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PIAA 3A: Clark, Stanford lead West Catholic into first state semifinal

03/18/2023, 9:30pm EDT
By Matt Gaffney

Matt Gaffney (@GaffReports)

Everyone needs a little encouragement from time to time. And sometimes, it’s a little tough love that gives us a push in the right direction.

For West Catholic coach Miguel Bocachica, he chose the latter approach during a timeout with 3:35 left in the third quarter of the PIAA 3A Boys Quarterfinals with Executive Education Charter at Schuylkill Valley High School in Berks County. 

The Burrs were clinging to a one-point lead, 36-35. After he watched an eight point halftime lead evaporate in a matter of minutes, Bocachica felt his team needed a little nudge towards hoops enlightenment in the form of a not so gentle reminder of what West Catholic basketball is all about.

The Burrs’ coach did not hold back in the huddle during the timeout.

Zion Stanford (above, in Dec.) and West Catholic are in the state semifinals for the first time. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

“In that moment, I just tried to remind them of how hard we worked to get to these moments,” said Bocachica. “I have a great group of guys. They’re gritty, tough, grinding. At times, I have to remind them of what makes us really, really good – it’s not just our talent that makes us who we are. It’s our grit, it’s our toughness that really separates us from the next team. So, I just wanted to remind them of how hard we play, how hard we go every single day for moments like these. Don’t take that for granted.”

Let’s just say that the message was received loud and clear.

Following Bocachia’s words of “encouragement”, the Burrs limited the Raptors to eight points over the final 11 minutes on their way to a 59-43 win. The 24-8 game-clinching run was spearheaded by the dominant performances of Adam “Budd” Clark and Zion Stanford.

The dynamic senior duo outscored Executive (22-5) by themselves, combining for 47 of Catholic’s 59 points. Clark went off for 26 points while Stanford kicked in 21 to put West Catholic (18-10) in the PIAA semifinals for the first time in school history.

They'll play Trinity, the District 3 champ, in a to-be-determined location on Tuesday night.

Teammate Amyr Walker (8 points) was the only other Burr to score in the second half as the Raptors had no answers for stopping either Clark or Stanford.

Early in the third quarter however, Executive went on a 11-2 run to bring about the aforementioned timeout by West Catholic. Despite only having a one-point lead in the most important game of their lives to date, Clark knew his team needed to have one thing if they wanted to win the game - composure.

“We just wanted to stay composed,” Clark said. “Basketball is a game of runs and they made their run, so we just wanted to keep punching and stay composed and stay calm.”

Speaking of punching, the first half was like heavyweight boxers feeling each other out in the early rounds of a match. A few jabs and glancing blows were exchanged but after each team saw what the other had brought to the match, it was game on.

The lengthy Raptors defended and attacked the rim with 6-11 senior Moustapha Sanoh (12 points) from the inside and Rylan Muniz (15 points) from the outside while West Catholic countered with the spectacular play from Clark and Stanford. The 5-10 senior guard scored on a variety of drives and mid-range jumpers throughout the game with his 14 first-half points giving the Burrs a 32-24 halftime lead while the 6-4 Temple-bound Stanford scored 13 of his 21 points after the break.

Adam 'Budd' Clark (above, in Dec.) was spectacular with 26 points. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Not only did Clark score efficiently and almost at will, he was often matched up against 6-9 Lamine Sanoh, who finished the game scoreless. Despite the size disparity, Clark was the big man on the court today.

“I know they had guys that were 6-9 (and taller) but I got the grittiness, I’m fast, so I just try to beat them to the rim,” said Clark.

For Stanford, he was surprised by the amount of points he and his teammate scored because of the type of ball the Burrs tend to play.

“We tend to share the ball and just play hard so it’s a little surprising,” Stanford said. With the two playing so well, it’s easy to see why they play with confidence. That seems to be the key for Stanford. “We know we’re a good duo and when we come out hot, we feel like nobody can stop us.”

“Zion and Budd, I thought they played a really good floor game,” said Bocachica. “I don’t think either one of them took a shot that was uncharacteristic. They just get to their spots and play their game and they’re also really good passers.”

On Saturday afternoon, West Catholic led for most of the way.

A Muniz drive briefly gave Executive a 37-36 lead with 1:20 remaining in the third quarter. It was the Raptors first lead since early in the second quarter. Not only would it be short lived but it would be their last lead of the game as a Clark drive seconds later gave the Burrs the lead for good. A Stanford three pointer that appeared to come a split second after the third quarter buzzer counted anyway and gave Catholic a 41-37 lead at the conclusion of the third.  

Clark and Stanford took it up a notch as the Burrs ripped off a 16-2 run at the start of the fourth quarter to put the game on ice and help Bocachica and West Catholic make history. For both coaches and players, becoming the first West Catholic team to make the state final four is special.

“It’s a great feeling. We have had a lot of “firsts” with this program, so it’s a great feeling to have another one,” said Clark.

While winning may not be easy, the formula for West Catholic success is simple according to Bocachica and it may just explain why his team is just one game away from playing for the 3A state title.

“Play extremely hard and share the ball. We do those two things, we’ll figure the rest out.”

So far, that approach has been working out quite well for West Catholic.

By Quarter
Exec Education: 14  |  10  |  13  |   6   ||  43
West Catholic:    14  |  20  |   7   |  18  ||  59

Executive Education: Muniz 15, M. Sanoh 12, Hornberger 8, Lopez 4, Shipley 2, Manning 2.

West Catholic: Clark 26, Stanford 21, Walker 8, Jennings 2, Branker 2.

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