By Mike Longo Jr.
For the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Chargers, the path to "The Pete" is complete, ending in dramatic fashion. However, it wasn't the outcome Coach Mike Rodriguez or his Chargers envisioned.
On the line was the WPIAL Class 3A Boys Title at the Petersen Events Center on the campus of the University Of Pittsburgh. OLSH is no stranger to "The Pete" hardwood which recently saw the Chargers hoist several championship trophies.
OLSH was attempting to become only the second team in WPIAL Boys Basketball history to win five straight district titles. OLSH had claimed the previous four straight. Midland High School is the only one to claim five in a row from 1973-1977.
Standing in the way on Championship night was the Deer Lakes Lancers. The only problem, the Lancers weren't informed that they were supposed to roll over and play dead, so to speak.
Why should they, it was the Lancers who stopped the Chargers historic state record for consecutive wins at 74 with their resounding 70-55 blowout win back on Dec. 22.
They played spoiler once again, ending another OLSH streak with their astonishing 61-60 thrilling victory to claim the WPIAL Class 3A Title, thus stopping a second OLSH streak in a matter of months.
Coach Rodriguez said, "They played a great game tonight. Earlier in the year we were certainly a work in progress. If you would have told me at the beginning of the year we'd be back in this game with a new team in 3A, I don't know if I would have believed you. But we overachieved as the season went on. Certainly, you can't go four for 9 at the free-throw line. In a one-point game, that was the difference. I thought we played a great game and I thought they played a great game.”
We just went to the line and didn't get it done and that cost us." stated Rodriguez.
OLSH was moved up to Class 3A after competing in Class 2A. A division that saw them capture the last four district and two state titles.
The evening began with a nip and tuck first quarter which had the Chargers trailing by a pair, 21-19 at its close. With a 10-2 run in the second quarter, they took charge as they held a 34-30 advantage at intermission.
With 4:44 left in quarter three, sixth-seeded OLSH padded the lead by 9 points with a 43-34 edge. However, the No. 5 seeded Lancers didn't cave in knotting the contest at 48 a piece. Chargers, B. J. Vaughn Jr. with 18.9 seconds left in the stanza, nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer and a 51-48 OLSH lead.
The fourth remained too close for comfort from an OLSH standpoint.
It wasn't until the 3:49 mark that OLSH took its biggest lead of the quarter on Bryson Kirschner's basket and subsequent two free throws.
The lead would change hands three more times after that until the Lancers' Bryce Robson gave his team the lead at 61-60 as 1:06 remained on the clock.
Hectic, chaotic and unbelievable was the order for the game's final minute of action as neither team could seemingly buy a basket. Deer Lakes fouled OLSH twice as both teams called consecutive timeouts as a mere 6.3 seconds remained in regulation.
OLSH had two chances to win this contest and claim their fifth straight title. But things didn't go according to plan.
Chargers Dorrien Tate took off on a baseline running shot that missed and teammate Dereon Greer's putback shot rolled around the rim and out as the buzzer sounded, announcing the Chargers heartbreaking one-point loss.
Speaking post-game, Coach Rodriguez said, "I'm extremely proud of our guys, I thought we played great. Everybody played their role and did their job. There were a lot of positives. If we shoot better at the line, this might be a different story."
OLSH will continue its season and start the "Road To Hershey." They embark on the PIAA State Tournament, looking for a third straight title at the Giant Center in Chocolate Town.
"We'll get ready for another run," Rodriguez said. "I think these boys have a run in them if we can tweak some more things. If we play like we played today, who knows? Anything can happen."
The Chargers were led in scoring by Guard Rocco Spadafora who banged in a team-high 18 points. Vaughn Jr. chipped in 14, while Kirschner finished by dropping in 10.