Christian Lane (above) and Bonner-Prendie beat Conwell-Egan on the road in last year's first round. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)
The Philadelphia Catholic League's playoffs tip off Wednesday night with a pair of first-round games.
Here's a look at each:
No. 9 Conwell-Egan at No. 8 Bonner-Prendergast
When Bonner-Prendergast traveled to Conwell-Egan in last year’s Philadelphia Catholic League first round playoff matchup, it was the Friars’ third game in four days: two victories over West Catholic, including a play-in game just to make the postseason, and finally a matchup with the Eagles.
If anyone thought the Friars were gassed, they were wrong after Christian Lane stole the ball from LaPri McCray Pace with 10.7 seconds left and finished a layup at the other end to seal a 49-47 win. Fast forward to the 2017 PCL playoffs and these two programs are set to face off again.
Friars head coach Jack Concannon feels having past experience especially in the postseason against the Eagles will help in the preparation for his veteran team.
“Having played them in the playoffs already will help our kids. Being playoff tested and winning a playoff game is always a good thing,” Concannon said. “I think I could speak for most coaches and you don’t know what to expect [from your team in the playoffs.] It’s hard to get a feel but having a senior group at playoff time helps.”
The Friars boast a senior-laden backcourt of Lane (9.7 ppg) and Tymir Cooper (10.3 ppg) plus a dominant big man in 6-8 First Team All-Catholic center Ajiri Johnson. Johnson has given Bonner-Prendergast (15-7, 7-6 PCL) the ability to expand their full court press because of how he rejects and influences opposing team’s shots in the paint. Even more impressive has been Johnson’s skillset at the offensive end, where he has scored in double figures in 14 of his team’s 22 games.
Bonner-Prendergast is not coming into this playoff game with the same momentum as a year ago as they’ve dropped four of their last six games, but Conwell-Egan (9-12, 5-8) isn’t coming hot, either.
The Eagles, under the direction of first-year head coach Eric Kindler, have lost five straight but have shown grit and toughness. They dropped the regular season matchup with the Friars, 69-52, in the PCL opener for both teams but they nearly beat Roman Catholic, 84-80, on Feb. 3 when junior guard Patrick Robinson set a school record with 42 points.
Robinson (18.0 ppg), an All-Catholic Second Team selection, was fifth in the PCL in scoring and he has had help along the perimeter from junior point guard Eric Esposito (12.3 ppg) and senior Darien Simmons, who scored in double figures in four of the team’s final seven games.
Unfortunately, the Eagles will not have former Second Team All-Catholic forward Vinny Delassandro to defend Johnson down low so it will have to be a team effort in pressuring him to give it up and forcing turnovers. Kindler, who is trying to lead Conwell-Egan to its first PCL playoff victory in school history, knows it’s a tall task for his team but feels they’re more than up for the challenge after where they’ve come since the beginning of the year.
“[Ajiri] is tough. He’s a legit player and having those other guys around him is [even tougher,]” Kindler said. “We get another shot at these guys. It’s a marking spot to see where we’re at [because] we’ve had some success against them. It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come.”
Carroll freshman A.J. Hoggard (above) is perhaps the brightest young talent in the Catholic League. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
No. 10 La Salle College at No. 7 Archbishop Carroll
Paul Romanczuk had several leaders who could make a play when his team needed it most last season whether it was 2016 PCL MVP Ryan Daly, Josh Sharkey or John Rigsby. That ability to take a hands-off approach and allow them to be an emulation of himself on the court led Archbishop Carroll to the PCL semifinals, where they narrowly lost to Roman Catholic by a point.
Losing all three of those players to graduation was tough and Romanczuk has had to teach this year’s core group what it means to be a leader.
“That’s something doesn’t come natural to our four seniors. I think we have quiet guys on the team but some guys have grown over the course of the year and realize that’s what we need,” Romanczuk said. “We want them to step up and get outside of their comfort zone.”
Archbishop Carroll (15-7, 7-6) was the only team in the PCL with four players having scored 200 points or more: Second Team All-Catholic junior Justin Anderson (12.5 ppg), freshman point guard A.J. Hoggard (10.3), and seniors Khari Williams (9.5) and Colin Daly (9.1), Ryan’s younger brother. It’s taken some time but Romanczuk thinks his team has hit its stride at the perfect time. After going through a midseason slump where they dropped four straight games, all to PCL playoff opponents, the Patriots finished off the regular season with three consecutive wins and their head coach is hoping this can carry them on a deep postseason run.
“This league is as tough as it gets. Every year you feel as if it’s getting better and better,” Romanczuk said. “I think we went through a tough stretch but we’ve regrouped and played some good basketball over the past weekend. Hopefully that continues here in the playoffs.”
While Carroll took some time to gel together, La Salle (11-11, 5-8) came into the season with a veteran core, particularly in the backcourt with seniors Jarrod Stukes (10.6 ppg) and Matt Paulus (10.8). Stukes was a Second Team All-Catholic selection and junior Sean Simon, the team’s leading scorer at 12.3 ppg, was selected to Third Team. When a team boasts a trio with the range of those upperclassmen combined with the versatility of 6-8 forward Zach Crisler (10.4 ppg), the Explorers are a team Carroll’s defense cannot have an off night against, and Romanczuk has stressed that.
“They’re very disciplined. They’ve got some veteran guards in Stukes and Paulus. They’re a team that can get on fire and really shoot the three,” Romanczuk said. “We’re going to have to close out on shooters. More so than anything, we have to focus on what we do well and what we’ve been struggling with.”
Carroll downed La Salle, 50-45, on Jan. 13, and the only PCL playoff team the Explorers defeated in the regular season was Father Judge. The Patriots only win over a PCL playoff opponent was Bonner-Prendergast, so both teams are out to prove they’re better than they’ve played this year. Both teams have players who can score in bunches and this game figures to come down to which team can defend just a little bit longer than the other.
Waiting in the next round are Archbishop Wood and Neumann-Goretti; Wood plays the lowest-remaining seed and Neumann-Goretti gets the other on Friday night.
Tag(s): Home Staff Catholic League Jarrod Stukes Matt Paulus Ajiri Johnson Rich Flanagan Christian Lane Zach Crisler Tymir Cooper Catholic League Archbishop Carroll Bonner-Prendergast Conwell-Egan La Salle College HS