By Chris Rossetti
CLARION, Pa. – Over the past decade, District 9 has asserted itself as one of the top Class A boys’ basketball districts in the state with a state champion, three finalist and numerous semifinal appearances during that stretch.
And that is on display again this year, as the district has advanced the most teams from any district across the state into the second round of the PIAA Tournament this year.
All three of those teams – District 9 Champion Clarion-Limestone, runner-up Cameron County and third-place finisher Elk County Catholic, will be in action Tuesday night.
(9-1) CLARION-LIMESTONE (24-3) vs. (7-3) VINCENTIAN ACADEMY (17-9)
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday March 10
Where: Sharon High School
How they got here: C-L beat WPIAL fifth-place finisher Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic, 60-45, in the first round Friday night at Clarion University’s Tippin Gym, while Vincentian Academy knocked off District 5 runner-up Southern Fulton 71-48.
Who the winner plays: Winner of the (9-3) Elk County Catholic vs. (10-2) Farrell game Friday at a site and time to be determined.
About Clarion-Limestone: The Lions won their first District 9 title since 1961 this year and are in the second round of the PIAA playoffs for the first time since 2002 when they lost to Monessen, 76-59 … C-L is a high-scoring bunch that averages 72.2 ppg and are led by senior and the school’s all-time leading scorer RJ Laugand, a scoring point guard who is averaging 17.7 ppg. The twin towers of 6-foot-5 senior Kolton Stiglitz and 6-foot-6 Dan Callen add 13.4 ppg and 11.9 ppg respectively, although the availability of Callen, who sprained an ankle early in the second quarter Friday, is uncertain. It appears as though he will play, but how effective he is remains to be seen. Also for the Lions, Josh Kahle adds 9.6 ppg, Jesse Pezzuti 7.4 and Noah Rankin 6.8, although Rankin has been strong in the postseason scoring 9.4 ppg including 14 in each of his last two games.
About Vincentian Academy: The Royals actually score more than C-L averaging 83.3 ppg and have topped 100 points three times this season while going over 90 seven times. They lost to WPIAL champion Monessen, 85-73, in the WPIAL semifinals but are in the PIAA postseason for the fifth straight season. Last year, they lost in the quarterfinals to Lincoln Park and also lost to Lincoln Park in the 2011 semifinals. The Royals were WPIAL champions in 2011 and 2013 … They twice faced North Catholic during the regular season splitting a pair of games with the Trojans including a 76-67 loss in the regular-season finale Feb. 6. That loss was one of five losses to PIAA qualifiers for the Royals, who also lost to Monession, Seton-LaSalle, Class AA second place in WPIAL, Beaver Falls, Class AA second place in WPIAL, Mt. Lebanon and South Fayette. All but South Fayette and North Catholic are still playing … Ryan Wolf, a 5-foot-10 senior guard, is the leading scorer averaging 21.7 ppg, one of two players averaging 20 or more. Five-10 junior guard Jamison Nee adds 20.6 ppg and 5-11 senior guard Jack Monahan 12.2 … The Royals aren’t big with just one player listed above 6-2 on the roster and no one over 6-3.
(9-2) CAMERON COUNTY (24-3) vs. (10-1) KENNEDY CATHOLIC (22-4)
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday March 10
Where: Clarion University’s Tippin Gym
How they got here: Cameron County topped District third-place finisher Saltsburg 55-29 Friday night while Kennedy Catholic dispatched WPIAL fourth-place finisher Eden Christian 73-45.
Who the winner plays: Winner of the (7-1) Monessen vs. (6-2) Portage game Friday at a site and time to be determined.
About Cameron County: The Red Raiders, in the PIAA postseason for the first time since 1973, got their first PIAA victory since 1972 Friday night behind a monster game from Nate Sestina (26 points and 17 rebounds, he is second consecutive 20-plus point, 15-plus rebound double-double). Sestina is the driving force for Cameron County. The 6-foot-9 senior, who is heading to Bucknell next year to play basketball, averages a monster double-double of 21.6 ppg and 13-plus rebound per contest. Sestina, though, isn’t alone. Guards Keith Spehalski (12.0) and Trae Smith (11.9) are also key to the Red Raiders success.
About Kennedy Catholic: Unlike their opponent, Kennedy Catholic is no stranger to March basketball. The Golden Eagles have won six PIAA championships since 1986 – head coach Rick Mancino was a member of that 1986 squad – while taking home 19 District 10 titles in the same span including 11 since 2000 … One of the few teams who can match Cameron County’s size, Kennedy Catholic is led by 6-foot-8 junior forward Sagaba Konate, who hails from the African Country of Mali. Konate averages 16.6 ppg and 10.8 rpg. His younger brother, Mohammed, a mere 6-foot-4 sophomore guard, adds 9.0 ppg, while 6-0 sophomore guard Drew Magestro scores 13.3 ppg, 4.3 assists per contest and 3.2 rpg, and 6-foot-2 swingman Nick Tantuo 11.6 ppg and 5.3 rpg. Point guard Andre Campbell adds 8.5 ppg and 3.3 apg … The Golden Eagles lost twice in the regular season to Farrell as well as once to Vincentian Academy and once to Meadville. They returned the favor beating Farrell in the District 10 title game.
(9-3) ELK COUNTY CATHOLIC (26-2) vs. (10-2) FARRELL (22-4)
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday March 10
Where: Clarion University’s Tippin Gym
How they got here: ECC rallied from a 14-point deficit to knock off District 6 champion Bishop Carroll, 56-50 in overtime, while Farrell rolled past WPIAL runner-up Jeannette 76-55.
Who the winner plays: Winner of the (9-1) Clarion-Limestone vs. (7-3) Vincentian Academy game Friday at a site and time to be determined.
About Elk County Catholic: The Crusaders are no strangers to this time of year making their 22nd appearance in the second round under head coach Aaron Straub … ECC is a difficult team to gauge as they don’t have any star scorers but have a solid all-around team led by sophomore Nate DaCanal, who averages 12.5 ppg. Mitchell Struble, who had 21 in the win over Bishop Carroll, adds 10.7, while Ryan Seelye gives ECC some size inside while scoring 7.6 ppg. The Crusaders, who lost to Clarion-Limestone in overtime in the D9 semifinals, also have four players averaging between 5.4 ppg and 6.4 ppg.
About Farrell: The Steelers were the favorites to win District 10 before being upset in the title game by Kennedy Catholic, a team they had beaten twice in the regular season … Head coach Roland Shannonhouse should be familiar to District 9 fans, as his kids, Liz and Roland Jr., played for Clarion HIgh School … Shannonhouse has had a lot of success at Farrell winning 220 games in 11 years … Farrell is led by 6-foot-3 swing guard Malik Miller, a junior, who averages 20 ppg. He is one of four Steelers averaging in double digits. Six-foot-4 senior forward Thomas Ripley adds 14 ppg, while 5-9 senior point guard Jamel Brown and 5-10 junior swingman Terrance Holloway each had 12 ppg. Junior forward Leon Lewis, who is undersized at 5-foot-11, adds 9 ppg.