By: Rich Flanagan
Photos/Videos: Kathy Leister, Donna Eckert, Vita Marks & Geanine Jamison.
PIAA PCL Update –Carl Arrigale has been coaching at Neumann-Goretti for 21 years and in that time his team has played in the state tournament 12 times.
Not only has he led the Saints into March but he’s won seven state titles in the process. His team has gone on dominant runs where they’ve routed the opposition and gone into the title game with little to no wear and tear. He’s also seen games get postponed due to snow, especially in 2017 when the Saints had their second-round matchup against Holy Redeemer pushed back and successive rounds. While that postponement three years ago lasted six days, he’s never seen anything like this.
The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) unanimously voted on Thursday morning to suspend the boys and girls basketball tournament for “minimally a two week period” due to the coronavirus or COVID-19. The PIAA published a press release just after Noon in response to the spread of the virus and they “believe this action will allow schools time to perform self-assessments and make decisions to promote optimal health conditions in their communities.”
For Arrigale and other Philadelphia Catholic League coaches in the state tournament field, this is an unprecedented move by the PIAA. He understands the decision and knows they came to this with players, coaches and staff in mind.
“In my 20-plus years of coaching, we have had some wicked snowstorms that knocked us out of the box for a few days but nothing like this,” Arrigale said. “Two weeks doesn’t sound long but it’s a long time, especially after a long season. We play deep into the season almost every year. Our seasons are long and they’ve added two more weeks to it.”
There’s no easy way to maneuver around the growing epidemic, which has caused Governor Tom Wolf to close all schools in Montgomery County. Arrigale is noting that the long season, especially with already having to play into March, can wear on a team and now there’s the strong possibility of playing into April this time around.
The Saints have had no problem advancing to the PIAA Class 3A tournament quarterfinals. They trounced Brandywine Heights, 75-43 in the opening round behind a 13-point, 15-rebound performance from Bowling Green commit Cameron Young and a 24-point outing from Hysier Miller. Hakim Byrd had 16 points and St. Joe’s commit Jordan Hall had six points, six rebounds and five assists in the win.
In the second round, they played Holy Redeemer once again and came away with a 87-49 victory. Byrd, a Marist commit, led the way with 23 points including five three-pointers and Young hit four triples on his way to 17 points to go along with 12 boards and two blocks. Hall had 10 points, seven boards and five dimes with Miller scoring 13 points. Neumann-Goretti, the Philadelphia Catholic League champion, will play Loyalsock Township in the quarterfinals.
Kevin Funston, overseeing Bonner-Prendergast in his second straight state tournament as head coach, echoed Arrigale’s sentiments about ensuring the health and safety of all those involved and feels this decision came about in part to what higher levels of basketball were doing in response to COVID-19.
“We’re so close to getting to the championship game, and not to overlook anybody else, you only have to win two more games to get there,” Funston said. “It’s been a long season but after seeing what’s been going on with the NBA and March Madness, I had a feeling we were going to have some kind of delay. I’m glad it wasn’t completely canceled.”
The Philadelphia Catholic League Coach of the Year may have to be patient to return to the sideline for the Friars but he’s been pleased with the dominance they’ve shown in the first two rounds of the PIAA class 4A tournament. The Friars have had at least 11 players score in each of their wins over Eastern York and Valley View. Against Eastern York, a 78-40 win, to open the state playoffs, Tyreese Watson had 18 points and Donovan Rodriguez had seven of his 14 points in the third quarter. They also received a big boost from 6-8 junior forward Gestin Liberis, who had 11 points off the bench, while Oscar Uduma and James Welde provided seven points apiece.
It was much of the same against Valley View as Watson scored 15 of his game-high 27 points in the third and Rodriguez, playing in his third state tournament, chipped in nine as Bonner-Prendergast rolled to a 67-33 victory. Liberis turned in another strong night with eight points and Uduma had seven of his own.
The Friars, who will play District 3’s Bishop McDevitt in the quarterfinals, offensive distribution has been phenomenal but Funston is more impressed with how that success has translated to the defensive end of the floor.
“It’s been great for team morale that everyone has been able to contribute,” Funston said. “I’ve been really proud of the way we’ve been defending. It’s hard to scout for these teams that aren’t in the area. The way our guys have handled that and gone on the road to win these games has been a really enjoyable process for us.”
Two Philadelphia Catholic League programs remain in the PIAA Class 5A Tournament. Archbishop Wood, which advanced to the 5A title game a year ago, won both of their first two state playoff games by an identical score of 72-45. In the opening-round triumph over Strath Haven, Marcus Randolph, who recently received an offer from Drexel, had 20 points and Philadelphia Catholic League MVP Rahsool Diggins added 18 points. Jaylen Stinson added 15 points and Muneer Newton had seven points in the victory.
The Vikings didn’t look back in their win over Pittston Area as Daeshon Shepherd had 22 points including 10 in the first quarter and Randolph hit three of Archbishop Wood’s nine three-pointers. Diggins and Stinson scored 13 points each as the Vikings returned to the quarterfinals for the third time in four years.
Archbishop Wood head coach John Mosco, whose team will play Dallas in the next round, felt his team began the state tournament slow but quickly figured out what made them successful in March last season.
“The first half of the first game I thought we weren’t focused and we didn’t bear down,” Mosco said. “Over the last six quarters, we’ve really been focused and playing the right way. That’s the way I remember it, even back to my days at Neumann-Goretti. After the first two games, they can sense it and see the finish line. You don’t want to slip up and stay focused on those games.”
Even without leading scorer Aaron Lemon-Warren (24.4 points per game), Archbishop Ryan has been as impressive as any team in the 5A field. Led by 20 points from Gediminas Mokseckas and 15 from big man Christian Isopi, the Raiders downed District 1 5A runner-up Penn Wood, 62-50 in the first round. Point guard Dominic Vazquez had 14 points and seven assists while sophomore guard Jalen Snead added seven points, 11 rebounds, seven blocks and five steals.
The Raiders looked even better in the second round by romping Elizabethtown, 67-39. Mokseckas had 20 points, six boards and four assists while Vazquez followed up with 19 points and six dimes. Isopi, the 6-foot-6 senior forward, had 14 points and seven rebounds and Luke Boyd chipped in eight points... Snead only scored two points but he filled up the stat sheet once again with six rebounds, seven assists and five steals. The Raiders will play Muhlenberg in the quarterfinals.
Archbishop Ryan head coach Joe Zeglinski, who has his team in the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2017, sees this two-week hiatus as a opportunity for all teams and schools to reassess what measures need to be taken in order for the state tournament to resume.
“When you get your chances to win a championship and you have seniors on your team, right now we’re going to stay optimistic and believe we’re going to play in two weeks,” Zeglinski said. “I haven’t been a part of anything like this and I understand the decision 100 percent. We hope things get better and we can finish out these games. The main thing is keeping the kids and the community safe, first and foremost.”
Roman Catholic has advanced to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2018, when it last won a state championship, but it has had to deal with the loss of one of its star players.
Lynn Greer III injured his hip in the regular-season finale against Bishop McDevitt and played through it during the Cahillites’ run to the Philadelphia Catholic League title game. He was ruled out prior to the PIAA Class 6A Tournament first-round matchup against Coatesville but the Cahillites still pulled out an 81-75 win. Nasir Lett, starting in place of Greer, had 16 points and freshman Xzayvier Brown poured in 17 points. The talented sophomore duo of Justice Williams (27 points) and 6-10 big man Jalen Duren (13) led the way.
In the 62-51 win over Pennridge in the following round, Duren had 20 points, six rebounds and eight blocks while Williams scored 16 points. Lett had another strong game starting for Greer with 11 points and Brown chipped in nine points for the Cahillites, who will play Methacton in the quarterfinals. Roman Catholic downed the Warriors, 59-52 on Dec. 14 in the Diane Mosco Foundation Shootout without Greer.
With the quarterfinals on the horizon, the PIAA noted “Modifications to the tournaments will include limiting team and spectator parties, health recertification by authorized medical professionals and changes to game day procedures. Additional direction to competing schools will be provided over the coming days in consultation with school administrators, local, state health and governmental authorities.”
Like various conferences in the NCAA and the NBA, the PIAA is considering not allowing spectators to be present for games beginning in the quarterfinals. Furthermore, if schools like those in Montgomery County close down, the tournament may not actually continue and Funston, like many coaches remaining in the field, sees that as a realistic possibility.
“I’m a little nervous that if the schools start closing down, we wouldn’t be able to practice anyway,” Funston said. “I’m trying to get into the gym as much as we possibly can before any worst case scenario happens.”
There will be a lot to sort out and discuss over the next two weeks but the PIAA has the best intentions when considering the teams participating and sites where games will be held. Arrigale, who has had a lot of success in the state playoffs, understands this better than anyone with his wealth of experience leading teams in this tournament and knows they will make the right decision.
“I know the PIAA loves this tournament and loves crowning the state champions,” Arrigale stressed. “They’ll do everything in their power to try and finish it but safety first in everybody’s mind.”