One daunting opponent stands between the Monessen Greyhounds playing for their first PIAA boys title in 29 years.
Perennial powerhouse Kennedy Catholic, the District 10 champion, defending Class A state champion, and winners of seven of the last 31 PIAA Class A boys titles, face Monessen at 7 tonight at Slippery Rock University in the Western Final.
Monessen has won a pair of PIAA titles, 1988 and 1989, and Kennedy Catholic has seven: 1986, 1987, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2016.
The winner advances to the finals on Thursday at the GIANT Center in Hershey with the game starting at 2 p.m.
The two teams have played six previous times, and Monessen coach Joe Salvino knows his team is in for a challenge.
“I see a bunch of all-stars,” said Salvino, who is leading the Greyhounds into the Western Finals for the seventh time. “They are hand-picked and we will have our work cut for us. We have to do what we do.”
Two years ago, Kennedy Catholic (24-2) defeated Monessen (21-7) in the PIAA quarterfinals, 81-63.
“The game was fairly close until the third quarter,” Salvino said. “I remember we had a very bad third quarter and may have only scored five points in that quarter. It was the difference in what had been a close game to that point. Against a team like that, you can’t give them momentum.”
Monessen’s path to the Western final includes a 94-28 win over North Union (14-12), a 71-56 win over District 5 champion Shanksville-Stonycreek (25-2), and Saturday’s 74-34 win over District 6 champion Saltsburg (26-2) in the quarterfinals.
Kennedy Catholic’s road to the this game includes wins over Otto-Eldred (15-11), 87-35, an 88-45 win over Juniata Valley (13-14), and 61-40 over previously undefeated and District 9 champion Elk County Catholic (26-1).
Seniors Jaden Altomore and Justice Rice, each 1,000-point scorers, lead the offense for Monessen. Altomore is averaging 22 points per game and Rice is right behind him at 20.
“I am sure that loss from two years ago resonates with them,” Salvino said.
However, the Greyhounds will be without its third leading scorer in sophomore Lyndon Henderson.
In Saturday’s win over Saltsburg, Henderson was ejected after a controversial call and must sit out tonight’s game to satisfy PIAA rules.
Senior Jaron Youngblood and junior Cory Fleming are the other two starters, and Salvino has three strong possibilities to start in place of Henderson: sophomore Vaughn Taylor, junior Isaiah Allums or senior Marc Gibson.
“With our shortage of players (compared to Kennedy Catholic), everyone is going to have to step up and do their part,” Salvino said. “Kennedy doesn’t seem to have a true forward as their big kid likes to play outside.”
Kennedy Catholic is led by Drew Magestro, a 1,000-point scorer who transferred from Sharon, and Maceo Austin. Magestro is averaging 20.7 points per game and Austin is at 19.5
Two international transfers, 6-7 Polish standout Marcin Wiszomirsky, and Mohamed Konate, a native of the African country of Mali, round out the starting lineup.
Wiszomirsky is averaging 10.7 points per game and Konate is at 10.1. Clay O’Dell (7.7 ppg) and Channing Phillips (7.0) also are in the rotation.