One more game. One more chance for glory.
That’s the theme for not one, not two, not three, not four, but five Catholic League basketball teams as they prepare for battle in the PIAA state championships this weekend in Hershey, Pa.
As of Friday afternoon, March 20, one team has already carved out a lifetime-sized memory niche.
That would be Neumann-Goretti’s girls, who today at the Giant Center in Hershey added a new dimension or two to the term “payback.”
Last year, Neumann-Goretti’s girls’ basketball team took a 29-0 record into the PIAA Class AA state championship and lost to Seton-La Salle, 58-50. Today, the Saints played Seton-La Salle again, and this time the result was different.
The top-ranked team in the country, Neumann-Goretti frolicked to a resounding 79-34 victory and finished the season with a perfect 30-0 record.
Attempting to win their third state title in four years, the Rebels (23-8) actually led by 10-6 midway through the first quarter before N-G woke up and dominated the rest of the way.
A 24-0 blitz gave the Saints a 30-10 lead, and a subsequent 22-0 run necessitated the mercy rule with 3:49 remaining in the third quarter because N-G was ahead by 40 points.
While holding the Rebels to 11 of 52 shooting from the field, Neumann-Goretti’s offense was typically stellar, shooting 31 for 57.
As she has done for the past two years, senior Ciani Cryor was the perfect floor general, her 15 assists (she also added 11 points) helping senior teammates A.J. Timbers (20 points), Sianni Martin (16) and Christina Aborowa (13, also 11 rebounds) find their stride.
So with one down and four to go, here is a brief look at the other four Catholic League teams still playing hoops in the Chocolate Capital of the World.
Let’s start with Roman Catholic. The Cahillites will meet Philadelphia Public League champion Martin Luther King (8 p.m. Saturday at Hershey’s Giant Center) for the Class AAAA title. If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Roman has defeated King in each of the past three District 12 finals, the past two years by only one point.
“There is no advantage either way,” said Roman junior Tony Carr. “They know us and we know them. It’s more fun that way. May the better team win.”
The Cahillites (28-2) dethroned six-time defending champ Neumann-Goretti in the Catholic League championship last month, and twice they have narrowly avoided defeat in the state tourney. This is a team that somehow finds a way to win, and should they defeat 23-8 King, they would collect their first state hoops title.
Prediction: It will come down to the wire, but Roman prevails, 63-61.
Tonight at 8 p.m., Archbishop Carroll will meet Catholic League rival Neumann-Goretti in the AAA final. The Saints (28-2), whose six-year Catholic League championship streak came to an end last month, will attempt to win their fifth state title in six years against a 23-6 Patriots team with one title (2009) on its resume.
Carroll star Derrick Jones, a 6-7 forward who has averaged 19 points this year and led the Catholic League in both blocks and dunks, understands that history does not favor his squad. The Patriots have lost 12 straight games to N-G and 30 of the past 31 – the one victory coming on a 2009 state quarterfinal match.
“This game means everything,” said Jones. “We wanted and expected to win the Catholic League championship but that didn’t happen. This is a chance to make a lot of that disappointment go away. To win our final game would be perfect.”
Jones has been a rock during states, averaging 23 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots. No one from Neumann-Goretti can stop that, but the Saints have three players (Quade Green, Lamarr Kimble, and Zone Martin) who have averaged a composite 49 points per game.
Prediction: A three-point swish by Green with one second left in regulation provided the difference in Neumann-Goretti’s 71-69, regular-season win over Carroll. But this is a rare year in which the Saints look beatable in a marquee moment, and with Jones leading the way and the Patriots enjoying a major rebounding advantage, Carroll will secure a 73-68 win.
Conwell-Egan will also be trying to win its first basketball state title. On Saturday afternoon, the 20-8 Eagles face 29-0 Aliquippa. Though most favor the undefeated squad, the Eagles are playing their best ball of the season, with wins by an average margin of 24 points over their last four contests.
Unfortunately, the Quips have won every game of the season by double digits and their average margin of victory in four state games is 30 points.
For C-E to prevail, point guard Steve Jordan and his 17-point scoring clip will need to involve his teammates for some inside presence.
Prediction: No one gives Conwell-Egan much of a chance, until now. The Eagles roar back to Bucks County after a stirring 59-54 victory.
Those who remember last year’s girls’ AAA state final recall a feeling that can only be described as “blah.” Archbishop Wood lost by eight points and just didn’t seem to show their best potential.
At 6 p.m. Saturday, Wood will once again play Blackhawk, a team known for being as strong on the court as they are mouthy off of it. The Vikings can’t wait for this game, but there’s a major issue: Will junior star Bailey Greenberg be able to play?
The standout 5-10 guard/forward sprained her ankle two games ago and missed the PIAA semifinals, but her teammates did the job.
To do it again, they need her to play. Plain and simple.
The likeable Greenberg was asked if she will play. Her response?
“I’m gonna try,” she said, before immediately seguing into team-speak. “I’m really excited. I think our team is really pumped and ready to go.”
The Vikings (26-4), who barely lost to undefeated Neumann-Goretti in the Catholic League final, face a Blackhawk team that is 27-3 and has won three of their four state games by double digits. Then again, so has Archbishop Wood.
With Greenberg iffy, the spotlight shifts to 6-foot senior Aubrey Brown, who joins her three underclassmen starters for interim coach Mike McDonald. Since taking over the team late in the season, McDonald has guided the Vikings to a 7-1 record.
Prediction: Wood, which snared state titles in 2010, 2011 and 2012, sorely needs at least a mildly healthy Greenberg to play, and with a reputation for non-stop grit and coming from a basketball family that could fill most of an arena on its own, she will undoubtedly suit up if she feels she can contribute in any way possible.
So … with McDonald pulling the right moves, Wood will win its fourth state title in six years, 50-47.
John Knebels can be reached at email@example.com.