There is one question that every sports writer in the United States has been asked multiple times over the last two months: What do you write about when there are no sports being played?
Game coverage is a staple of a newspaper’s sports section. Without games to report on during the coronavirus pandemic, the Observer-Reporter decided more than two months ago to start a series called “When Sports Were Played.” The idea is to rerun game stories from the O-R’s archives. The feedback we’ve received indicates this has been a popular addition to the section.
But what about those fantastic games that the O-R did not have a reporter covering? That’s what former Trinity boys basketball coach Joe Dunn wanted to know recently because he had one remarkable game in mind. It was played Dec. 28, 2010, the first night of the Trinity holiday tournament.
For the record, Trinity defeated Highlands 89-87 in overtime that night. But what was most amazing about the game wasn’t the final score. It was two individual performances. Trinity’s Josh Valentic scored 51 points that night. Valentic’s career game overshadowed a 44-point performance by Highlands guard Micah Mason.
Has there ever been a boys basketball game involving a Washington County team in which two players combined for 95 points? No such record is kept, but if there was I haven’t seen it while combing the O-R’s archives for “When Sports Were Played” games.
“I’ve coached thousands of games, and I remember them, but only a few stand out,” Dunn said. “This was a remarkable game. … Mason entered the game averaging 34.1 points per game and Josh was averaging 30. They were 1-2 in scoring in the WPIAL.”
The 51 points by Valentic is the Trinity single-game record.
“I was extra excited to play that game,” said Valentic, who is a financial adviser and lives in the Brookline section of Pittsburgh.
“Micah Mason was always in the spotlight. Since he was a freshman, people were talking about him, so I was ready to go.”
The first two quarters of the game gave no indication that this would be a landmark game for Valentic or Trinity. The Hillers fell behind by 14 points in the second quarter and trailed 36-27 at halftime. Valentic did have 14 points but only two came in the second quarter.
He was just warming up.
In the second half and overtime, Trinity was in control as Valentic scored 37 points after intermission. He helped Trinity take a 74-71 lead in the closing seconds before Mason, who would go on to play college ball at Drake before transferring to Duquesne, made those who were heading for the exits turn back and sit down for overtime.
“I remember Mason taking two dribbles over half-court and making a desperation shot,” Dunn recalled. “We had a hand in Mason’s face, and he was smiling as he fell out of bounds and made the shot that tied the game…. I remember that I took one step onto the floor, thinking we had won, and then sat right back down.”
“The memories of that game have faded,” Valentic admitted, “but I remember that Mason made that shot from the left wing, right in front of their bench, falling out of bounds.”
The Hillers, however, refused to fold. Trinity built a lead in overtime and maintained it this time.
“What I remember most about that game was the final score,” said Valentic, who had a 41-point game earlier that year against Burgettstown. “Trinity was a low-scoring team. We averaged only about 60 points per game and we won that one 89-87. … Coach Dunn had a great game plan for that one.”
Valentic, who would play one season at Wheeling Jesuit before transferring to Allegheny, where he had an outstanding career, finished the game with 16 field goals, including five three-pointers. He was 14-for-15 at the free-throw line. His only miss from the line was in overtime.
“Josh was a great kid to coach, a good student,” Dunn said. “People talk about his scoring, but guys who score that much can sometimes be a gunner and take away from team chemistry. Josh never did that. He wouldn’t shoot if he didn’t come off two or three screens first. And that doesn’t happen if you don’t have players who are willing to set the screens.”
Jared Deep scored 13 points for Trinity (5-2) and Charlie McCaffrey had 12.
Mason, who would lead the WPIAL in scoring that year, made 15 field goals, matching Valentic with five three-pointers, and was 9-for-9 at the free-throw line.
“We knew he would get his points, but we weren’t anticipating 44,” Dunn said. “We wanted to keep him around his average and hold the other guys down.
“It was an incredible offensive performance by Josh and Micah. But there was no gunning or ball-hogging. There wasn’t one time when those guys took the first pass in the frontcourt and shot. The teams were playing defense. It wasn’t an NBA all-star game.”
It was, simply, an incredible game. One of the best ever played at Hiller Hall. And how it played out left one question begging to be answered: How did Trinity end up playing a game against a 4-2 Highlands team, which had one of the best players in the WPIAL, on the first night of its own tournament?
“It was one of those predetermined matchup things,” Dunn explained. “Canon-McMillan and Ringgold were the other teams and Ringgold was in our section, so we couldn’t play them. The whole thing was to get us and Canon-Mac matched in the finals. Ed Dalton, who was our athletic director at the time, and I talked about Highlands having a good player and he was the one who made the call to get them in the field.”
While the 95 points by two players in the same game is believed to be the most for a contest involving a team from Washington County, it’s not the most for teams from the O-R’s coverage area. On Jan. 29, 1963, West Greene lost a 104-82 game at Father Kolb, a now-closed parochial school in Masontown. West Greene’s Rick Sonneborn scored 56 points in a losing effort while Father Kolb’s Bob Zevnik had 41.