Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
POTTSTOWN — Charley Federico had seen highlights of Neumann-Goretti’s Robert Wright III.
What he saw was pretty impressive.
When Federico and Bishop Shanahan stepped on the court against Wright and the Saints in a PIAA Class 4A quarterfinal Friday, what Federico saw up close in person impressed him even more.
“I mean that kid, watching him, I’ve seen some stuff about him, and I was like, ‘Wow, that kid’s really good,’ but playing against him tonight I realized how good he really was,” Federico siad. “His moves to the bucket, he’s really, really shifty and you never know when he’s gonna pass or go up with the ball and I think that’s what makes him so good.”
Shanahan gave Neumann-Goretti a scare for three quarters, but Wright ultimately proved too much to handle. The junior Baylor commit poured in 29 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter as the defending state champions pulled away for a 74-64 win and advanced to Monday’s PIAA semifinals.
Neumann-Goretti's Robert Wright III drives past Bishop Shanahan's Charley Federico. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)
“I just knew we needed some buckets down the stretch, so I was trying to provide for my team and make sure we advanced in the tournament,” said Wright, who was named Pa. Gatorade State Player of the Year earlier this week
Things weren’t falling early for N-G (25-3) and Wright, who had just one bucket in the first quarter. N-G led 15-11 after a quarter of play before the Eagles (10-17) rallied to take the lead on multiple occasions in the second, the last a 22-20 advantage on a putback by Sean Griffin with 3:20 left in the first half.
“They hung in with us when they were playing real hard and making their threes,” Wright said.
“Today, it was a tough game. We weren’t really making anything. It was frsutraing a couple of our guys. We just try to stay focused and keep advancing.”
A personal 6-0 run by Wright was part of 10 consecutive N-G points to finish the first half with a 30-22 lead. A bucket his younger brother Stephon Ashley-Wright (eight points) to start the third pushed the lad to double digits, but the Eagles wouldn’t go away.
Federico came up with big bucket after big bucket in the third, finishing with 10 of his team-high 20 in the quarter. Ben Rodner-Time, who finished with 12 points, and Roman Alexander, who finished with 14 points and four threes, both added long balls and hit shots against in the fourth to keep the Eagles fighting until Wright’s take over late. They trailed 48-40 heading to the fourth.
“We knew we were underdogs,” Federico said. “We knew everyone was going to count us out, and we gave it our all. That’s what I love about this team. No one gave up. Even until the very end, we’re still trying to foul, get shots up. No one on this team gives up and we tried to give it our all tonight, but we just came up a little short.”
Neumann-Goretti went up 60-45 with 4:25 to play for its largest lead of the game. The Eagles kept coming but Wright seemed to have an answer every time whether that was driving into the lane himself or finding classmate Amir Williams, who had nine of his 14 in the fourth, for an alley oop or an easy bucket underneath.
“We definitely needed him (Wright) to come up clutch because we couldn’t find no scoring at all,” said senior forward Sultan Adewale, who had 16 points and 16 boards in the game. “I felt like he really started taking over in the third quarter, making shots and free throws for us.”
Wright’s role has taken on more importance with backcourt mate Khaafiq Myers sidelined with an injury.
“We need it a lot because with Fiq down I just gotta step up any more and provide more,” Wright said. “I’m just trying to take on that role and make sure we keep winning.”
The Saints will face District 11 champion Allentown Central Catholic — a 60-44 winner over Eastern York — in the semifinals. During last year’s state title run, the Saints won tight games in the second round and quarterfinals before rolling in their final two games.
“Really just there’s gonna be ups and downs in the games,” Wright said. “Just stay focused, keep pushing and win. … I think it’s gonna take hard defense, shot making and just staying locked in every possession of the game.”
“We gotta play better than we have all tournament,” Adewale said.
After coming into the postseason with a sub-,500 record, Shanahan claimed the District 1-4A title for its first district championship since 1996. The Eagles’ run to the state quarters was the program’s deepest since its 1985 state championship squad.
“It was a really shaky season, but the past month starting with districts, we knew we’d come in and we were gonna make history this year, and that’s exactly what this team did,” Federico said.
Bishop Shanahan 11 | 11 | 18 | 24 || 64
Neumann-Goretti 15 | 15 | 18 | 26 || 74
Bishop Shanahan: Charley Federico 20, Roman Alexander 14, Ben Rodner-Tims 12, Sean Griffin 7, Logan Kapczynski 6, Chase Boyle 3, Kevin Scaggs 2.
Neumann-Goretti: Robert Wright III 29, Sultan Adewale 16, Amir Williams 14, Stephon Ashley-Wright 8, Bruce Smith 7.