By Matthew DeGeorge
D.J. Irving knows what it’s like to face long odds against Neumann-Goretti.
When the 2010 graduate of Archbishop Carroll led his Patriots up against the Saints in the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class AAA tournament in 2009, Neumann had claimed the previous 18 meetings between the Catholic League rivals.
“We had nothing to lose,’ Irving said by phone Thursday. “After a while, you get tired of losing to a team. Coach Paul (Romanczuk) was confident in us, he just told us to play our game and have fun.’
The fun that day translated to a 70-65 win at Archbishop Ryan, the Patriots’ biggest hurdle in the quest for a title in the Catholic League’s inaugural season in the PIAA.
Then, as now, Carroll was an underdog. Two of their three losses that season came at the hands of Neumann-Goretti, dropping decisions of 63-49 and 75-58, during the regular season. Carroll bowed out in the Catholic League semifinals to Roman Catholic, denied a chance at revenge as the Saints marched to their first of what would become six straight Catholic League titles.
But in the PIAA quarterfinals, that opportunity presented itself. Carroll had scraped by Phoenixville, 56-50, and downed Shamokin, 62-51, to set up the meeting with the Saints at Ryan. They were marked underdogs against a team ranked in the top 20 nationally powered by four Division I players (Tony Chennault, Tyreek Duren, Mustafaa Jones and Danny Stewart), but that didn’t matter to the All-Delco Irving.
“Before the game, Coach Paul pulled me and (then sophomore guard) Juan’ya (Green) to the side and told his to just be confident and take our shots,’ Irving said. “He had the ultimate confidence in us that if we could play our game, we’d win. He knew what I could do even more than I did.’