Dom Vazquez (above, left) and Jalen Snead played terrific defense as Archbishop Ryan downed Penn Wood. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
NORRISTOWN –– Dom Vazquez likes to gamble.
No, you won’t find the 17-year-old down in Atlantic City, or even playing poker with his friends. Instead, the Archbishop Ryan junior plays the odds in the passing lanes. At the top of the Raiders’ 1-3-1 zone defense, the 5-foot-10 guard was constantly in the face of Penn Wood’s ball-handlers during Friday night’s opening-round game of the PIAA Class 5A tournament.
Whichever way the Patriots’ point guards would turn from the top of the key, there was Vasquez, leaping between ball-handler and intended pass recipient –– two, three, four times in a row, getting back into position each time, then lunging forward to get an arm, a hand, a finger in the way.
“I got smarter on defense, I think, this year,” he said. “I can read where the play’s going to go before it goes, jump in the lanes, make them think twice about where to pass it.”
With leading scorer and Aaron Lemon-Warren out since mid-January, Ryan’s needed to change its focus, from an offensively-talented squad to one that relies on its defensive effort to win games. And Vazquez’s effort and energy on that end of the floor are a major reason that despite Lemon-Warren, a 6-5 Division I recruit, still in a walking boot, the Raiders are still alive in their hunt for a state championship trophy.
The Raiders’ 62-50 win over the Patriots at Norristown Area High School certainly wasn’t Ryan’s prettiest victory of the season, but it was an effective representation of the effort that Joe Zeglinski’s bunch has been giving on the defensive end down the stretch run of the season.
Vazquez popped in 14 points and contributed four rebounds and four assists with two steals. His disruptive abilities at the top of that zone helped frustrate Penn Wood (16-9), the runner-up in District 1 5A, into a 4-of-26 shooting performance from the 3-point arc.
“Ever since the McDevitt game, we put him up top of the zone and that’s when we really started clicking on defense,” Zeglinski said, referring to Ryan’s upset of Bishop McDevitt in the Catholic League quarterfinals on Feb. 14. “(Gediminas Mokseckas) and Jalen [Snead] do such a great job on the wings, Christian [Isopi] in the middle stopping on drives...we have a good thing going right now on defense.”
Vasquez never let up on his defensive energy, staying active from the opening minute through the tail end of the fourth quarter, helping Ryan force 19 turnovers on the evening. And even though he was exerting so much effort defensively, he had no issues getting up and down the floor in the second half, pushing the pace with the ball in his hands.
“I love to play the game, so I’ve always had all this energy,” he said.
Snead, a sophomore guard, was also fantastic on the defensive end. The 6-3 off-guard had seven points, but it was his 11 rebounds, six blocks, four steals and three assists that really stuffed the stat sheet.
“He knows his role, and we actually want him to shoot more, to attack the rim more,” Zeglinski said. “He’ll get there for me, he does have a good offensive game, but he’s so unselfish, just plays the right way, such a great IQ on defense, it’s really unbelievable to see it as a sophomore.”
As he has done since Lemon-Warren went down, senior forward Gediminas Mokseckas led Ryan in scoring with 20 points, but it wasn’t the best shooting day for the 6-6 wing out of Lithuania, who was 4-of-14 from the floor, and 12-of-16 from the foul line. Ryan senior forward Christian Isopi had 14 points, three rebounds, two blocks and two assists, a number of his buckets coming from his sweet spot in the left block off precision feeds from Vazquez.
Penn Wood was led by Shamir Baynes’ 20 points, but the senior guard had to take 25 shots to get there, as the Ryan defense continually threw double-teams (and Vazquez) at the talented 5-10 scoring guard. Senior forward Desman Johnson added 12 points and nine rebounds for the Patriots.
Neither team shot the ball well from the outside; the Raiders (2-of-15) also struggled from deep.
“Overall, I don’t think we played that well,” Zeglinski said. “I think the key was the rebounding, we didn’t do a great job of rebounding but we did enough, Jalen was all over the boards. We need to play tougher next round, I think.”
Ryan, the No. 4 seed out of District 12, advances to play District 3’s No. 7 seed Elizabethtown, which upset District 7 No. 2 seed Mars Area HS 58-56 on Friday night. That game will take place Tuesday evening, with tip-off time and location still TBD.
Arch. Ryan: 18 | 10 | 11 | 23 | 62
Penn Wood: 7 | 11 | 15 | 17 | 50
Arch. Ryan: 18-49 FG (2-15 3PT), 24-35 FT
Penn Wood: 19-57 FG (4-26 3PT), 8-18 FT
Arch. Ryan: Mokseckas 20, Isopi 15, Vazquez 14, Snead 7, Boyd 4, Wise 2
Penn Wood: Baynes 20, Johnson 12, Goring 6, Flynn 4, Moore 3, Dublin 3, Boothe 1, Massenburg 1
PIAA Class 5A First Round
West Chester East 53, Gettysburg 33
Pottsville 61, Northern York 43
West Chester Rustin 60, Wallenpaupack 44
Unionville 54, Martin Luther King 29
Archbishop Wood 72, Strath Haven 45
Pittston Area 42, Penncrest 40
Dallas 69, Frankford 57
York 69, Southern Lehigh 69
Muhlenberg 72, South Fayette 66
Shippensburg 60, Greater Johnstown 53
Archbishop Ryan 62, Penn Wood 50
Elizabethtown 58, Mars 56
York Suburban 57, Laurel Highlands 56
New Oxford 70, Thomas Jefferson 48
Obama Academy 73, Penn Hills 63
Milton Hershey 78, Chartiers Valley 74