The D9Sports Tournament of Champions is into the Elite 8 now with the boys’ side in the Midwest and South Regions.
(Photo of the 2015 Clarion-Limestone D9 Class 1A championship team. Photo by Eric Elliott)
Advancing to the Elite Eight in the Midwest were third-seeded 2015 Clarion-Limestone and fifth-seeded 2007 DuBois Central Catholic while advancing from the South were top-seeded 2013 Johnsonburg and sixth-seeded 2003 Keystone.
Here is how this works. You have until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday to vote for which team you think is the best in each matchup. At that point, the winners will advance into the Final Four.
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(5-MW) 2007 DuBois Central Catholic vs. (3-MW) 2015 Clarion-Limestone
2007 DCC advanced to the Elite Eight with wins over No. 12 2015 Clearfield (78 percent to 22 percent), No. 4 2008 Coudersport (51 percent to 49 percent), and No. 1 2004 Bradford (54 percent to 46 percent).
2015 C-L moved into the Elite Eight with wins over No. 14 2010 Brookville (75 percent to 25 percent), No. 6 2017 Coudersport (51 percent to 49 percent), and No. 2 2001 Elk County Catholic (59 percent to 41 percent).
Mike Nesbit’s 2007 DCC squad finished 27-4 with three of the losses coming in the postseason including believe-it-or-not twice in the District 9 playoffs. The Cardinals lost to Keystone, 41-40, in the D9 1A semifinals then dropped a 52-48 decision to Coudersport in the consolation game. But that didn’t stop DCC from making school history. An upset of WPIAL champion Leechburg, 74-62, started a run to the PIAA championship game for the Cardinals who also beat Western Beaver, 77-63, Clairton, 49-46, and Kennedy Catholic, 51-50, to reach the title game. The Clairton game saw the Cards rally from a 44-36 deficit with just over five minutes to play by using a 10-0 run, but that didn’t even hold water to what happened in the semifinals against heavily favored Kennedy Catholic. DCC trailed by the Golden Eagles by 18 with 13:07 to play, 35-17, but went on a 19-0 run in a span of just 3:46 to take a 36-35 lead with nine minutes left thanks to seven created turnovers. Kennedy rallied to go back ahead by three, 50-47, with under a minute to play before Andrew Welch scored with 44 seconds left to back it 50-49 Eagles. That set up a play that no one in Tippin Gym that night will ever forget as Welch hit a 3-foot leaning backward jumper with just over two seconds left to send DCC to its first-ever PIAA title game. Dom Varacallo, the current DCC head coach, set the play up with a beautiful pass out of a trap. While DCC lost to Reading Central Catholic, 58-33, it still goes down as the most successful season in Cardinals boys’ basketball history. Nesbit was named the D9Sports.com District 9 co-Coach of the Year while Christian Spilman (10.2 ppg, 6.6 apg, 3.2 rpg, 3.4 spg, 48.4 percent shooting) and Chris Wulderk (12.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.2 apg) were named second-team All-D9 selections. Spilman, a junior in 2007, went on to score 1,000 (1,036) points in his career.
C-L went 25-4 and won the D9 1A title, its first since 1961, with a 72-53 win over a Cameron County team that was led by none other than future Kentucky player Nate Sestina. The Joe Ferguson-coached Lions then beat North Catholic, 60-45, in the first round of the PIAA playoffs before winning a shootout over Vincentian Academy, 97-90, in the second round behind 20 points and an amazing 21 assists from senior guard RJ Laugand. C-L lost in the quarterfinals to eventual PIAA runner-up Farrell, 90-73. Laugand was named the co-D9Sports.com District 9 Player of the Year with Sestina after averaging 17.6 points, 8.5 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 3.4 steals were game while shooting 49.2 percent from the field and 83.2 percent from the free-throw line. The school’s all-time leading scorer (1,832 points) he went on to a solid career at NCAA D2 Clarion University. Sophomore Dan Callen (12.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.7 bpg, 51.4 percent shooting) was a second-team All-D9 choice and also scored over 1,000 career points finishing second in school history with 1,524 points (now third all-time) while Kolton Stiglitz (13.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.9 bpg, 52.4 percent from the field) was also a second-team All-D9 choice after the 6-5 senior teamed with Callen (6-6) to give C-L twin towers.
(6-S) 2003 Keystone vs. (1-S) 2013 Johnsonburg
2003 Keystone moved into the Elite Eight with victories over No. 11 2011 Brookville (70 percent to 30 percent), No. 14 2018 Karns City (54 percent to 46 percent), and No. 2 2008 Bradford (54 percent to 46 percent).
2013 Johnsonburg’s path to the Elite Eight included wins over No. 16 2018 Clearfield (92 percent to 8 percent), No. 8 2001 Bradford (67 percent to 33 percent), and No. 4 2004 Keystone (73 percent to 27 percent).
Keystone, under the guidance of Greg Heath, finished 27-1 in 2003 beating Karns City, 50-45, to win the D9 2A title before topping Sharpsville, 47-28, in the first round of the PIAA playoffs and losing for the only time on the season to Farrell, 63-44, in the second round. Junior guard Garrett Heath was named a second-team Class 2A All-State player and the D9Sports.com District 9 Player of the Year after averaging 22.4 points per game and scoring 25 or more points 11 times, including five times at 30 or more and three times at 35 or more. Heath hit 75 3-pointers and shot 80.5 percent (161 of 200) from the free-throw line. He finished his career a year later with a then-District 9 record of 2,215 career points, only the second player to ever hit 2,000 points in D9 history at the time, and still sits third all-time in D9 history in scoring. Senior Ben Cobler (14.0 ppg, 3.2 apg, 82 percent from the free-throw line) was a second-team All-D9 selection.
Johnsonburg went 30-3 in 2013 and beat Ridgway, 37-29, to win the District 9 Class 1A team then went on an epic run through the PIAA playoffs topping Eisenhower, 62-30, in the first round, Shade, 54-49, in the second round, and D9 rival Smethport, 54-43, in the quarterfinals (it also beat Smethport in the D9 semifinals). That brought about a semifinal contest against heavily favored Lincoln Park, the WPIAL champion and the PIAA runner-up from 2012 who trotted out four Division 1-caliber players, including former North Carolina State star Maverick Rowan. No one gave the Rams a shot to beat the Leopards, but beat them they did, 59-53, outscoring Lincoln Park 34-25 in the second half. Cameron Grumley and Cole Peterson each scored 22 points in the win, which sent Johnsonburg to the state title game for the first time in school history where they fell 83-63 to Vaux out of Philadelphia. Grumley, who went on to score over 1,000 career points at Division 2 Clarion University, and Peterson, who went on to a stellar baseball career at St. Bonaventure (the Rams won the PIAA baseball title that spring) and was drafted by the Detroit Tigers (he is currently in the minor leagues having made it as high as Triple-A last year), were named the co-D9Sports.com District 9 Players of the Year, while head coach Bill Shuey was the D9Sports.com District 9 Coach of the Year. Grumley, a junior in 2013, averaged 15.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 3.2 steals per game, while Peterson, a junior as well in 2013, averaged 15.6 points, 4.0 steals, 3.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. Both players topped 1,000 career points (Grumley 1,513; Peterson 1,598).