Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
MECHANICSBURG, Pa.--Stevie Jordan had never dunked in a high school game before.
So when Conwell-Egan’s 5-foot-11 point guard rose up towards the bucket in the closing minutes of the Eagles’ PIAA Class AA semifinal, he had a chance to end things then and there with a slam.
But Egan coach Frank Sciolla, despite a reputation for a passionate sideline demeanor, didn’t panic. He didn’t freak out, even when Loyalsock responded with a 3-point play to make it a five-point game with 87 seconds remaining, and he didn’t yell at his junior guard when the team huddled for a timeout thereafter.
“There’s still more game to play,” Sciolla said. “If we’re going to talk about it, we’ll talk about it tomorrow.”
Jordan got another chance, a wide-open court ahead of him as the final seconds ticked down, and he wasn’t going to let it happen again.
His second dunk attempt of the night found its mark.
“That’s my first one, so, that was awesome,” Jordan said.
“It was incredible,” senior wing Chase Kumor said. “When he dunked it, the place went nuts.”
The 250 Conwell-Egan students that had taken eight coach buses from the Fairless Hills would pour onto the court at Cumberland Valley High School just seconds after that, celebrating a 55-44 win.
Just eighteen days ago, the Eagles won their first playoff game of any kind in 51 years. Now, five victories later, they're one win from a state championship.
While the Catholic League and the rest of District 12 have been part of the PIAA for six years, it's been a longer trek for Sciolla to get to Hershey. In his 15 years as head coach at District 1 AAAA powerhouse Pennsbury, he was unable to get any further than the state semifinals.
It was something he had to think about perhaps a little longer than he would have liked. With his Eagles standing behind him in the corner of the gym, Sciolla had to watch a girls' playoff game go into double overtime before Conwell-Egan could start warmups a half-hour later than expected.
“It kept going, and the kids were kind of antsy," Sciolla said. "I don’t say anything personally, because it’s not about me. I just thought to myself, you waited 19 years, you can wait another five minutes.”
Loyalsock certainly put up a good fight despite an off shooting night, never letting Conwell-Egan open up a double-digit lead until the fourth quarter in a game the Eagles led from the first bucket onwards. Three triples by senior guard Omar Little (14 points) in the second quarter helped the Lancers trail just 23-19 at the break, and they scored the first four points of the third quarter--all by leading scorer Ben Sosa (16 points) to tie it up.
But Conwell-Egan would respond by opening up an 11-point lead with 6:55 remaining in the fourth quarter on the second of two Sean Kelly 3-pointers in a two-minute span.
Those were the only two buckets all night for the 6-foot-4 wing; his efforts on both ends of the floor were a big reason his team stayed afloat in the third quarter even after Jordan and fellow junior Vinny Dalessandro picked up their third fouls early in the third quarter.
"I know you might be thinking about the shots he made, it was actually chasing the baseline runner in the zone, something that at times he struggled with this year," Sciolla said. "We really, really were on him the last two days and he kept dragging and taking that baseline runner and they never got that look.”
It was a balanced scoring effort for the Eagles behind Jordan's game-high 23 points. LaPri McCray-Pace and Kumor scored nine apiece, while Kelly and Dalessandro added seven each as the starters accounted for all of the scoring.
Kelly grew up just five minutes from C-E and has been going to Eagles games since he was five years old, was especially understanding of what the win meant for the school.
“I never dreamed of it, coming into Egan as a freshman, I never thought I’d be playing for a state championship in my senior year," he said.
After Jordan's missed dunk, he would recover to knock down a pair of foul shots with 59 seconds left, and Kumor would follow by hitting three of four from the line to effectively ice it at 52-44 with 32 seconds left.
A final Loyalsock turnover with eight seconds left led to that final Jordan runout, and the ensuing celebration. The players celebrated like they'd already won the title--for themselves, for the fans, and for their coach.
"We know that he’s played in a lot of playoff games, he’s been to this point, but he’s never won in this situation," Kumor said. "It’s awesome for him too, I think he’s really excited.”
That Conwell-Egan will be playing Aliquippa on Saturday (2 PM, Giant Center) for the state title was still setting in to many of the players on the Eagles, who've taken a variety of paths to get there.
“It’s a surreal moment," said Kumor, who transferred in from Penn Charter last summer due to a lengthy commute to his old school and has become an integral part of his new program. "[It's] just something you always dream of, to compete for championships, and to be able to compete for a state championship and be one of the best teams in the state, it’s awesome.”