Christian Isopi (above) mans the post for an Archbishop Ryan squad that's now in the state quarterfinals. (Photo: Sam Istvan/CoBL)
Sam Istvan (@hooplove215)
COATESVILLE –– Christian Isopi’s voice could be heard echoing off the walls of a half-empty gym in Coatesville all night. He barked out instructions like a quarterback calling audibles at the line of scrimmage.
“Corner, corner, corner!”
His teammates listened and followed his words with action during a second-round PIAA state tournament game against Elizabethtown on Tuesday night, closing passing lanes, causing deflections and creating turnovers. On a night, when Archbishop Ryan’s 1-3-1 zone looked like a finely-tuned machine, Isopi was pulling the levers.
“He’s our unquestioned vocal leader out there,” Ryan coach Joe Zeglinski said of the senior forward. “He’s been great to have around, one of the best leaders I’ve been around since I started coaching. The guys follow him, follow his voice, especially on the defensive end.”
“I really just direct my guys around,” Isopi said of his defensive role. “Looking where the guy with the ball is looking… so, being vocal, knowing where the ball’s gonna go is a good thing for us and then we get out on the break and score.”
Isopi’s leadership, though, can often be missed if you don’t listen closely enough. He’s not the one in the passing lanes, getting the steals that show up in the box score. Those steals, for the most part, belong to Ryan’s quick guards, junior Dom Vasquez, and sophomores Jalen Snead and David Wise.
Is Isopi miffed by his small box score numbers? That would be a no.
“As long as we’re winning, I’m happy with that,” Isopi said. “Keep winning, I’m happy.”
Isopi certainly had plenty to be happy about Tuesday night, as Ryan kept on chugging through the state playoffs with a 67-39 win over Elizabethtown at Coatesville Area High school.
On a team that lost its leading scorer, Aaron Lemon-Warren, and all 26.6 of his points per game to injury, the margin for error has shrunk. Isopi, an anchor down low, has become indispensable. After scoring 15 points in the Raiders’ opening-round state playoff wins, Isopi contributed 14 points and seven rebounds to Ryan’s winning effort on Tuesday.
“If we don’t have him in the middle,” said Zeglinski, “our defense would be tough to run because he just does such a good job of stopping drives. That’s really the key to our D right now.”
In addition to his vocal leadership, Isopi turned away several drives from an Elizabethtown team that did not want to shoot, hoisting a total of five 3-pointers through the first three quarters. Again, Isopi won’t be rewarded in the box score for his help defense. And again, Isopi doesn’t care.
“He just wants to win so bad,” Zeglinski commented, “and he’s such an unselfish kid, and player, and teammate. It’s been great coaching him because he listens and he gets better and you can’t ask for more than that.”
Tuesday night, Ryan, with Isopi quarterbacking the defense, held their opponents to just 16 points in a slow-paced, grit-and-grind first half, a defensive performance that was crucial considering Ryan shot just 6-for-25 on the other end for the half.
Elizabethtown never looked comfortable attacking Ryan’s zone. They did not have the capability to out-shoot it and everywhere they looked they saw the hand of a Ryan guard preventing a pass or the big body of Isopi obstructing the basket.
In the second half, Ryan changed their offense approach and results quickly followed.
“At halftime, I really stressed, let’s sprint to the rim,” Zeglinski said. “Let’s start sprinting to the rim. I thought in the first half we played a little tentatively in transition. I just want them to let loose and go and just make plays.”
Zeglinski’s squad certainly let loose. The turnovers and bad shots they forced started turning into easy transition buckets as the game finally opened up for Ryan’s guards.
Point guard Dom Vasquez poured in 14 of his 19 points and Jalen Snead grabbed five of his six rebounds and dished out all of his four assists in the final two quarters as Ryan poured in 41 points in the second half en route to a 67-39 blow-out victory.
All of the transition action also turned the karmic wheel as Isopi made a mark in the box score, finding himself several easy looks at the rim, dropping 14 points of his own in the second half.
Moksecas led the charge offensively for Ryan, with 20 points on the night. For Elizabethtown, senior guard Ryan Parise had 16 to go with senior forward Elijah Eberly’s 11 points.
With the win, Archbishop Ryan inches one step closer to Hershey, earning themselves a date in the quarterfinals, which will be their first trip since a 2017 final four run that ended at the hands of Lonnie Walker’s Reading. Ryan will battle District 3 champs, Muhlenberg, who dispatched Shippensburg on Tuesday.
As the competition hardens, Ryan will continue to rely on their defensive captain, Isopi.
Zeglinski hopes that his team can send Isopi out the way that he deserves: “Hopefully we can continue this run and his senior year ends in Hershey.”
Sankofa Freedom 85, Lancaster Co. Christian 50
Chester Charter 72, Notre Dame-East Stroudsburg 55
Nativity BVM 77, Mt. Calvary Christian 59
Southern Fulton 59, St. John Neumann 57
Berlin Brothersvalley 74, Vincentian Academy 54
Bishop Canevin 40, Cameron County 39
Cornell 53, Elk Co. Catholic 44
Bishop Carroll 52, Shade 51
Bonner-Prendergast 67, Valley View 33
Bishop McDevitt (Harrisburg) 58, Archbishop Carroll 49
Pope John Paul II 44, Allentown Central Catholic 42
Imhotep Charter 60, Montoursville 38
Tamaqua Area 72 vs. Susquehanna Twp. 58
Lancaster Catholic 84 Belle Vernon 82 (4OT)
Grove City 45, Highlands 38
Hickory 68, Huntingdon 47
West Chester East 38, Pottsville 35
Archbishop Wood 72 vs. Pittston Area 45
Unionville 61, West Chester Rustin 49
Archbishop Ryan 67, Elizabethtown 39
Dallas 78, William Penn (York) 51
Muhlenberg 78, Shippensburg 68
New Oxford 73, York Suburban 48
Milton Hershey 81, Obama Academy 57