Jeff Griffith (@Jeff_Griffith21)
Mike Gaffey will be the first to admit his Bishop McDevitt Crusaders had some unfinished business coming into this season.
Their first goal was to exorcise their District 3 championship demons of a year ago; McDevitt lost the 2015 title game by just three points to Steel-High.
The Crusaders checked that one off the to-do list, earning this year’s district hardware with a dominant win over Eastern York.
The next order of business was a taller task, to say the least.
“Last year, we lost with a lead in the last minute against Neumann-Goretti,” said Gaffey, the Cursaders’ head coach. “This was on our bucket list, to get a Philly team that we knew we could beat in the last minute of the game and win it.”
Instead of getting Neumann-Goretti, the defending state champions, Gaffey’s team was matched up with the Philadelphia Catholic League’s next best AAA squad, the state runners-up of a year ago, the Archbishop Carroll Patriots.
However, despite the change in opponent, McDevitt got exactly what they wanted.
In thrilling fashion, the Crusaders hung with Carroll for all forty minutes and were able to notch a program victory, advancing to the quarterfinals of the PIAA class AAA state tournament with a final score of 62-60.
“This is a great feeling, to beat such a great team in a great game,” said McDevitt senior James WIlliams. “It was just a great game to play in.”
Of course, the key for Bishop McDevitt the whole way was just staying in the game and keeping things close. What ended up being a very sloppy game, characterized by 31 combined turnovers, played a huge role in keeping the playing field level against a proven talented team like Carroll.
When they were down just two at the 1:17 mark of the first half, that “we can do this” feeling began to set in.
“If you look at all of Carroll’s opponents, they jump up on you 20-1, 25-7, 18-0,” said Gaffey, whose team trailed by no more than six throughout the entire first half. “‘We said, after the first four minutes or so, ‘you know what, we’re in for a dog fight.’”
That mentality hung around throughout the game, even into the final minutes. After a technical foul by Carroll’s John Rigsby sparked a quick McDevitt run to flip a five-point Patriot lead to a one-point Crusader lead, all the momentum shifted to the district three champs.
Even so, they still trailed 55-53 with 42 second remaining.
Just two seconds later, they were leading by four.
“It was crazy,” said Gaffey. “How do you explain that? I have no explanation.”
What happened was two fantastic plays by McDevitt seniors. Alex Marisco first drained a three from the wing, and on the ensuing Carroll possession, Patriot guard Ryan Daly, who led his team with 24 points, was called for a travel.
That violation counted as one of 17 uncharacteristic turnovers for Archbishop Carroll.
“We finished with 17 turnovers, and I think we averaged maybe a little over ten for the year,” said Carroll head coach Paul Romanczuk. “I thought we did several things out of character tonight.”
Right off the next inbound, James Williams earned himself a three-point play--three of his team-high 17 points--to give his team that four-point edge.
Half a minute later, there he was again, coming up with a block that all but sewed up the victory, as he rejected a Josh Sharkey game-tying lay-up attempt with just two ticks remaining on the clock.
Sharkey had 20 points for the Patriots, but Williams was there to make sure he didn’t reach 22 and force overtime.
“When I saw him coming down the lane, he’s great at not letting you block his shot, so I just tried to stay up and kind of back away, so he couldn’t bump into me and get a foul called, and luckily I was able to get a hand on it,” said Williams.
Obviously, this is much sooner than the Patriots expected to see their season end. They fell just one game short of playing for a Catholic League championship this year, but still had high hopes--for good reason--entering the state playoffs.
“That could be the hardest--or one of the hardest--locker rooms I’ve ever had to walk into,” said Romanczuk. “This team exceeded expectations, not only just looking at it as a season as a whole but pretty much every single season, they exceeded expectations and they really lived the words brother and family. Teams always preach that stuff and sometimes go ‘whatever,’ but these guys really lived that.”
As for the victors, Bishop McDevitt is just two wins away from playing in the same state championship game Carroll lost in 2015, and will take on New Castle in the quarterfinals on Friday night.
And when asked what the third and final item on his team’s bucket list was, Williams only had two words to say.
“A title,” he said.
PIAA Second-Round Results
Tuesday, March 8
Delaware Valley Charter 59, Lampeter-Strasburg 45
Imhotep Charter 72, Lewisburg 47
Neumann-Goretti 113, Scranton Prep 71
Lower Moreland 52, Pottsville 47
Harrisburg Bishop McDevitt 62, Archbishop Carroll 60
New Castle 56, Beaver Falls 52
Highlands 68, Hollidaysburg 55
Mars 58, Erie Strong Vincent 56
Philadelphia-Montgomery Christian 71, York Country Day 45
Math, Civics & Sciences 69, Old Forge 56
Shenandoah Valley 62, Delaware County Christian 58
Constitution 75, Southern Fulton 48
Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic 66, Bishop Carroll 55
Kennedy Catholic 65, Coudersport 26
Sewickley Academy 48, Homer-Center 38
Farrell 61, Elk County Catholic 38