HERSHEY — After six years at Penn State, the PIAA basketball championships returned to Hershey’s Giant Center on Friday and the reunion was so smooth that it seemed like the two had never been apart.
PIAA Executive Director Robert Lombardi was pleased with the first day of a new four-year contract between his organization and Chocolatetown’s biggest arena.
“Obviously, we’ve had a great relationship with the Giant Center over the years with wrestling,” he said. “And we had our first competitive cheer competition over at the old Hersheypark Arena. Working with the people here in Hershey has been easy. They’re in the event business. They know how to put on events.”
Lombardi noted that District 3 holds tournament games at the Giant Center, so the facility easily adapts from Hershey Bears ice hockey or music concerts to being a basketball venue.
Crowds were down at Penn State over the past six years, but Friday’s overall attendance was up considerably from last year. And that was due in part to Johnsonburg, in the northwest portion of the state, bringing in approximately 1,500 fans.
The afternoon session drew 4,838 and the four games overall attracted 10,119, several thousand above the number of fans who came to Penn State for Day One last year.
Lombardi said there are several factors that drive attention.
One is definitely location and PSU’s Bryce Jordan Center — an extra hour’s drive from Philadelphia and District One schools who are regulars in the finals — was a deterrent for those fans as well as many Lehigh Valley followers who prefer the shorter ride out I-78 and I-81.
But just as important to the equation is the type of schools making it to the finals.
Everyone craves the “Hoosiers” story when a whole town gets behind a team, but in recent years charter schools, featuring kids from several communities, have become more dominant on the PIAA stage.
“Certainly the type of schools who qualify are a factor,” Lombardi said. “You look at the crowd we got from Johnsonburg today. Traditional towns with history generally bring a good house. Mark Byers [the PIAA’s chief operating officer] says it best. When you have a community team that wins a PIAA championship, they’re coming home on a fire truck. Those are the towns that really support their teams.”
However, the Giant Center and Hershey, with Chocolate World a stone’s throw away, could be a draw by itself.
“At a place like the Giant Center you’re also hoping to attract the casual basketball fan and our presale has been very good for this weekend,” Lombardi said.
4A boys: Lower Merion 63, Chester 47
B.J. Johnson had 22 points, and Jaquan Johnson’s hustle sparked Lower Merion’s fourth-quarter defense on Chester to help win the state Class 4A title. Baird Howland added 12 points and a couple key 3s off the bench for the Aces (30-3).
4A girls: Spring-Ford 60, Cumberland Valley 45
District One rep Spring-Ford of Royersford won its first state title thanks to a stingy defense. The Rams (32-2) allowed just six points and outscored CV 33-20 after intermission.
3A boys: Imhotep Char. 54, Archbishop Carroll 45
The all-District 12 final was tied at 26 at halftime, but the Panthers (28-5) held Carroll to 19 points in the second half. Imhotep’s Brandon Austin, a Providence recruit, compiled 25 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
3A girls: South Park 53, Bethlehem Catholic 38
Shelby Lindsay scored 20 points and South Park claimed its first PIAA girls basketball title in school history. South Park (28-2) used a 17-4 run that started late in the first quarter and carried over to the halfway point of the second to seize control.
2A boys: Beaver Falls 69, Holy Cross 63
Micoy Mason hit two late 3-pointers, and Beaver Falls turned up the defensive pressure in the fourth quarter to rally past foul-plagued Holy Cross.
2A girls: Bish. Canevin 45, York Catholic 38
Carly Forse and Celina DePietro combined for 18 points apiece as the District 7 champs (27-4) won their first PIAA crown. York Catholic (29-3) led 33-28 after three quarters, but was held to five points in the final period when Canevin took control.
Class A boys: Vaux 83, Johnsonburg 63
In what was likely the final game in school history, Vaux of Philadelphia got its first state title. The Cougars (24-8) trailed 37-36 at halftime, but tallied 47 points after intermission. Division I recruit Rysheed Jordan scored 32 points — 16 in each half. Vaux is set to close in June.
Class A girls: Tri-Valley 59, Vincentian 42
Tara Nahodil scored 19 points and Tri-Valley won its first girls basketball title. Nahodil, a 6-foot-4 senior headed to Seton Hall, had 17 in the second half as the District 11 champion Bulldogs outscored District 7 winner Vincentian by 16 after halftime.