 16 to go with 11 from junior guard Liam Gallagher.

“There’s not enough people that talk about [Turner],” said Centurions coach Christian Hyland. “He’s such a good player, but he’s an even better kid.”

A strong, athletic 6-foot guard with the ability to absorb and dish out contact at will, Turner repeatedly attacked the Flames’ smaller guards with slashing drives to the hoop. When Northgate attempted to take those drives away, Gallagher was left all alone for wide-open 3-pointers, and Alvarez did a great job controlling the glass and muscling his way to some tough buckets in the paint.

Greensburg Central Catholic’s Tyree Turner goes for a basket against Northgate’s Desmond Williams, left, and Josh Williams in the WPIAL Class 2A semifinals on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, at Gateway High School. Turner scored a game-high 21 points as Greensburg Central won, 60-43. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

On the other side, the Flames boasted one of the top scorers in Class 2A in senior guard Josh Williams (20.8 ppg), who got off to a hot start with all eight of Northgate’s points in the opening quarter. But those points weren’t easy to come by with Greensburg Central playing a box-and-one against him the entire game, and he scored only two more points the rest of the way.

“We watched tons of film on [Williams],” Hyland said. “He’s very, very good. He knows how to score the ball at all three levels. The box-and-one — if we play that, it’s a sign of respect, and we have a lot of respect for him especially, and for their team and what they were able to do this year.”

Tuesday was a memorable night for Hyland for more reasons than one. Less than an hour before the tip-off of the semifinal game, his wife, Kellie, gave birth to the couple’s first child, Nova. A healthy baby girl at 7 pounds, 5 ounces, Nova was born at 5:11 p.m., and Hyland arrived at Gateway about an hour later with his team holding a 7-4 lead midway through the first quarter.

As Turner put it, “We’re going to celebrate two births tonight — a berth in the WPIAL championship game at ‘The Pete,’ and the birth of his daughter.”

Greensburg Central Catholic coach Christian Hyland watches his team play against Northgate in the WPIAL Class 2A semifinals on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, at Gateway High School. The Centurions won, 60-43, hours after the birth of Hyland’s daughter, Nova. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Awaiting the Centurions in the WPIAL finals will be the defending champion Quips (20-5), who dispatched Fort Cherry with ease at Chartiers Valley, 55-36. Sophomore guard Josh Pratt led the way with 16 points for Aliquippa, followed by 14 from senior forward Cameron Lindsey.

The Quips, who held the Rangers (19-6) more than 30 points below their season average of 68.3 ppg, will have a chance to tie New Castle for the most titles in WPIAL history if they can capture their 14th WPIAL championship on Saturday. They are also attempting to sweep WPIAL titles in both football and basketball for the second year in a row and the fifth time overall. No other school has ever won titles in both sports in the same school year more than once.

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