By Bob Grotz
Archbishop Carroll’s quest to reach Hershey ended inconsolably Saturday in the quarterfinal round of the boy’s PIAA Class 5A state tournament.
While there are no moral victories, it took Northeastern four quarters to catch up to the Patriots, and two overtimes to break through for an 86-84 decision at Garden Spot High.
“It was a really good high school basketball game and all the credit goes to Northeastern and how they battled,” Patriots coach Paul Romanczuk said. “They didn’t give up. They could have laid down there and they just kept coming. They have a lot of toughness about them and that’s what it takes to make deep state playoff runs. And I thought my team really had that as well.”
The Patriots will second guess themselves for blowing the 15-point lead they carried into the fourth quarter. But they can find solace in rallying from an almost impossible sixpoint deficit with 28 seconds left in the second overtime.
A.J. Hoggard drilled back to-back treys to make it a one possession game for the Patriots. The third attempt wasn’t a charm, the Bobcats grabbing the rebound to secure their 30th victory of the season.
“We got one of the best shots we could possibly get, a little floater from a guy who just hit two three-pointers and had played well down the stretch for us,” Romanczuk said. “We had a lot of chances. There were some breakdowns we’d like to have back but it’s still high school basketball and teenagers. We kept battling even though there was some adversity going against us there and I’m proud of the guys. I’m really proud of them.”
The Patriots got after the Bobcats from the outset. Senior Colin Daly scored 11 of his team-high 19 points to stake the Pats to an 18-16 lead entering the second quarter.
A 10-point Carroll lead in the second quarter melted under the frenetic dribble-drive penetrations of Fred Mulbah, the 5-9 guard who typically dunks, just not in this game.
Mulbah scored seven of his 17 points in the frame, including five after the Bobcats fell behind by 10, to make it a three point game at the intermission. That’s also when Northeastern unveiled its press.
“I guess we just got a little too comfortable,” Daly said. “We lost focus for a little bit. The press got to us. I don’t think we were ready for the press. But we battled.”
Carroll senior Khari Williams took over the third quarter, scoring 10 of his 12 points and preventing Bobcats shooter Antonio Rizzuto from getting a look at the basket. The Patriots could smell victory as they coasted into the final frame with a 54-39 advantage.
That’s when Bobcats guard Brandon Coleman began draining three-pointers almost from the Shady Maple Market down the road. Coleman finished with 30 points, including four rainbows from long distance.
All of that said, the Patriots led, 65-63, and needed only to inbound with 5.1 ticks left in regulation.
However Rizzuto left his man and drew an offensive foul by stepping in front of Hoggard, who was trying to get to Daly’s pass. And the Bobcats put the ball in the hands of Mulbah, who went hard to the basket through a crowd of defenders for the buzzer-beating layup forcing overtime.
The game looked like it would never end when the Patriots rallied to within two in the second overtime. It just wasn’t meant to be.
“That’s a tough one,” Williams said. “I think we had some opportunities, some loose balls, we could have hustled more. You could always say you could do more. But I mean, even with them stopping us, we still had an opportunity to get a good shot off, and we did get a good shot off. We just didn’t get the bounce or the roll.
“I love this team. I wouldn’t want to end my high school career playing with any other guys. This one is going to leave a hole in me for a little bit. We definitely wanted to end up in Hershey but it is what it is. You’ve got to accept it.”
Said Daly, “I’ll remember how we fought towards the end.
“Down by six with 30 seconds, you don’t really think there’s a chance,” Daly said. “But we fought back, cut it to two, had a chance to win and it just didn’t fall.”
The Patriots showed Romanczuk what they were made of in surviving must-win game after must-win game the last four weeks, excluding a loss to Neumann-Goretti. The senior class with Williams and Daly, among others, kept the Patriots moving forward.
“It was a pleasure every single day to walk in that gym knowing that I had those four seniors to coach,” Romanczuk said. “Great kids, great families, great parents. If I could have a senior class like that every single year I’d be a proud happy coach and I’d go out every year with a smile on my face. They’re a hard-working bunch, they care for each other and they’re great teammates.
“That’s what I’ll remember about them.”