By Chris Rossetti
PLUM, Pa. – For nearly a half Saturday afternoon, the unthinkable was being thought by the Redbank Valley boys’ basketball team.
The heavy underdogs from New Bethlehem were hanging right there with the No. 1 team in the state, Aliquippa, trailing by just four with under 10 seconds to play in the first half and the near capacity crowd at Plum High School was on its feet.
But then Sheldon Jeter hit a 3-pointer at the first half horn, and the unbeaten Quips carried that momentum into the second half rolling to 70-36 win over the Bulldogs in the PIAA Class AA Quarterfinals.
“What a ride, what a journey,” Redbank Valley head coach Greg Bean said afterward. “ I just told the guys, even I didn’t see us getting to this point. I knew we had something special coming back after last year (a District 9 runner-up finish), and I knew we had a good summer and fall. But these seniors, to go from 1-21 their freshman year, to change that around and get here is just an accomplishment. It’s a lot of tears going on in the lockerroom. As much as I said don’t hang your heads and what a great journey its been, they aren’t hearing me right now. I’m hoping in a couple weeks we can look back and say what a great ride its been.”
While Redbank Valley’s ride to the quarterfinals was unexpected – they were the first District 9 team to go this far in Class AA since Keystone in 2004 – for 16 minutes it looked like that ride might just write a script no one expected.
Because somehow, some way, the Bulldogs fended off 11 first-quarter turnovers and 10-point deficit, 16-6, going to the second quarter to be within four, 25-21, following a 3-pointer by senior Jake Dougherty, a starter on the 1-21 team in 2012, with 42.7 seconds left.
Aliquippa elected to play for the last shot of the half, and that brought the crowd – first the Redbank Valley followers and then quickly the Aliquippa faithful – to their feet chanting their respective schools names.
In the end, it was the Quips fans that got the largest cheer when Jeter took a pass in the corner in front of the Redbank Valley bench and drilled a 3-pointer that gave Aliquippa a 28-21 halftime lead.
The Quips then carried that momentum into the third quarter outscoring Redbank Valley 24-4 in the quarter thanks to the play of guards Jassir Jordan and Stephon McGinnis, who combined to score 13 points in the quarter including seven from McGinnis, to open the game up with a 52-25 lead by the end of the eight minutes.
“They play with a lot of emotion,” Bean said. “They hit a big shot (at the end of the first half). We kept them in check as best we could, but we were coming in with mismatches. How do you stop them? They shoot it. They are big. They are athletic. They pressure you all over the place. Things just got away from us in the second half. They are a very good team. I wish I had an answer. I thought we game planned as best as we could.”
That game planning included practicing five on 10 in the hopes of simulating the Aliquippa pressure and speed.
But even that wasn’t enough, as the Quips forced 27 Redbank Valley turnovers and had 22 steals including eight by McGinnis, who finished with 14 points, eight steals and three assists.
“We prepped as a best as we could,” Bean said. “We played five on 10 in practice just to try to simulate and it still didn’t get to what you saw out there tonight. They were so fast and quick. They are very good, and that’s what they do.”
Not surprisingly, Aliquippa’s pressure defense was at its best in the two quarters that the Quips were at their best – the first and third quarters.
The 11 first-quarter turnovers helped Aliquippa build the 16-6 lead at the end of the quarter, and then in the third quarter 11 more Redbank Valley giveaways were the fuel to the Aliquippa 24-point fire.
“I thought in the first quarter it took us a couple of minutes to adjust to the physicality and the quickness,” Bean said. “In the second quarter it was a grind away, hang around. I thought that kept us in the game in the second quarter. But in the third quarter we lost Sam (guard Sam Heeter who left with an injury early in the quarter and didn’t return, and things just got away from us. We lost a ball handler when we lost Sam.”
Dougherty, who finished his career as the all-time leading scorer in Redbank Valley history with 1,558 career points, led the Bulldogs with 15 points, while adding four steals and two assists. Zach Westover, also a member of the 1-21 lead, added eight points, while Devin Shumaker, a third member of that 1-21 squad, struggled with four points and 14 turnovers but nevertheless finished off a solid Redbank career.
Jordan led all scorers with 21 points for Aliquippa while adding three steals and three assists.
The Quips (28-0) will take on West Middlesex, a 49-44 winner over Greensburg Central Catholic, in the semifinals Wednesday at a time and place to be determined.
Redbank Valley, meanwhile, closes the season at 22-7 having won more PIAA playoff games – two – then they had previously won in school history – one – while taking home its first District 9 championship since 1980 and its first PIAA playoff win since 1979.
NOTES – Aliquippa outrebounded Redbank Valley 43-37 with Chucky Humphries finishing with a game-high 11 boards to go with 10 points and Kaezon Pugh ending with 10 boards to go with seven points. Westover led Redbank Valley with eight rebounds … Aliquippa shot 45.9 percent (28 of 61) while Redbank Valley was just 28.6 percent (14 of 49) with 23 of those shots coming from 3-point range (5 of 23) … The Bulldogs’ 22 wins were one shy of tying the team’s all-time mark of the winningest season of 1979-80 (23-4 and tied the only other 20-win season in program history, the 1990-91 squad’s 22-4 mark.
ALIQUIPPA 70, REDBANK VALLEY 36
Score by Quarters
Redbank Valley 6 15 4 11 – 36
Aliquippa 16 12 24 18 – 70
Redbank Valley – 36
Devin Shumaker 2-18 0-0 4, Sam Heeter 0-2 0-0 0, Jake Dougherty 5-15 1-3 15, Zach Westover 3-6 2-4 8, Dalton Dougherty 3-5 0-3 6, Kaleb Reed 1-1 0-0 3, Khorey Neiswonger 0-1 0-0 0, Bracken Scott 0-0 0-0 0, Greg Nolf 0-1 0-0 0, Austin Hawk 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 14-49 3-10 36.
Aliquippa – 70
Darrien Fields 1-2 0-0 2, Jessir Jordan 10-16 0-1 21, Stephon McGinnis 6-11 1-2 14, Chucky Humphries 5-12 0-4 10, Kaezon Pugh 2-11 3-6 7, Robert Crute 0-1 0-0 0, Rashad Harmon 0-0 0-0 0, Sheldon Jeter 2-6 3-4 9, Bobby Cashaw 0-0 0-0 0, Jason Moore 1-2 2-4 4, Jarod Field 0-0 0-0 0, Raishan Jeter 0-0 0-0 0, Isiah Griffin 1-1 0-0 3, Thomas Perry 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 28-61 9-21 70.
Three-pointers: Redbank Valley 5-23 (Shumaker 0-7, Heeter 0-1, J. Dougherty 4-11, D. Dougherty 0-1, Reed 1-1, Neiswonger 0-1, Nolf 0-1), Aliquippa 5-14 (Fields 0-1, Jordan 1-5, McGinnis 1-4, Humphries 0-1, S. Jeter 2-2, Griffin 1-1). Rebounds: Aliquippa 43 (Humphries 11, Pugh 10), Redbank Valley 37 (Westover 8). Turnovers: Redbank Valley 27, Aliquippa 12.