Looking back, veteran coach Ken Misiak saw something in the players returning from the disappointing losses that gave him a good feeling about the 1977-78 season.
In the year before, after the four-OT loss, I just had the feeling then the nucleus for another year was there, remembered Misiak. Its an amazing thing to go undefeated in a state championship team.
The team that jelled together to win the 1978 PIAA Class A title with a 26-0 record was assembled from at least one-half dozen schools and twice as many basketball programs. The closure of St. Johns High School in Uniontown in 1976, the year the program finished runner-up to Bishop Klonowski, 81-78, in the PIAA Class A title game, added to the Fay-West base of the school.
The nine seniors on the undefeated state champions entered Geibel the same year the Gators formally entered the PIAA and WPIAL from the old Catholic School league. After a season of character building with freshman coach Leo Lowney, players were indoctrinated into the system by junior varsity coach Bob Fedorko.
With only the section champion entering the WPIAL playoffs, Carmichaels, German Township and Geibel tied atop the standings in 1976-77, with the Gators securing the WPIAL berth with a wild, last-minute rally past the Uhlans, who had earlier defeated the Mikes.
There was no such drama through the regular season in 1977-78. The Gators dispatched all foes for the outright section crown and escaped Uniontown High School with a hard-fought win over the Christmas break against the Red Raiders to complete the regular season with an unblemished record.
The Gators slipped past Mount St. Marys, 65-64, and then dispatched Shannock Valley, 53-44, for the WPIAL crown.
The PIAA playoffs opened with a 66-52 win over Karns City. The road to Hershey then traveled through a packed Saint Vincent College gymnasium against an East Brady team led by NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. The Gators won a very physical game for a berth in the state semifinals.
No overtime game this time as Geibel advanced to its first state title game with a 56-44 win over Bishop Carroll at California University of Pa.
Darby Township was the prohibitive favorite to win the Class A state crown. Adding to the drama, Misiak was carted off to the hospital the day before the game when a back problem flared up.
The favorites never led, trailing 3-0 before they touched the ball as all 13 Gators saw action in a 66-53 victory.
I had that feeling theyd go back. They all had different personalities, but they seemed like a team that jelled together. Each one took his turn, even the guys on the bench, said Misiak.
Im very proud of them.
The team included seniors John Zavatchen, Joe Duda, Greg Novak, Charlie Wortman, Joe LoNigro, Mark Mongell, Pat Noone, Dan Iaquinta and Jim Gyurke, juniors Jim Smarto and David Bailor, and sophomores Bill Belko and Dave Vindivich.
Belko and Vindivich won a second WPIAL crown as seniors in 1980, losing in the state playoffs to East Brady, a team that featured Jim Kellys twin brothers.