By Chris Rossetti
CLARION, Pa. – If you get the sense that the District 9 Class A boys’ and girls’ championship games have a bit of a different feel to them, you aren’t alone.
Three of the four teams competing for titles Saturday evening at Clarion University’s Tippin Gym haven’t played in a district title game in over a decade.
The lone regular, so-to-speak, is the Clarion girls’ team, which is trying to three-peat as the champion while making its fourth consecutive appearance in the championship game.
Venango Catholic’s girls are making their first-ever District 9 championship game appearance after moving over from District 10 in 2005, while Clarion-Limestone’s boys are in the title tilt for the first time since 2001, and the Cameron County boys are back in the championship game for the first time in 20 years, last making an appearance in 1995.
What isn’t in the boys’ title game is a team from the AML, something that hadn’t happened since 1998 when Keystone beat Coudersport for the championship.
The KSAC, meanwhile, continues its domination of the girls’ championship game with a pair of conference teams meeting for the second consecutive year and for the third time in four seasons. At least one KSAC team has been in every District 9 Class A girls’ championship game since 2010, and 2009 was the lone year since 2004 a KSAC school hasn’t been in the girls’ championship tilt.
(11) Clarion (15-10) vs. (5) Venango Catholic (20-6)
When: 6 p.m. Saturday Feb. 28
Where: Clarion University’s Tippin Gym
Winner Gets: WPIAL (District 7) Fifth-place California (Pa.)
Loser Gets: District 6 third-place team which will be either Bishop Carroll or Portage
Game Notes: Clarion is trying to become just the third school to win three straight District 9 Class A girls’ titles. Coudersport has done it twice winning five in a row from 1993-1997 and four straight from 2001-2004, while Union won three consecutive from 2005-2007. It would be the Lady Cats fifth overall title as they also won the championship in 1980 and 1992 … Venango Catholic, meanwhile, is trying to become the first of the District 9 “expansion” group of 2005 to win an A title. West Forest made it to the championship game in 2009 and again in 2010 but lost both times. Cranberry has taken home five titles in Class AA. The Lady Vikings haven’t won a district title since winning the District 10 title in 1980 when they also won the PIAA Class A title. Venango Catholic hasn’t even been to a title game since finishing second in D10 in 1984. They were also second in 1983 and 1978 and won a District 10 title in 1979 while finishing third in 1981 … It’s the third time these KSAC North rivals have met this year with Venango Catholic taking the two regular-season games on its way to the KSAC North title. The Lady Vikings won 40-36 Jan. 27 in Clarion behind 19 points from Ava Homan and 14 from Taylor Moltz. Maci Thornton had half of the Lady Cats points that night with 18. VC then routed Clarion 51-34 Feb. 6 in Oil City, as Homan netted 25. Thornton was held to a season-low six points in that contest … Something has seemed to click for Clarion in the postseason. The Lady Cats were just 8-5 in their final 13 regular-season games but have gone 3-0 in the District 9 playoffs beating higher seeds Otto-Eldred (6th), Keystone (3rd) and Cameron County (7th) to get to the championship game. Thornton, who is averaging 21.0 ppg on the year, has been the catalyst scoring 23.3 ppg in the three wins, a continuation on a late-season tear that has seen her average 22.1 ppg in the seven games since the 6-point outing against Venango Catholic. Clarion has also gotten key playoff contributions from Nicki Glenn (11.7 ppg in playoffs; 6.2 ppg on the year) and Lauren Wiser (9.3 ppg in playoffs; 5.2 ppg on the year) … Venango Catholic, which has beaten two higher seeds itself to get to the title game including top-seeded and previously unbeaten Elk County Catholic in the semifinals, has been on a tear going 17-2 after a 3-4 start that saw Homan, the leading scorer on the team with 18.7 ppg miss four straight games with an early-season injury. Since being limited to five points in her first game back from the injury, she is averaging 20.2 ppg, including 20.7 ppg in three District 9 playoff wins. Taylor Moltz adds 16.4 ppg for the Vikings.
(4) Clarion-Limestone (22-3) vs. (3) Cameron County (23-2)
When: 8 p.m. Saturday Feb. 28
Where: Clarion University’s Tippin Gym
Winner Gets: WPIAL (District 7) fifth-place Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic
Loser Gets: District 6 third-place team either Portage or St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy
Game Notes: To say a team that isn’t use to taking home championship hardware will be crowned the champion Saturday night is an understatement. C-L hasn’t won a District 9 title in 54 years since beating two-time defending champion Sheffield 63-61 in overtime in the 1961 Class C title game when Dave Armagost hit a shot in the final seconds of the extra period to give the Lions the win after Don Rhoades had tied the game with a free throw with one second left in regulation. Rhoades led C-L with 22 points, while Gary Fink had 20 and Armagost 13. Cameron County’s drought is almost as long. The Red Raiders last title came in 1973, 42 years ago, when they beat Keystone 59-45 in Class B for their fourth straight and their fifth in seven years. Sophomore Matt Grimone led Cameron with 20 points, while Bill Vassallo, now the athletic director at Punxsutawney and a member of the District 9 committee, had 15 points. Current Keystone head coach Greg Heath scored 10 for the Panthers in the loss … C-L has three players scoring in double digits led by RJ Laugand’s 17.9 ppg, Kolton Stiglitz adds 13.5 ppg and Dan Callen has 12.2 ppg. Josh Kahle just missed double figures averaging 9.9 ppg. Stiglitz had 10 points, five rebounds and six blocked shots in a semifinal overtime win against Elk County Catholic, and Callen had 18 rebounds in that game … Cameron is paced by Bucknell recruit Nate Sestina, who averages a double-double including 21.2 ppg. He had 21 rebounds and 11 points in a semifinal win over Venango Catholic. The Red Raiders also feature two other players in double figures with Keith Spehalski scoring 12.4 ppg and Trae Smith 11.9 ppg. Spehalski had a game-high 15 points in the semifinal victory … Cameron’s last trip to the D9 title game came in 1995 in Class A when it lost to Elk County Christian 57-41. C-L’s last trip was in 2001 when it also lost to ECC, 67-51 … C-L is trying to become the first KSAC team to win a Class A boys’ title since Clarion beat DuBois Central Catholic, 50-39, in 2003. Cameron is seeking to become just the third North Tier League boys’ team to win a D9 title since 1991. Coudersport won championships in 2008 and 1996. Northern Potter won the title in 1990, and those are the only three title won by teams from the NTL since Class C become Class A in 1976. In fact, Coudersport was the only current NTL team to win a Class C title taking home championships in 1951, 1952 and 1964.