Good morning, all.
Well, it was morning when I started this post.
What a glorious Sunday in NEPA. The sun is beaming. Now, it’s downright cold, and I am not ignorant to the forecast, which by the way, is really quite discouraging. If this winter “event” buries us in snow, I am going to be very angry. Longtime readers of my blog posts know, I dislike snow. More, I dislike snow removal. I used to have a policy of not taking out my snow thrower after March began. But, it looks like I am going to be outside clearing my driveway come Tuesday.
Thoughts of this terrible event bring back memories. In 1993, a famous Blizzard pulverized the area. I remember it well. I was working as a bar-keep then, less than a year out of Lafayette College. And as someone in charge of cheers and entertainment, part of my responsibilities included creating the 1993 NCAA Tournament Pool Bracket — for entertainment purposes only, of course. Snow piled up, and if you could believe it, my father, The Sarge, didn’t believe in snow throwers. Shoveling built character. It also hunched me over for days. It took hours to clear. My brother, the much bigger and stronger of the two brothers, was safely tucked away on campus at Bucknell University. Good thing I had taken up weight lifting in college. I made it. I got through to the road. It looked like a tunnel leading to where the Fortress of Solitude my be located. The banks were higher than my towering 5-foot-7 frame. It took days to actually venture out in a vehicle. Good thing we had plenty of milk and bread.
Any way, if this is a storm of epic proportions, I have a feeling it will also stymie the PIAA tournament. It certainly is going to have a long-range impact even on spring sports programs that optimistically scheduled season openers for the week of March 20. But one thing I learned from the Blizzard of ’93 and any that followed, it is something out of our control. There is no need for wide-spread panic or anxiety. We, just as I did on that agonizingly painful day of shoveling, will break through. The snow will melt. We will have spring and summer ahead.
OK, enough of the negative. How about some really positive news. Lackawanna League teams had a terrific Day 2 of the state basketball playoffs. Five teams posted impressive wins. Throw in the two winners from Friday and we have a busy start to the work week. Later today the PIAA will announce sites and times for the second round. However, my guess is Dr. Robert Lombardi and staff are guzzling hot coffee and dabbing their brows trying to get a workable plan in place ahead of this storm. I wouldn’t be surprised if dates and times and locations are already being rearranged. And listen, before anyone starts boo-hooing, understand, this is not an easy task, so bear with the PIAA and with me. I will try to get you all the information as quickly as I can, but I do want to see my family for a few hours on a Sunday.
Now, Scranton Prep, Mid Valley and Holy Cross all won games on the boys side, while Dunmore and Susquehanna won games in the girls tournaments. They join Abington Heights boys and the Old Fore girls, the two victors from Friday.
That’s a pretty good Saturday. Let’s take a look at what I saw and the teams I cover:
Susquehanna makes history
It is always nice to cover a high school team winning in the state playoffs. With all due respect to the other teams remaining, they are the Blue Bloods of the league. At Susquehanna, this is all something new. It’s a small community which conjures up scenes from the movie Hoosiers. The last time the fans of the Lady Sabers were playing this deep into March was in 1996 and they had never seen a team post a win in the state playoffs.
So, here I was sitting in the stands with some of my pals from North Pocono High School who do all the hard work at the scorer’s table. Susquehanna coach Errol Mannick has been around, I think as long as I have been covering basketball. He’s worked very hard to get to this level. He is a dedicated and passionate man. The girls at Susquehanna are building a program. It’s cool to be able to take in a game where you can just sense the appreciation. It’s high school sports at its purest form. It got me to thinking — which is always dangerous — just how impressive is all of this for these kids? Well, check out this timeline:
- Dec. 27, 2011: Susquehanna defeats Elk Lake, 52-49, in Denise Reddon Memorial Tournament to end 49-game losing streak.
- Jan. 27, 2012: Susquehanna beats Blue Ridge, 48-45, in the Lackawanna League Division III. It’s the only league win of the season and the first in 36 league games dating back to Feb. 11, 2009.
- Feb. 10, 2016: Susquehanna defeats Mountain View, 53-50, for its 17th win in the Lackawanna Division III since 2012.
- Jan. 28. 2017: Susquehanna defeats Forest City, 42-36, to win the Lackawanna Division III first-half title.
- Feb. 18, 2017: Susquehanna plays for, but loses, all-season division title to Forest City, 48-37.
- March 2, 2017: Susquehanna defeats Forest City, 34-28, to win first District 2 Class 1A championship and first district title since the 1995-96 season when it won the District 12 title.
- March 11, 2017: Susquehanna defeats Benton, 44-28, for first PIAA playoff win in program history.
That’s a pretty good learning curve. So, that made being on site pretty special for me yesterday. At this time of the year, underdog stories are a bit rare. Traditional powers rule. The looks on the faces of the Lady Sabers players just made it a pretty rewarding day to be a local sports writer.
But, alas, I will probably have to hand-off the team back to girls basketball beat writer Marty Myers. For one day, though, I thank the players for the chance to be a very small part of this win.
Holy Cross Builds Legacy
It’s always interesting to see how fast time passes. We are all on this crazy ride of life together it seems. Holy Cross played its 23rd PIAA playoff game. That really is no surprise. When Bishop O’Hara and Bishop Hannan closed and the two traditional basketball powers merged players and a rivalry put its intensity behind in the name of brotherhood and the pursuit of victory, it was all but a foregone conclusion this program would be successful.
True, because this program spawned in 2007-08, heck I have been there every step of the way as it builds a remarkable legacy. Longer than that, though, seeing this team beat Shenandoah Valley brought me back in time for some reason. Then, I remembered: Many years ago, when I was a very green sports writer in the winter of 1998-99, I endured my first road trip in the state playoffs. Oh, I had heard of these tours from my brethren who I served as a clerk in the year proceeding, but I looked forward to it. It began on a Friday with a trip to Dallastown, Pa. There I covered Old Forge in a night game. Back then, you know, we didn’t have GPS systems. I somehow didn’t get lost. Oh, and we didn’t have laptops. No, Radio Shack portable typing units. Any way, I drove all the way back to Hershey, where Dave Lauriha covered PIAA wrestling and had a hotel room. Why stay in Hershey? Well, I had a doubleheader on the following day in York. I covered the Bishop O’Hara girls in the afternoon, and the Bishop O’Hara boys in the early evening game. The Bruins boys team pulled off the upset of the PIAA Class 2A tournament that day. Remember now, I was just learning how to be a sports writer back then, but it was a thrilling game with a full house. Here’s how I wrote it up:
YORK — Bishop OHara’s Brian Niemotka was not considered one of the premier players in the Lackawanna League. In fact, the 6-6 junior was not named to the first, second or honorable mention all-star teams.
With his performance against York Catholic on Saturday, Niemotka made himself one of the key players in the first round of the state Class AA boys basketball tournament.
Niemotka scored 13 of his 15 points during the fourth quarter and overtime to lift the Bruins to a dramatic 50-47 come-from-behind win over the District 3 champion Fighting Irish.
Bishop OHara advances to the second round of the state tournament and will meet Lackawanna League Division II rival Dunmore, which defeated Towanda, 66-62, Saturday.
I bring this up because Al Callejas coached the Bruins that season. Earlier in that winter, we met for the first time at the Lynett Memorial Basketball dinner. I remember his youngest son, Connor, being just a little guy. Now, he’s got a better beard than me and he just completed his junior year at King’s College.
Since that state playoff game at York Catholic, coach Callejas has guided the Bruins and now Crusaders to 15 more wins in the PIAA tournament. And I have probably been around for most of them. He’s got something cooking again.
True Holy Cross is a veteran program in the state playoff landscape. But this team is more a group of fresh-faced upstarts. That was really evident Saturday. Both seniors — Matt Nelson and Malachi Phillips spent the majority of game time on the bench, either injured or in foul trouble.
What do the kids say today? No worries.
Freshman Kieran Burrier scored 18 points off the bench. Freshman Caleb Callejas, the coach’s nephew, had six points. Sophomore Tyler Mozeleski had 11 points and a pair of big 3-pointers. Sophomore Tom Montefour was one of the top defenders in the game. Sophomore Declan Tokash helped put his finger in the dam when the starters were out of the game. And junior Patrick Galvin, well, he became the leader the Crusaders needed.
That is a very young team. A team that showed its inexperience early this season when it got off to a 2-5 start. Fast forward to Sunday morning and the Crusaders are 17-3 in their last 20 games with two losses to Mid Valley and a loss to Dunmore. And Holy Cross is going to be heard from moving forward, either way.
Next up: Constitution, a power from District 12. The two teams have played twice before in the state playoffs and split the matchups. This should be a great game.
Scranton Prep blows out the scoreboard lights
Somebody quizzically asked me the other day, “Why isn’t Scranton Prep scoring more points?” I had to chuckle. Then, in the most respectful manner, replied, “They score more than their opponents.”
See, that’s the idea.
All season, Scranton Prep has carried the burden and the pressure of being the overwhelming favorite with increasing expectations. As much as the two-year starting players say all the right things, and emphasize this is what drives them, let’s face it, it is difficult at times to live up to the expectations of others. Scranton Prep has done that, and then some.
Right before the state playoffs began, I made a note. The Cavaliers are the top big-school team in District 2 this season. Look at this resume:
- Defeated District 2-4 Class 6A subregional champion Williamsport
- Defeated District 2 Class 6A champion Hazleton Area
- Defeated District 2 Class 6A runner-up Delaware Valley
- Defeated District 2 Class 5A champion Abington Heights twice
- Defeated District 2 Class 5A runner-up West Scranton twice
- Defeated GAR in District 2 Class 4A championship game
- Defeated Nanticoke in District 2 Class 4A semifinals
Four of those teams — Williamsport, Abington Heights, GAR and Nanticoke — posted wins in their first PIAA games this weekend.
Oh, and as for the Scranton Prep offense. It’s pretty good. Just ask Marty Myers, who probably ran out of ink in his four-colr pen at Marywood University’s Insalaco Arena.
Scranton Prep scored 99 points in a win over Salisbury. It’s a season-high. Six players — Leo O’Boyle (17), Nick Dende (13), Logan Bailey (12), Wes Simons (11), Brett Para (10) and Greg Bormes (10) — scored in double figures.
In the last two seasons, the Cavaliers have had some pretty impressive scoring games:
99: In win over Salisbury
83: in win over Wyoming Valley West
107: In win over Wallenpaupack
93: In win over Western Wayne
92: In win over Valley View
91: In win over Western Wayne
87: In win over Wyoming Valley West
85: In win over Scranton
83: In win over North Pocono (Twice)
82: In win over Fordham Prep
81: In win over Pittston Area
80: In win over Dunmore
Next up: Imhotep Charter. Ok, things certainly get interesting now. Imhotep Charter is ranked No. 6 in the country by USA Today. The Panthers are 26-2 overall. They have a couple of Division I players, of course, David Beatty (South Carolina) and Daron Russell (Rhode Island). This one could turn into the track meet that happened last year when Neumann-Goretti ended Scranton Prep’s season, 113-71. I’ll be ready.
Can’t slow the Spartans
We as sports writers are not allowed to cheer from the press table. That isn’t always a hard and fast rule during the state playoffs. Let’s face it, each hometown reporter wants their team to win and advance. Now, we don’t paint our faces like Puddy on Seinfeld, but it’s nice when the locals succeed.
It keeps us busy.
Mid Valley hit the road early Saturday morning. The Spartans weren’t supposed to be traveling then, they were scheduled to play Friday night. Weather impacted that game at Shamokin Area High School. (That feisty Mother Nature). The delay didn’t matter.
With Brad Kalinowski and Noah Tanner showing off their guard skills, Brendan Davies broke out and scored 14 points, R.J. Gouldsbury had 12 points and J.J. Glinsky gave an exhausting, all-out effort, I am told. The defense smothering another opponent, Mid Valley posted a 62-41 win and advanced in the PIAA Class 3A tournament.
Mid Valley has limited 16 of its last 17 opponents to less than 50 points. This is a tenacious and active unit, considering the Spartans do not have a player taller than 6-0 in the lineup.
Here are some numbers for you:
Number of opponents that have scored 60 or more points against Mid Valley this season.
Number of opponents Mid Valley has limited to 50 or fewer points this season.
I know coach Michael Abda will be happy I am pointing this out. These kids play hard and have learned that to have success in the state playoffs, you have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and lock down star players and efficient, well-coached offenses.
This was another high point for the Spartans, a program that is rock solid. I like to call it the BA (Before Abda) Spartans and the PA (Post Abda) Spartans.
The Mid Valley BA Spartans were established in 1972-73.
- Never won a Lackawanna League Division title or a District 2 championship
- Won one PIAA playoff game, beating Freeland, 57-54, in 1981 Class 1A first round
The Mid Valley PA Spartans were established in 2010-11.
- Won two Lackawanna Division III titles (2014, 2017)
- Won District 2 Class 2A championship (2015)
- Won four PIAA games (2014, Lewisburg, 58-57; 2015, Towanda, 48-35; 2015, Columbia, 49-44; 2017, Southern Columbia, 62-41).
Next up: Valley Forge Military Academy. Things get tougher as teams advance in the state playoffs. Funny how that works. This team is one of the talented groups from District 1. Again, this is going to be a good one.
Ok, that’s it for right now.
I will likely be back with sites, times, dates, whatever.
Work consumes me at this time. And I will close by thanking all who reached out to me and asked about my health. Yes, I was sick last week. And yes, I was very cranky. And yes, I am still not 100 percent. But, I am coming back around.
Plus, vacation is only two weeks away!