Behind the Mic – February 26th

“The Thrill of Victory; The Agony of Defeat”

Ever since Jim McKay immortalized those words on the introduction to ABC’s Wide World of Sports, those eight words have perfectly described so many sporting events. They were the perfect words again on Friday night at around 9:10 PM. Let me explain:

The Wilson Warriors were playing the Salisbury Falcons in a high school PIAA District XI quarterfinal game. This is the only round where the loser sees their season come to an end. Win this one and you are guaranteed two more; win one of those and you enter the state basketball tournament.

Wilson was enjoying one of their greatest years in Warrior history. They finished the regular season 21-1 having lost their third game of the year in overtime. They then reeled off 20 consecutive wins, a school record. Among those victories were 3 wins over the same Salisbury team they would face on Friday. The Warriors won the three previous match-ups rather easily – 58-43; 63-50; 48-36, the latter just 10 days earlier in the Colonial League semi-finals. Wilson then played for the Colonial League championship against Bangor, a team they had also beaten during the regular season. Wilson lost the game and the championship in overtime (yes, that’s right). The bad news, no championship; the good news, their season was not over.

One week later was the fourth Salisbury game, do or die this time. It was a good game from the very start. Salisbury led 17-9 after one; 30-27 at the half; and Wilson led 42-39 after three. Wilson was able to tie the game in the final ten seconds of the fourth quarter at 50-50. The overtime was a tense affair with Wilson finally taking the lead 55-54 with 3 seconds to go. Wilson’s coach, Bob Frankenfield, a 32-year veteran, walked over to Salisbury’s coach, Jason Weaver, and said, “No matter what happens, Weave, this has been a great game. Unbelievable.” He would not know how perfectly his final word would describe the final 3 seconds. Salisbury’s Dan Reichenbach caught the inbounds pass at midcourt, turned, took two dribbles and fired up a jump shot from 35 feet away. Only the buzzer kept the absolutely silent crowd from hearing the swish of the basketball cleanly passing through the nylon net. Salisbury – 57, Wilson- 55! In overtime! Salisbury’s fans stormed the court to celebrate “the thrill of victory”. They would play a minimum of two more games.

For Wilson, the season was over. The Warriors won 87% of their games; 22 games, 20 in a row, and had very little to show for it. They lost just 3 games all year – every loss was in overtime. One foul shot made, one jump shot defended, one whistle not blown and they may have been undefeated. Instead, they did not win a League championship; they could not win a District championship; and they would not compete in the state playoffs.

A great season for sure, but on this past Friday night, there would be no “thrill of victory”, but, most certainly there was “the agony of defeat.”


 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. Remember the Tony Johnson story from last week? His father came in from California to watch his son, Lafayette’s point guard, LIVE at Lafayette for the first time all year. Tony hit the game-winning shot against first-place Bucknell! Well, last Wednesday, Lafayette traveled to Holy Cross to play the Crusaders. Lafayette never led in the game until, you guessed it, Tony Johnson hit a three-point shot to win the game with 1.3 seconds on the clock. His father stayed in town to watch Sunday’s Lafayette-Lehigh game. Tony Johnson had a career-high 29 points in that one and the Leopards knocked off second-place Lehigh for the second time. What a week for a son and his father.
  2. I watched the Lafayette-Lehigh game at the Kirby Sports Center yesterday and was just as interested in all the production people running around for CBS College Sports. I understand they put a great product on the air, but ours is pretty good considering we have 1/3 the staff and 1/10 the equipment. It took 7 people surrounding the announcers just for the pre-game.
  3. If I were an Academy member, I would have been hard-pressed to pick the Best Picture. I saw Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Miserables, Silver Linings Playbook, and Lincoln. They were all outstanding as I am sure Life of Pi, Amour, and Beasts of the Southern Wild were. When the movies are as diverse as these were, how do you pick a best ONE?
  4. The Academy awards show bored me. Daniel Day-Lewis had the best acceptance speech when he said he was signed to play Margaret Thatcher and Meryl Streep was signed for Lincoln and they decided to swap roles.
  5. It’s championship week on RCN Sports. AAAA, AAA, AA, and A District champions in both the boys and the girls classifications. And then on to states. March Madness starts Friday!

The SportsTalk Shop – February 19th

BOYS & GIRLS DISTRICT PREVIEWS

Last week we talked about the teams that made or just missed qualifying for the LVC and Colonial League HS Boys’ Basketball Playoffs (see our February 11th entry). Today we look at some of the Boys’ and Girls’ District XI pairing match-ups, and also “update” some of the team’s information based on last week’s events.

Class 4-A Boys

Whitehall is riding a momentum upswing after a last-second come-from-behind win over Allen and has really come together as a team at the perfect time.  I had talked earlier about how the Zephyrs had some very good individual athletes on the team, headlined by Tony Belluccci, but the team has strung together some impressive wins.  Stroudsburg is a challenging opponent and I expect this to be one of the best opening round games of the tournament.  Both of these teams are capable of beating their next round opponent Pocono Mountain West, who has experienced some tough losses to Lehigh Valley teams in the second half of the year, but still is the top ranked 4A team in the district.

The Easton/Allen matchup is the game RCN has selected to broadcast Wednesday, and is also an intriguing match-up.  Allen has the height advantage inside and every time you count them out, they’ve surprised us this year (including winning 4 of its last 6 in beating some of the top teams in the area to make the play-offs).  Easton has excellent guards in DeVante Queen, Xavier Jenkins & Company.  The Allen guards will have their work cut out for them trying to slow them down, but if they can control the tempo and deny the Canaries’ ‘bigs,’ they look to have the advantage.

Parkland looks to bounce back from their LVC Championship loss and would love to cruise past East Stroudsburg-South and Bangor to get some revenge against league champion Liberty.   The Hurricanes looked like the dominant team we were expecting during the league play-offs, with 6 or 7 of their players capable of starting on most other team’s squads.  DeShawn Oyeniyi might have the dubious distinction of being the most pivotal player in the success of any state-bound team, yet not be a member of his all-league team (and there were justified mitigating circumstances).  Freedom was one of our panelist’s “dark horse” teams to watch on last week’s “RCN SportsTalk” show, and will play the winner of the Rovers/Canaries in the second round.  Congratulations again to the Slaters for their first league title in 25 years.  However, it’s going to be hard again for them to win a district play-off game as they will most probably open against the Trojans.

Class 3-A Boys

Gary Laubach made my day by reminding me that there will be three 3-A teams that qualify for the state playoffs this year.  This is great news for Wilson fans, who lost a tough game to Bangor in the Colonial League championship and may have a tough time beating Central Catholic in the semifinal round, as the Vikings looked to re-bound from their league semi-final loss to Liberty.  The Warriors, who have lost just two games this year, had opportunities late against the Slaters, but Jeremy Ringland hit a dramatic shot at the end of regulation to send the game to overtime for Bangor to win.  Salisbury, I think, has a very tough match-up in facing Wilson, who has beaten the Falcons three times in a row.  Matchup-wise, Salisbury needs to run to have success and would have an easier time being bracketed with a team like Tamaqua, Northern Lehigh or Lehighton.
The team to watch could be Bethlehem Catholic, who’s making its first appearance in districts in some time, after having to defeat Easton to qualify.  Matt Husek is a hidden talent and I think they are fully capable of winning their opening round contest versus Blue Mountain.  Plus, the Hawks have an interesting bracket path could lead to state qualification or even the championship game—a HUGE accomplishment for a nice guy in Mike Frew, who took over the program this year.

I haven’t seen Southern Lehigh this year, expect for watching their league-opening win over Wilson on RCN’s video-on-demand, but it’s Bob Shaffer and Kurt Zellner’s last run together.  Knowing those Spartans’ basketball players of the past, I wouldn’t be surprised and hope that they can put a run together for their coaches so we can see Bob & Kurt coach another game on RCN-TV.

Class 2-A & A Boys

I “think” things have worked out well for both Catty & Notre Dame so that they should make it to the championship game and subsequently earn a trip to States.  I have no idea about Williams Valley and North Schuylkill (no yet, anyway), but I talked in an earlier blog about the positives of both the Rough Riders and the Crusaders.  I’d love to see them advance and try to win a PIAA game.  We also talked quite a bit about Pius on the Feb. 14th edition of “SportsTalk” (check it out on VOD) and about their strengths and chances to advance in the postseason.
Class 4-A Girls

Nazareth looked impressive in defeating Parkland for a second time in three tries (they came within a point of sending the game they lost into overtime).  However, they have to get past a gritty Liberty, who is very well-coached.  Speaking of, how about the job Jeff Jacksits is doing once again at Northampton, who started the year off dreadfully, only to come back and make districts?  Don’t know how they’ll fare against Stroudsburg or Pocono Mountain West, but what a huge accomplishment it would be for the K-Kids to get to a semifinal game against defending district champ Bangor, one of a quartet of impressive Colonial League teams again this year.

Class 3-A
I was very impressed with Southern Lehigh again this year!  Madelene McDonald, Mady Campbell and their whole team are fundamentally sound, and I was awed by their basketball smarts and ability to drive and score/draw fouls … and then convert at the line.  Melann Amory is a very underrated player and Brianna Prince has very quick hands and is an excellent “undersized” post presence.
The Spartans will probably have to battle Northwestern for a third time in the 2nd round. The cliché mentions how tough it is to be a quality team three times, and the third battle will be an all-out war.  League MVP Sara Jones and her back court mates were not-too-happy about watching the final minutes of the championship from the sidelines, and they will be looking for revenge big-time.
On the other side of the bracket, you will see (once Bethlehem Catholic trumps Palmerton) another rematch between the Hawks and Central Catholic.  Both were upset in the league semi-finals and there’s still no indication that Janelle Robinson can make a remarkable recovery; however, Bethlehem Catholic still has LVC League MVP Kalista Walters and a very talented group of players that were the top girls team in the Valley during the regular season.  I keep hearing people saying Central is “down” this year (how good is their program in which 4 losses is considered “down” by some), but I think the inevitable meeting between these two teams in districts could be another barn-burner.

Class 2-A

One of my favorite teams from outside the area to cover is Pine Grove — not only do they always have an outstanding team (either the boys or the girls seemed to win a title every year), but they send me NCAA Division One-like information about their program.   Notre Dame Head Coach Josh Kopp is also one of the most prepared coaches in the Valley and his team that just fell sort of a Colonial League championship appearance this year.  This should make for an interesting District XI title game with Pine Grove.

Well … that’s my take on the District XI play-off picture.  Tell me where I made mistakes and where I’m completely off-base via email to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com as we’ll be talking about the district basketball play-offs for the next couple weeks (the show airs live on Thursdays at 6pm on RCN-TV).  You can also post your comments here on our blog!  Best of luck to all the teams!

 

Behind the Mic – February 12th

JUST GIVE ME 5 SECONDS:

No, I am not asking you to give me 5 seconds of your attention.  I can’t get my wife to do that.  And if you are going to read this, it will take considerably longer than 5 seconds.  I am asking for the NCAA to give women’s basketball five more seconds on the shot clock.

In 1954, the NBA decided to go to a “shot clock” to increase interest in the pro game by forcing teams to shoot more and foul less.  The NBA certainly needed the rule.  There were reports of fans walking out of games.  The final straw may very well have come on November 22, 1950, when the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons beat the Minneapolis Lakers 19-18.  Murray Mendenhall, the Pistons coach, decided to hold the ball until the end of the game in an attempt to score the winning points.  The result was a fan base that threatened never to return to another game.

The debate for the shot clock ended when Danny Biasone, the owner of the Syracuse Nationals franchise, convinced the league it was time to keep a team from holding the ball, waiting to be fouled or for time to run out.  It was time to make both teams play at a faster pace.  The number “24”was used, not because of the hours in a day, but because of a mathematical formula using 2,880 seconds in a 48 minute game and dividing that number by the average number of shots taken (120) in a game.  Do the math.  With that, the “24 second clock” was invented (run by an official using a stopwatch on the sideline and yelling, “Time!”).

The NCAA instituted the 30-second clock in women’s college basketball in 1971.  The men were not restricted by a shot clock until 1986, when they were allotted 40 seconds to take an initial shot.  That time was changed to 35 seconds in 1993.  The intent of the rule was simple – create more offense, avoid inactivity, and guarantee the fans more action.  It, also, intensified and rewarded defensive efforts.

It is time to unify the “shot clock” for both men and women.  College offenses today require crisp passes, subtle (and not so subtle) screens, back-cuts, and constant movement.  Execution is critical.  Why must the women be forced to do all of that using 17% less time?

It just seems illogical that the women would have less time to create an offensive set than the men.  Giving the women 5 more seconds would allow them to utilize their skills to the utmost.  It would put a premium on passing, cutting, team play and coaching.  Teams, which are not as big as the opponent, nor physically as strong as the opponent, would be able to be more deliberate and use the attributes and skills they have to compete.  It should cause a decline in sloppy basketball and isolated basketball.  It would reward more individual skills.  It would make women’s basketball a better game.

AND…. It’s just five seconds!!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. I hosted Lafayette National Signing Day on the internet this past Wednesday (noon-6:00).  This was the first year for football scholarships in the Patriot League.  I could not help but feel thrilled for the young men who were offered a scholarship worth @$250,000 that allowed them to play a game they loved and attend a quality educational institution like Lafayette.  I wondered if the student-athletes were as happy as their parents.  Sweet!!
  2. It’s championship week on RCN-TV.  By Friday, the Lehigh Valley Conference and the Colonial League will crown their boys and girls champions.  16 teams vie for the 4 titles and the games promise to be exceptional.  We have 10 games in 5 days.
  3. Athletic performances always amaze me.  The Lafayette women, beaten by Navy 62-44 on January 13, took the Mids to overtime this past Saturday.  They lost, but raised the level of their game through emotion and hard work.  It was Senior Day and it just seemed like everyone was playing as hard as they could to make the seniors proud to be a Leopard.  They succeeded.
  4. I finally saw “Argo” this past week.  I do not know how Ben Affleck was left off the Best Director list for an Academy Award.  It is a very, very good movie – a true story – happy ending.
  5. Men – Don’t forget Valentine’s Day!  P.S.  “Argo” is not a “date movie”.

The SportsTalk Shop – February 11th

SportsTalk Shop: Basketball Playoff

High school basketball playoff time is here!

After a very long, cold and dreary winter weather season (it wasn’t really that bad this year, was it?), it’s time to turn our attention to the 2013 winter sports playoff season. With the boys’ basketball players getting underway, here’s a look at some of the top teams in both the Colonial League and Lehigh Valley League who either clinched a spot in their respective conference playoffs, or teams that came close and could still be very formidable come district postseason time. In no particular order:

Central Catholic – Probably the best team in the area right now, and why not? A dynamic player in Muhammad Ali-Abdul Rahkman who can score from anywhere on the court, along with several other talented guards up front, an inside force in Jean Lee Baez, and underrated players in David Stevens and Jimmy Vaughn. The Vikings seem to be the most balanced and deepest all-around team in the LVC, and could do some major damage in states—assuming they don’t get tripped up en route to the 3A title game.

Wilson – Maybe the biggest surprise of the “elite” teams this year. It’s no wonder they’re good, but I don’t know how many people outside of Wilson thought this team might just end up as the greatest Warriors team ever. After a league opening loss to Southern Lehigh, Wilson has basically had a ‘take-no-prisoners’ approach in nearly every game played, including a win over rival Easton, winning most of their games by double digits. With exciting players like Gerald Terry and Daye-Shawn Bailey slicing & dicing to the hoop, the soon-to-be-top center in the Colonial League Phil Pierfy in the middle, and great depth throughout, this might be the year in which Wilson tops CCHS for the 3A crown.

Parkland – Might have the best overall backcourt in the league (I’m still hoping Jimmy Hahn gets into broadcasting some day). They have a very versatile combination of guards who can do a ton of things well, and are an unselfish group with different players capable of stepping up on any given night. Very tough to defend. However, for the LVC playoffs, I think Central Catholic is a tough matchup for the Trojans, and the team I think you have to get through to win the league championship.

Freedom – Maybe the most talented single player in the league is Nyreef Jackson (he nearly scored 16 points in a row a few weeks back at Sewards Gym), and some very good Patriot players right behind them. (Maceo Connor is VERY underrated in my book). They don’t seem to have as much “fire” or at least the “gusto” as last year’s team, which might account for some of their inconsistencies this year. On any given day they could beat anyone, but will it be on a playoff championship night?

Easton – They’ve had an adventure trying to find their third-scorer, normally a necessity for a team to have post season success. I only saw DeVante Queen once this year, but he REALLY impressed me with his ability to score, his court vision, and his unselfishness in giving up the ball to a hot teammate (see Ezra Gaines in the Allen game). Also, Xavier Jenkins, who just announced he’ll be headed to Central Connecticut State, is a very steady player at both ends of the floor. They have some tough matches against LVC opponents, but if they play their usual top-notch defense and develop some consistency offensively as they did last season in the playoffs…? Remember, the Red Rovers were the last Lehigh Valley team standing last year.

Liberty – A team so good, I haven’t been able to see them (Gary Laubach always gives himself the top team each year =), but a team nearly as inconsistent as any in the LVC. Great guards, great post presence, poised players with experience in big games (and the fortitude to win some close games this year), this SHOULD be the team to beat. They have also had some issues that have really kept them from getting in a solid, sustained rhythm without everyone in the lineup. I’m looking forward to seeing them in the playoffs, especially if they play the way they did against Easton on Tuesday.

Emmaus – Another “enigma” team that looks fabulous one minute, then loses a game you would think they would win. Three solid players in Derek Tannous, Nate Feiretag and Joe Nicolini, as well as a nice supporting cast make the Hornets a team to watch. However, they may still be a year away from being contenders for a championship. Their JV and Freshmen teams, at last check, were raking in the wins. They could be laying the groundwork for a potential mini-dynasty if they can win some tough games this postseason.

Bangor – Includes my vote (as of now) for league MVP in Alex Colton, based largely on what he did without four key players in guiding his team in a close loss to Wilson—probably the grittiest game I’ve seen all year. They have the depth to win the Colonial League, but as Bron Holland correctly stated on a recent “SportsTalk” show, until they win the big one, they’ll be questions about them.

Notre Dame – Vincent Eze had some ups-and-downs early this year, but seems to be back and gives the Crusaders another well-rounded team. Behind Whitehall’s win over the Canaries, Notre Dame had the comeback win of the year over Salisbury in their first meeting, and is deep enough to be able to run and gun with the other teams in the Colonial League. Don’t know if they have enough firepower to beat Wilson, but counting out Notre Dame is always a very dangerous thing to do, especially come playoff time.

Salisbury – Their win over Northern Lehigh was the single most dominating performance that I saw in-person all year long. Perhaps the most underrated head coach in the valley (Jason Weaver keeps his own team’s stats), his team has some outstanding guards that love to push the tempo, and are eager to avenge a district-opening loss that ended their season a year ago. Don’t know how well they will fare in the 3A level this year, but if their “bigs” can stay out of foul trouble, they could very well contend for the league crown.

Catty – I always thought they would be in the mix for the Colonial League playoffs and they’re making a great run at just the right time of year. I think the winning atmosphere from the football season is carrying over, mixed with one of the top coaches in the area in Eric Snyder and some very good athletes. This makes the Roughies a fun team to watch this post-season. Hope they don’t suffer from the long layoff for the 2A district playoffs.

What do you think of my assessments of the top teams this year? Which teams are underrated? Which teams will win titles? Post your opinions here and/or email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll read and respond to your comments on our upcoming shows on Thursdays at 6pm, in which we’ll be recapping & previewing the next wave of playoff matchups.

Because of space, I’m hoping to be able to talk about more teams in a future blog post (including Whitehall, Bethlehem Catholic and Northern Lehigh) … so keep winning guys! I hope to have the chance to watch (and type) more about you in the coming weeks!