Keith Blassingale (above) and Cabrini made the trek to Eastern for the annual rivalry game Wednesday night. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
RADNOR, Pa. -- To call Cabrini’s season opener at Eastern a road game is both dishonest and accurate at the same time.
There is, indeed, a singular road separating the two schools. But it’s not exactly a trip for either program to visit the other.
The school’s entrances are located only about a hundred yards from each other, near the corner of Eagle Road and King of Prussia Road, nestled in the peaceful, tree-lined back roads of the Main Line. Buildings from both schools extend down the street, with several crosswalks connecting the campuses; students at both schools have numerous opportunities to take classes at the other.
Unlike most road games, when his team will pile in a couple vans or a bus, Tim McDonald and his Cavaliers can just walk. It only takes all of about 15 minutes, if they walk slowly.
“From most of their dorms... it’s a straight shot right out the back door [to Eastern],” McDonald said of his players. “I think most of the upperclassmen that live in those dorms, I’m pretty sure it’s closer to Eastern’s gym than it is to get to ours.”
The Battle of Eagle Road, as it’s now called, has been happening for over 40 years, after Cabrini became co-ed in the 1970s. Cabrini and Eastern were conference foes in the old Pennsylvania Athletic Conference (PAC) from 1992-2008, when Eastern left and the league changed names to its current Colonial States Athletic Conference (CSAC).
Since then, it’s been played just once per year, early in the season, and has become a highly-anticipated men’s/women’s doubleheader each time. The two teams play for a replica of the Eagle Road street sign, which hangs in the locker room of whoever holds it.
“It’s always going to be a high-intensity game, doesn’t matter if one team’s really good and the other team’s down that year, everyone’s coming to play, give their all in the game, so for us to start off the season with it, we know it’s going to be a big-time test.”
(More Battle for Eagle Rd: Check out our photo gallery here)
Cabrini sophomore Keith Blassingale had a big-time test of his own on Wednesday night, as McDonald put him in the starting lineup for the first time in his college career.
Blassingale didn’t get to play in last year’s Battle of Eagle Road, but he certainly made an impact when he got the chance in this year’s edition of the rivalry matchup.
The Cabrini guard made his first start count, scoring a career-high 19 points as his Cavaliers beat Eastern 82-68 in an annual rivalry game that has also recently doubled as season opener for both teams.
It was the kind of game that looked like it might need the full 40 minutes to be decided. Aside from a brief seven-point Eastern lead early in the first half, the two teams were within five points of one another from tipoff all the way through the 6:24 mark of the second half, when a 3-pointer from Cabrini’s Ivan Robinson provided for the final tie at 60 apiece.
With under five minutes to play and the score 62-61 in Cabrini’s favor, Blassingale hit two triples in a 51-second span, pushing the advantage up to seven, the largest the Cavs had enjoyed up to that moment.
They were the 6-foot-1 guard’s third and fourth triples of the night, marking the most he’d hit in his 16 games with the team since joining the program midway through last season. His first one was certainly the bolder of the two, taken while moving to his left off a feed from big man Tyheim Monroe, the Cavaliers’ star forward who had 18 points and 22 rebounds in the win.
“I tell (my teammates) in practice, all I need is one, if I get one, I can get two, if I get two, I get four,” Blassingale said. “When I caught the ball, it was going up, definitely.”
McDonald wasn’t bothered at all by Blassingale’s willingness to put up tough shots.
“I want our guys to play with confidence, so if they take and make those shots in practice, then they can take them in the game,” the fourth-year head coach said. “The thing about Keith is, he takes some awkward-looking shots, but they go in.”
Born and raised in Germantown, Blassingale moved to the Rhawn and Torresdale area of Northeast Philadelphia when he was in fifth grade. He attended New Foundations Charter from kindergarten up through his senior year in high school, when he became the school’s first-ever basketball recruit when he headed to D-II Goldey-Beacom (Del.) out of high school.
After finding himself somewhat lost in the shuffle at Goldey, Blassingale decided to transfer to Cabrini, where he averaged 5.3 ppg in 15 games as a freshman last season.
It was a solid debut for Blassingale, but the confident young guard wanted more. As the only college basketball player to come out of his school, he knows how he plays could reflect upon the quality of his high school program -- and it’s a banner he’s happy to carry.
“I’m just glad I can put the school on my back and wear it proudly,” he said. “New Foundations, everybody’s like ‘where’s that from?’ (but) when they see me put numbers up, they say ‘oh, they might be okay.’”
It’ll take more than just one game of leading his team in scoring, but Blassingale’s start to his sophomore year certainly won’t hurt that line of thinking. But he’s got more in mind than just being the first New Foundations grad to play college basketball.
“I’m just working every day and trying to get better, it doesn’t stop,” he said. “I’m a hard worker and I know I’m going to get better at the game, I’m not worried about that. I’ve got big plans, I want to play overseas after this, so I’m not done yet.”