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Top 25 Countdown 2021

Top 25 Countdown No. 1: Cathedral Prep Wins PIAA Basketball Crown out of Nowhere is counting down what we believe are the Top 25 moments/games/performances of the 2020-21 high school sports season in District 9 and District 10.

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No. 1: A Championship Out of Nowhere

When the 2021 basketball postseason started, no one was talking about Cathedral Prep.

Why would they?

The Ramblers weren’t even the top seed in a TWO team tournament in District 10, and for good reason having lost to top-seeded Meadville not once but twice by double digits during a regular season (53-35 and 63-51) that saw Prep finish 15-6 while going 4-5 down the stretch including losses in three of its final four regular-season games.

So coming off a 49-41 home loss to Erie High School with a trip to Meadville, where they had lost by 19 Jan. 26, almost everyone outside of the Ramblers locker room figured it was going to be a short postseason.

But the kids from Erie had other ideas.

The March 10 D10 title game was a blowout. Just not the one everyone was expecting.

Allowing just five first-half points, Cathedral Prep rolled out to a 22-5 halftime lead on its way to a 52-36 win for the district title.

In what would become a recurring theme, sophomore Khali Horton led the charge with 18 points with senior Liam Galla adding 11.

Next up was another road game, this time at District 6-9 champion DuBois.

While the Ramblers were favored, the game was tight through the first half with Prep holding a 19-17 lead at halftime.

Cathedral Prep, though, used an 11-0 run in the third quarter to extend the lead to eight, 31-23, by the end of the quarter and then outscored the Beavers 17-11 in the fourth quarter for a 47-34 win.

Horton (11 points) and Galla (10 points) once again led the way with Malachi Milsap adding nine points.

Another road game was on tap. This time at heavily favored WPIAL champion New Castle.

The Hurricanes entered the game at 21-2 and were coming off a 61-45 win over Chartiers Valley in the WPIAL title game avenging one of the two regular-season defeats.

Again, no one outside the Ramblers’ locker room gave them a puncher’s chance against a team averaging over 70 points a game.

And again Prep showed that championships aren’t won on paper.

Down seven in the late in the fourth quarter, 44-37 with 1:30 to play, a 7-0 run was capped by a Galla basket with about four seconds left after Will Inness had scored the first five points of the run.

Then in overtime, the game went back-and-forth with three ties, the last at 50 apiece. An Inness free throw following an intentional foul made it 51-50 Prep before another free throw by Galla made it 52-50.

New Castle, thanks to Prep making just 2 of 6 free-throw after the game was tied at 50, had a chance to tie or win the game at the end, but Isaiah Boice missed a 3-pointer before Mike Wells missed a shot. Mike Graham got the rebound and put it back in, but the shot came after the horn leaving the Ramblers with the stunning, 52-50, overtime upset.

Horton again led the way with 16 points with Innes, a senior, adding 14, and Galla 11.

Up next, a trip to Greensburg, Pa., and Hempfield High School where Cathedral Prep met District 3 champion, Lower Dauphin.

All that was at stake was a trip to the state championship game for the first time in 25 years.

A fast start – Prep used a 19-6 first-half run to build a 21-10 lead less than three minutes into the second quarter, helped make that dream a reality.

Up 30-21 at halftime, the Ramblers and 42-28 early in the fourth quarter, the Ramblers withstood a 7-0 Lower Dauphin run in the fourth quarter to get a 54-46 win and a trip to Hershey and the state title game.

Horton, who else, led the way again with 16 points with Galla adding 11 points, including his 1,000th career point.

In the state title game for the first time since 1996 – that season Prep lost by five to a Lower Merion squad led by some guy named Kobe Bryant – the Ramblers faced off against Archbishop Ryan out of the always powerful Philadelphia Catholic League (District 12).

Again, not much of a chance was given to the guys in black and orange.

Again, they said who cares?

A 13-2 run over the final 3:14 of the first quarter erased an 8-2 deficit and gave Prep a 15-10 lead at the end of eight minutes. It was a lead they held onto for the final 27:14 of the contest.

A 15-4 second-quarter domination increased the advantage to 30-14 by halftime with Horton outsourcing Archbishop Ryan all by himself, 15-14.

The lead increased to 48-30 by the end of the third quarter, and Prep rolled to its first state title since 1993 with a 69-49 win.

Again, it was the sophomore Horton leading the way with an amazing game. He scored 25 points, grabbed eight rebounds, and blocked two shots.

The two seniors – Innes and Galla – made sure they went out champions adding 14 and 12 points respectively.

At the end of the season, the awards rolled in.

First, Galla and Horton were named District 10 Region 6 first-team All-Stars.

Galla, who averaged 14.4 points, 7 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game, then earned the inaugural District 10 Player of the Year Award powered by All American Awards & Engraving with Prep head coach Steve Piotrowicz named the District 10 Coach of the Year.

Galla and Horton (14.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.3 bpg) were both named First Team All-District 10.

Piotrowicz then was named the Pennsylvania Sports Writers Class 5A State Coach of the Year with Horton earned first-team all-state honors in Class 5A and Galla second-team all-state honors.

To top it all off, the team received the royal treatment in Erie with a community celebration at the Millcreek Mall.


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