By: John Knebels
Photos/Videos: Kathy Leister, Donna Eckert & Angelise Stuhl
PIAA PCL Update – Six more victories by the Philadelphia Catholic League, and then . . . suspension of play until further notice.
After Archbishop Wood, West Catholic, Archbishop Carroll, Cardinal O’Hara, Bonner-Prendergast, and Lansdale Catholic took care of everything they could control by advancing to the PIAA state tournament quarterfinals, something they could not control– the miserably irritating Coronavirus (COVID-19), which continues to handcuff much of the globe because of a growing uncertainty of how to minimize its current and future lethality – altered the plans of players, coaches, and players.
But first, the good news. If the season does not continue, each player from the six teams at least will have finished the campaign on a winning note.
In Archbishop Wood’s 79-45 Class 5A win over Twin Valley Wednesday night, the Vikings canned a sizzling seven of nine three pointers as part of a brilliant 37-9 first quarter that included a 22-0 run.
With 17 threebies falling through the twine, the District 12-champ Vikings (21-7) had a second straight chance to rest their top players as 10 different scorers dented the stat sheet. Junior Kaitlin Orihel scored 15 of her game-high 17 in the first half. Senior Lindsay Tretter (four threes) tallied all of her 13 in the first two quarters. Sophomore Ryanne Allen’s 11 points included three treys. Senior Izzy Larsen and junior Dana Kiefer added nine apiece.
A bit earlier, Archbishop Carroll (17-10) received 17 points and five assists from sophomore Grace O’Neill while junior Karli Dougherty contributed six points, nine rebounds, and five assists, lifting the Patriots to a 55-34 win over West Scranton.
Whenever the PIAA tournament resumes, Archbishop Wood and Archbishop Carroll would face each other for the third time this season, with Wood previously twice victorious. Several players were asked to evaluate such a marquee matchup between two league rivals.
“Getting back in the ring with Wood will surely be fun,” said Dougherty. “The advantages of this is that, as a team, we know how they play and the plays that they run. We know each of their players’ strengths and weaknesses. The only disadvantage is that they also know our own strengths and weaknesses of our own players. This game will certainly be a competitive one.”
Teammate O’Neill felt similarly.
“I think a disadvantage is that they know the way we play because we have already played them twice, but it is the same for us,” said O’Neill. “The more we play them, the more we know about their team. They are very talented, but I think it should be a good game.”
Wood junior Noelle Baxter echoed her adversaries, but not completely.
“We were in this situation last year and lost,” said Baxter, referring to Carroll’s 63-48 quarterfinal win en route to the state final, “so we are seeking payback for last year’s defeat. We have no intention of letting them end our season again.”
Orihel stressed preparation. Then she reiterated Baxter.
“We need to go in strong and confident, and we can’t take them lightly at all,” said Orihel. “We are also using last year as motivation since they ended our season in the quarterfinals, so we know how it feels and we don’t want to experience that again.”
Wood vs. Carroll wouldn’t be the only PCL vs. PCL game on the docket.
Since Bonner-Prendergast and Lansdale Catholic both emerged victorious in similarly dramatic style, the two Class 4A teams are scheduled to compete against one another. During the regular season, Blue Division champ LC defeated Red Division occupant B-P, 55-45.
In Bonner-Prendergast’s 52-46 overtime win over Eastern York, the Pandas (10-16) trailed by 14 in the first quarter but took the lead two minutes into the third quarter. They then erased a four-point deficit inside the final 43 seconds, with a basket by junior Alexis Eagan tying the game at 45-45 with 12 seconds remaining in regulation.
“It was a very nerve-wracking moment,” said Eagan, who scored the final three points of overtime and finished with nine. “I knew my teammates and I could get the job done if we just stayed together within ourselves down the stretch and into the overtime.”
Down one, the Pandas scored the final seven points. Senior Alexis Gleason led Bonner-Prendergast with 19 points.
“Having such a competitive regular season, the state tournament has really been a good time,” said B-P junior Reagan Dolan. “As a team, we are really finding our way and being the underdogs all year long, it is a really great feeling.
“I am really happy for my head coach, Mr. (Tom) Stewart, as well because the hard work and effort he puts into our team was not easily shown during the PCL games. But now it is really paying off and the results are showing it. I hope we get to finish this tournament and get to finish our winning run.”
Prendergast sophomore Bridie McCann is in no mood to even think about the season ending.
“Each of these games that we have played so far in states have been nothing but exciting,” said McCann. “Coming out of the PCL season with a not-so-good record has honestly put us in a better mindset throughout these tournament games. It has prepared us for the competition that we have been playing against.
“Having a positive attitude throughout this journey is really a big thing for us. We talk to each other through every situation whether it’s good or bad. We lift each other up and keep our heads up. Doing this has really paid off for us, and I hope we continue this journey a little bit longer. One game at a time.”
Despite trailing for more than three quarters of the affair, Lansdale Catholic stunned Dallas, 61-53, behind an outstanding 30-point, 15-rebound effort by junior Timaya Lewis-Eutsey.
With 6:58 remaining in the fourth, Dallas seized a commanding 11-point edge when senior star Lauren Charlton scored her 1,000th career point. But then, following an on-court ceremony celebrating her huge milestone, the University of Pennsylvania-bound Charlton was stymied, as were the rest of her blindsided teammates.
Forcing numerous turnovers and shooting well, LC would embark on a 22-4 flurry and a final 12-0 blitz to close the game, extending the Crusaders further than they have ever advanced in school history.
“That was kind of fun,” said Lansdale Catholic coach Eric Gidney, kiddingly downplaying the meticulous comeback. “There was no quit in them. They kept going. We made some changes. We spread the ball around; made them rotate. We stayed with the game plan for 32 minutes.
“They tried to stall, and it was that lack of killer instinct that we took advantage of.”
Among LC’s less-heralded performers was freshman Gabby Casey. Shaking off foul trouble that diminished her usual minutes, Casey was one of the best players on the court in the pivotal fourth. In addition to playing strong defense on the six-foot Charlton, Casey tied the game with less than three minutes remaining on a steal and subsequent layup and, according to Gidney, “hit a reset button after catching a breath on the bench.”
Lansdale Catholic junior No. 3 Timaya Lewis-Eutsey notched 30 points in the Crusader's tight 61-53 victory vs. Dallas in the PIAA 4A second round - PSD Photo by Kathy Leister.
As part of a team effort, junior Autumn Weber substituted more than competently for Casey.
“There are things that a scoreboard doesn’t show,” said Gidney. “During the time when they were celebrating the 1,000thpoint, we huddled and talked about all that hard work that started all the way back in April. We said that that hard work had to be mirrored tonight.”
After the win, Lewis-Eutsey talked about “inspiring the people around me and continuing to prosper with my team.” Sophomore Lauren Edwards said she “can’t wait to see how much further it can take us. We’re all very optimistic about how much all our hard work will pay off the rest of playoffs.”
West Catholic saw a 15-point lead dissipate to 29-26 in the second quarter, but a 12-point burst led the District 12-champ Burrs (22-6) past Class 3A foe Loyalsock Township, 62-39, for their 11th consecutive victory.
Next up is a tremendous Dunmore team that enters with a 26-1 record and the top seed in District 2.
Junior Destiney McPhaul (16 points), junior Daziy Montgomery-Wilson (13), junior Ciani Montgomery (10), seniorTamiah Robinson (9), junior Ti’Eisha Walker (8), and junior Safara McIntyre (6) supplied all of the scoring.
All told, West Catholic notched an astounding 20 assists. Montgomery-Wilson led with seven; Montgomery and McPhaul dished five each.
“We shared the ball,” said West coach Beulah Osueke. “It felt good securing a win and advancing another round. The team continues to play locked in and for each other.”
Cardinal O’Hara sophomore Sydni Scott dropped 11 of 12 free throws in the fourth quarter, and sophomore Nicole Blanch came off the bench to drill a trio of three-pointers to lead the Lions (21-6) to a 54-43 win over Spring-Ford and a meeting with 26-5, District 1 runner-up Pennsbury.
As part of an outstanding nine-point, eight-rebound, three-block, three-steal effort, sophomore Maggie Doogan fired home a three-point buzzer beater at the end of the first half that gave O’Hara a 23-19 lead.
“I love how my team is playing and I love how I am playing as well,” said Scott. “It’s important to us because we didn’t make it to the PCL final, but now, we have a bigger chance to win states.”
A seventh PCL team, Neumann-Goretti, dropped a 65-51 decision to aforementioned Dunmore for a second straight year. The brilliant high school career of Rutgers University signee Diamond Johnson came to a close with a 35-point contribution, and finished her career with 2,812.
Now, unfortunately, the not-so-good news looms like a wayward freight train.
On March 12, the PIAA issued a statement that the PIAA state tournament would be suspended for “at least” two weeks and will be re-evaluated at that time. So, until then, the Catholic League contingents and their counterparts will wait. And wait.
“When coach (Mike McDonald) texted us and told us it was suspended, I was so upset that I actually started to cry in class,” said Archbishop Wood’s Lindsay Tretter. “As a senior, it really (stinks) to think that this could be the way my season could end without even getting the chance to play for the championship.
“I’m hoping that it does resume and I get the chance to compete and play again. I just hope that everything works itself out so that I, along with my teammates and all the other teams, get the chance to play again, because that’s all we want to do.”
As she mentioned, Tretter’s sense of urgency supersedes that of underclassmen. Indeed, for the 17 seniors that comprise the six PCL squads, this coming weekend was supposed to be another opportunity to savor the flavor of triumph and dream for at least a few more days as the semifinals beckoned four days later.
For seniors, the concept of “next year” doesn’t imply.
“Both Lindsay and I are in a panic,” said Wood senior Izzy Larsen. “I trust that this is going to be handled correctly, but seeing many of my friends at (Larsen’s future college) Northeastern have their season end so abruptly has me worried; the seniors didn't even realize they were playing their last game together. Lindsay and I both just really want to finish due to our own efforts, not because of someone else telling us it's over.”
West Catholic senior Tamiah Robinson is trying to keep an optimistic outlook despite a foreboding sense that the basketball season might be on life support.
“Itconcerns me a lot,” said Robinson. “Of course, I want my last game to be a win in a championship game, but even if that happens, I still will miss high school basketball and my teammates.
“The pros for this two-week suspension is that we get to rest our bodies. The cons are that we have the momentum right now and this gap could affect it; it could affect our focus on our goal.”
Lansdale Catholic senior Mia Rosenberger is keeping her fingers crossed.
“It’s very upsetting hearing that and knowing that could’ve been my last game and not being able to be play with my team again,” said Rosenberger. “I just hope that it is just a two-week suspension and nothing more, but if it isn’t, it was the best season I could’ve asked for and I’m so happy I could be a part of this team.”
Bonner-Prendergast senior Alexis Gleason agrees.
“It’s very disappointing knowing we fought so hard, and just with a blink of an eye, it could possibly be all over,” said Gleason. “It is very upsetting. As of right now, my team is still going to practice and hope for the best. I think I speak for the whole team when I say we would hate to see our season end this way.”
Carroll senior Erin Sweeney recognizes the practical aspects of the situation.
“It is disappointing and scary that it is postponed and we really hope we get the chance to play,” said Sweeney. “But the health of the players and families is most important.”
The underclassmen are obviously significantly affected by the suspension as well.
“I think there are both advantages and disadvantages,” said Bonner-Prendergast junior Reagan Dolan. “If some teams are hurting and tired, it gives that team a chance to rest and heal. So that’s an advantage. The disadvantages include losing momentum if you have been on a hot winning streak. At the end of the day, this decision had to be made to get out in front of what could be bad, and display an overabundance of caution.”
Each of the remaining coaches took the proverbial high road when asked to assess the anomaly that continues to cause chaos and confusion.
Bonner-Prendergast head coach Tom Stewart addresses his team during the final minutes of their overtime victory vs. Eastern York - PSD Photo by Angelise Stuhl
Bonner-Prendergast’s Tom Stewart: “I totally agree with the decision but also hope that the tournament is re-instated. The difficult part is how do coaches move forward as far as practice is concerned since many players play a spring sport. As coaches we will survive, but I feel the most for seniors who might not have the opportunity to play for a state championship.”
Archbishop Wood’s Mike McDonald:“I can’t speak on the coronavirus as I am no expert on anything close to it. I hope all people stay as healthy as possible. I pray for my kids that they will actually get the opportunity to finish the championship they have worked tirelessly to reach. My heart will break for them if they do not get the deserved opportunity.”
West Catholic’s Beulah Osueke:“With news of the two-week suspension regarding COVID-19, I’m happy that the PIAA is taking seriously the health and public safety concerns of the players, officials, and general public, and that they suspended play instead of cancellation. The kids will receive well-needed mental and physical rest. However, there always lies the concern of losing momentum, so we’ll work on making sure we remain committed to our ultimate goal of bringing home a 3A state championship.”
Cardinal O’Hara’s Chrissie Doogan:“Obviously we are praying that this remains a suspension and not a cancellation of the season. All the remaining teams have worked hard all year to prepare for March. It would be a shame if we couldn’t continue. However, we appreciate the PIAA for putting the health and safety of our players and fans first. We will respect any decision they make.”
Lansdale Catholic’s Eric Gidney:“Sports emulates life. We have to handle it with grace and dignity and it’s out of our control. In the meantime, there will be another two weeks of teammates being among teammates that care about each other.”
Archbishop Carroll’s Renie Shields:“It’s an unfortunate situation for all teams who have worked so hard all year to get to this point; however, as coaches we are most concerned about the health and safety of our team members. As much as we want to compete, we know the right decisions are being made for our team members, family, and friends.”
(Contact John Knebels at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @johnknebels.)