Behind the Mic: Thrill; Agony

From 1961-1998, I regularly would watch The Wide World of Sports on ABC.  Jim McKay was the host and the show’s introductory video and catchphrase was “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”.  Those words were spoken over a celebration of a great win followed by a ski jumper severely crashing during a competition.  The pictures and the phrase became ingrained into the psyche of every regular viewer.

That phrase came back to me this past week while broadcasting the two Emmaus state basketball games.

Let’s start with the “thrill of victory”.  Emmaus had beaten Cheltenham 68-67 the previous Saturday to advance to the PIAA State second round.  They were the only AAAAAA boys’ team left from the Lehigh Valley because both Allen and Parkland had already been beaten.  The irony of their participation is that up until this year when the PIAA added six classifications, Emmaus would not have even gotten into the state playoffs.  With the additional classes, four teams were eligible and Emmaus was the fourth.

That set up a one day snow-delayed matchup with the Harrisburg Cougars, the #1 team out of a very strong District 3 at Reading High School.  Harrisburg had beaten Reading in their District playoffs and they were now considered the favorite to make it to the state championship game.  In a thrilling game with a nail-biting finish, Emmaus won 64-61 and, for the first time in school history, would move on to play in the state quarterfinals.  They would be part of, in NCAA March Madness lingo, the Elite Eight!  The celebration that followed was the definition of “the thrill of victory”.

That set up a return trip to Reading for Emmaus as they would take on the Carlisle Thundering Herd for a place in the state semi-finals.  Harrisburg had beaten Carlisle twice and they were in the same district as the Cougars.  They entered the playoffs as the #5 team in District 3.  Emmaus certainly could enter this game knowing they were every bit as good as their opponent.  And they were.

Emmaus led by six at the end of one period and by ten at the half.  They still led by ten with just 3:05 to go in the game.  But… Carlisle waged a comeback.  Emmaus still could clinch the win as they led 62-59 with 7.9 seconds to go.  Emmaus’ all-time leading scorer, David Kachelries, a 76% free-throw shooter, went to the line to shoot one free throw (he had made his first six of the game, but missed his previous three).  Make it and the Hornets are in the state semi-final; miss it and the Herd still needed to make a three-point shot to send the game into overtime.  He missed and Ben Milligan made a three at the buzzer to tie the game at 62.  “Thrill” and “agony” by anyone would be delayed.

Emmaus needed three free throws on one trip to the foul line by David’s twin brother, Matt Kachelries, to send the game into a second overtime.  He calmly went to the foul line and made all three.  The first overtime ended 69-69.

But the second overtime period ended with Carlisle controlling the scoreboard and the Thundering Herd galloped to a 78-74 win.  The Emmaus season was over.  The Kachelries twins had scored an amazing 57 points in the game and that was still not enough.

David ended his career with 1,910 points and Matt finished with 1,027.  Matt had missed two-thirds of his sophomore year due to injury or his total would have been much higher.  Emmaus finished with one their greatest and most memorable seasons ever.

None of that mattered though at @ 6:30pm on Saturday night as the Green Hornets and Coach Steve Yoder walked off the floor in Reading.  Much like the skier in the Wide World of Sports intro, they were severely suffering from “the agony of defeat”.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. The Bethlehem Catholic AAAA girls’ basketball team is the last team standing from the Lehigh Valley. As I write this, they are preparing to play Gwyned Mercy in the PIAA semifinals.  A win would get them into the state championship game.  Congratulations to Coach Medina and the girls.  Go Hawks!!
  2. How are you doing on your NCAA bracket? I assume many of you had Villanova and Duke to go far into the tournament and even winning it all.  I had Duke making it to the Final Four.  I still have Arizona, Kansas, and North Carolina alive to make the Final Four.  I heard a lot of moans and groans this past weekend.
  3. It is hard to imagine that the next Eastern Pennsylvania Conference basketball season could match this one. Losing so many stars like Sam Iorio, Kevin Wagner, the Kachelries twins, Tyrese Martin, Talek Williams, etc. will be hard to duplicate for a very long time.
  4. He gets a mention every week – Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman of Central Catholic is still playing in the NCAA tournament. Muhhammad starts and plays as many minutes as anyone for Michigan.  He scored 16 against Oklahoma State and some vital points down the stretch against Louisville as his team moved on to the Sweet Sixteen.
  5. My usual reaction at the end of the basketball season is how fast winter flew by. Except this year, the season has come to a close and winter continues to rear its ugly head.  C’mon!  What’s a golfer to do?

Behind the Mic: March 1 Madness

Any true basketball fan is well aware of March Madness – the term that indicates basketball season is coming to an end, but not before the colleges and high schools battle for conference, district, state and national championships.  It normally builds each week until the final games are played.

For Lehigh Valley fans, March Madness began a bit early – on March 1!  That is the night that District XI decided to take their AAAAAA boys’ semifinals to the PPL Center in center city Allentown.  PPL had hosted two college basketball games in the past and a professional exhibition game, but it had NEVER hosted a high school game.  No one was quite sure what to expect.

District XI officials worried that they may have taken on more than they should have in terms of rental costs and expectations.  After all, the place held 8,000 people, but up until game night “only” 3200 tickets had been sold.  PPL cooperated to make the fees more palatable, but the numbers were still risky, for sure.  What both had going for them were the teams themselves and the individual talent.

You see, this was a basketball “perfect storm”.  There were four great teams (17 total losses – eight losses by one team) and many of those losses coming when they played one another.  There was a plethora of great talent (seven 1,000 point scorers) who, by themselves, were well worth the price of admission all year long.  Three of the four teams had their school’s all-time leading scorer and one school had two players who went back and forth for that honor each time they took the floor.  And there was Allen High School; a team that had grabbed a hold of their fan base in December and watched it grow to immense numbers by the end of the season.  These were four teams who were so talented and so successful that no Lehigh Valley gymnasium could hold the crowd.

Fans poured in when the doors were unlocked.  The upper deck seating, originally thought to be unnecessary, started to be occupied by halftime of the first game.  The fans just kept coming.  By the time the first quarter of game two rolled around a “Sold-Out” sign had to be posted at the ticket windows.  The final count was a paid attendance of 7,661 and an estimated final tally of over 8,000 people, the largest crowd to watch a high school game ever in the Lehigh Valley.  It really didn’t matter so much who won the games, because everyone – coaches, players, and fans, won that night.

Congratulations to all who put this together, who had the foresight to give it a chance.  It is hard to imagine that teams this good, with players this talented, and fan interest this high will happen for a long while, but, on this night, in this arena, with these four teams, it was awesome.

PPL Center

 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. If you were wondering where District XI big basketball games were played in the past, when there were NO really big gyms, I can tell you that it was NOT in District XI. Way back when I was playing at Wilson High School, we played Bethlehem High School in the District semifinal at the Harrisburg State Farm Show Arena.  We won and returned to Harrisburg for the championship against Larry Miller’s Catasauqua team.  There were @ 8,000 people for each of those games.  Only one classification existed back then.  Catty beat us, if you care.
  2. The Lafayette women’s basketball team beat Holy Cross on Saturday. With the win, they became the first Patriot League #10 seed to win a tournament game.  They were getting better as the year progressed and their hard work paid off.
  3. The Northeast Regional Wrestling championships were an absolute showcase for Lehigh Valley wrestlers. Nazareth had six champions; Bethlehem Catholic had four; Northampton two; and Freedom one.  That’s thirteen out of fourteen – amazing results.  And talk about fans – perhaps, this is the next high school event at PPL.
  4. The Bucknell men will face Lehigh on Sunday, March 12, for the Patriot League basketball championship.
  5. Congratulations to Brad Pensyl, the coach of Pocono Mountain West for winning the District XI AAAAAA basketball championship. It was his second and it will be his last.  After 28 years (making the Districts in every one of those years), he has decided to retire.  He will move into administration at Pocono Mountain.  Brad will be very hard to replace and I will miss him on the sidelines.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: “Calm” Before the Storm

It’s been an exciting run of high school sports action so far this winter.  You have your dominant teams (like Bethlehem Catholic & Nazareth wrestling, Allen and–up until Friday–Bangor boys basketball teams that have been undefeated).  You also have teams that are surging of late (Parkland & Liberty boys basketball, Easton & Nazareth girls basketball), along with other schools (Emmaus, Becahi & Whitehall boys, Parkland, Allen and Bethlehem Catholic girls basketball & Parkland, Northampton & Easton wrestling) that have been very consistent all season long.

Things start to get serious for teams as we head into the final two weeks before the post-season commences in all of the winter sports.  Teams fighting for playoff spots start facing “do-or-tie” games in order to qualify, and other schools are looking to solidify as many home games and higher seeds as possible as the league and district playoffs appear on the horizon.  Wresters are also tuning up and trying to zone in on individual matchups and target the weight classes that they will be competing at for the post-season.

This Thursday, we’re going to be taking an in-depth look at the local wrestling season with the Morning Call’s Tom Housenick and RCN’s own wrestling analyst, Jim Best.  They’ll be identifying the top athletes and best match-ups going forward, in addition to talking about the wrestling season overall and handicapping the District XI Team Wrestling Tournament, which will be on RCN-TV the following week.

We’re also going to feature Rodney Williams—a standout high school basketball player from the Washington, DC region who’s now having tremendous success for the Drexel men’s basketball team.

Your comments are most welcome in advance of the show (email us at rcnsportstalk@rcn.com) and tune in this Thursday, live at 7pm on RCN-TV, to hear our wrestling experts’ responses to your questions/opinions.

In the meantime, here’s a look at some of our recent broadcasts of both local wrestling and high school basketball.

We’d also like to let you know that we are now offering exclusive, behind-the-scene tours here at RCN-TV to charities, youth and community groups, schools and local organizations (20 members or less).  Discover how television productions like “Community Spotlight,” “Pennsylvania Crossfire,” “Nuestro Valle,” and even our own “SportsTalk” shows work and learn different aspects of the broadcasting industry. Tour times are flexible and our staff will work hard to accommodate your needs.

If you are interested in a tour, please call our studio manager, Rick Geho, at 610-443-2909 to learn more.

 

Don’t forget to check the RCN schedule here on the website for our upcoming games as the contests get more heated, with local teams jockeying for a spot in the league and district playoffs—along with fighting for the best possible seeds!

The RCN SportsTalk Shop: More District XI Playoff Coverage


There are some great high school match-ups over the next few days that I’m very excited about–especially on the girls basketball side.  Here are some observations and notes about District XI teams in the RCN coverage area to get you ready for this week’s playoff coverage on RCN-TV.

The 4A Girls Bracket
It was a coming-out party for Northampton freshman Victoria Keenan, who made her RCN debut last Friday with a spectacular performance en route to a big win over the second-seeded Parkland Trojans.  Despite her (and her frontcourt mates) getting in some early foul trouble, Keenan showcased her ball-handling and shooting abilities from different spots on the floor all game long.  I immediately noticed her poise and confidence in the pre-game warm-ups and she did not seemed fazed in the least about the win-or-go-home contest in front of her.

She finished with a game-high 23 points (no one else on either side finished in double figures) and set up her team to face their area rivals, Nazareth, in the semifinal matchup (7:30pm LIVE, Tuesday, RCN-TV).

I don’t often make predictions about players, and even more rarely do I single out a freshman, but after seeing Keenan play last week I feel confident in saying she’ll become one of the top girls basketball players in the area, if she’s not almost there already.

Not to be left out was Aja Blount, who came into the quarterfinal match-up averaging 20 points per game.  The Trojans played stifling defense on her and did not allow Blount her usual amount of touches, but Aja returned the favor by playing her own brand of ‘shut-all-windows-and-doors” defense against a talented Parkland frontcourt in the victory. Devon Saul, Lauren Sterner, Jenna Rogers, Brielle Ringo and (despite some quick fouls called on her) Sophia Eckroth all played well and I’m looking forward to seeing their next game on Tuesday.

I have not seen the Blue Eagles in person this year, but I’m well aware of the high level of play from returning players Tessa Brugler and Jessica Durnin, and the strong defense Head Coach Rick Bickert always cultivates.  This semifinal game should go right down to the wire.

I was very impressed by my first look at this year’s Easton game–a squad I saw last year and knew they would surpass those levels from a year ago.  We’ve spoken quite a bit about the Red Rovers on recent “SportsTalk” shows and podcasts (which you can hear here).  Pottsville has been led by two outstanding scoring threats, Kyra Schenk and Sadie Cresswell (the latter really shoots well from three-point land and will play college ball at East Stroudsburg University).  The Tide have some size and could create some interesting match-up issues for Easton (Tuesday, 6pm Live, RCN-TV).

Was Parkland vs. Allen the best HS game in decades?
I had a number of people answer in the affirmative about the above question between the boys teams from Allen and Parkland.   Emmaus’ Saturday victory over the Canaries will keep area fans from seeing a rematch of this contest (Parkland and Allen did not play each other during the regular season).  While I wouldn’t go as far as saying it was the greatest local game in over ten years, I will say unequivocally that on any given night, the Allen boys team can be as entertaining to watch as any team in the RCN viewing area.

Remember, nearly all of Allen’s key players were juniors or younger this winter and should return in 2017.  With Parkland graduating a number of the area’s top performers, I think you could certainly put the Canaries as one of the two or three best teams heading into the next high school basketball season, and should be a fun team to watch during the summer leagues.

With the Hornets win, we’ll see another great Parkland vs. Emmaus battle on Wednesday night (live, 7:30pm, RCN-TV).

We’ve talked about both teams quite a bit this season, and on paper, it still seems that the Trojans are heavy favorites.  The Hornets have battled through some tough games this season and we’ll see if Emmaus can come up with a new wrinkle or two to try to frustrate top-seeded Parkland.

SHOUT-OUTS
* Pocono Mountain West’s Lance Singh (a junior) had one of the best individual men’s performances I’ve seen in quite some time.  He scored 35 against Allen in the EPC semifinal and owned the first and last quarters, with the ability to score despite sometimes being triple-teamed, but also set up his teammates well down the stretch run.  Jalen Vaughns (also an 11th grader) is also a difficult match-up—a guy who can score from different spots on the floor and is also a beast on the boards, and Isaiah Wiggins (another junior, by the way) also has a very similar skill set.  I think it’s safe to say PMW is clearly the single most talented scoring machine that Bangor has faced all season, and the Slaters will have their hands full in their semifinal match-up.

* Speaking of Bangor, props to last week’s “SportsTalk” panelist Toomey Anderson (from “LV Basketball Rankings”) for stating on the show that the Slaters will have a breakout performance and post a statement-declaring win over Whitehall in Saturday’s quarterfinal game.  We have been touting the great teams in the Colonial League since early December here at the “SportsTalk Shop” (feel free to go back through our past blog entries to see for yourself) and it is no surprise to me that there are two Colonial League teams still alive as we advance to the semifinal round of the District XI playoffs.

* Another correct “lock” prediction made on last week’s program was Andre Williams declaring that Bethlehem Catholic would beat Allentown Central Catholic in the so-called “Lehigh Valley Holy War.”   First-year Head Coach Ray Barbosa has done a remarkable job since taking over the program, even before his big win over the Vikings last Friday.  He has his team playing its best basketball of the season at just the right time.  They face undefeated Pottsville on Tuesday night (9:30pm, tape-delayed, RCN-TV).  The Tide have played some quality opponents and are an athletic team.  If Becahi can play like they did against Parkland in the EPC Quarterfinals, they’ll have a shot.  Regardless of this game’s outcome, the Golden Hawks already have had a tremendous season after winning just three games a year ago.

Send us your high school basketball comments and opinions via email (RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com) and enjoy all the playoff basketball action coming your way on RCN-TV over the next week!

The SportsTalk Shop: HS Mid-Winter Sports Update

Maybe it was the lack of snow or the warmer-than-normal temperatures over the last month, but it is really hard to believe we are at the halfway point of the scholastic basketball season.  Here’s three Eastern Pennsylvania Conference-related observations from the first half of the winter sports campaign.

Parkland looks even better than last year

They not only have practically the same team back from a year ago, but they have more depth and can beat you in more ways than they did during last season’s run to the state playoffs.  They barely missed a beat without some of their football players on board to start the season—giving the “reserves” an extended varsity experience.  However, the returning players seem even more determined than a year ago, and I don’t think anything less than a state title game is what they are setting their sights on.

The only question might be what teams they’ll face—and when—in the PIAA tournament.  There’ll be several of the high-octane offenses from Philadelphia that love to push the tempo and Parkland doesn’t get a whole lot of chances to see that from teams in the Lehigh Valley—not to the extent of the Philly teams.  However, the team has gotten some significant tests early (and a couple more still to come before states).   I would be surprised if the seniors refuse to take every opportunity to match the football team’s success, and it certainly looks like they have the weapons to go much deeper into the state playoffs.

Central’s coming on strong
I saw Central Catholic a few times in December, and, they looked like a young team that had a ton of potential, and, after going through some growing pains, they would eventually have great success.


I’m not sure if Santa granted the Vikings a flash forward to their learning curve, but in the times I’ve seen them since Christmas, it seems like the younger players are not only buying into the team-defense approach, but they are becoming much more comfortable playing—and scoring—together on the court.  I think some of the Class 3A teams were hoping Central Catholic might have to wait until next year to once again be considered the favorite in the District XI playoffs, but the way the Vikings have been playing the last few weeks, I think they have a great chance at being in the EPC playoffs as well as being the ‘team-to-beat’ in their district classification.

Freedom as a dark horse?
There are some interesting teams in the “Steel” division of the EPC—and probably several of those teams could make the playoffs with a quality run over the next few weeks.  If I had to pick one of them to surprise area basketball fans over the next month, I’m leaning toward Freedom.

They have one of the area’s best head coaches (Joe Stellato), a great coaching staff, and some really good athletes.  On paper, they may not be the best team, but they’ve had some nice wins and have been “in” most of their losses.  Not many people are picking the Patriots to do much in the post-season, but of all the teams not directly in the area’s media spotlight, I think Freedom might be one team to make some noise over the next month.

Allen and Whitehall were also featured on RCN-TV recently and are two more teams that have played well this season.  With a number of talented teams, the Canaries, Zephyrs and a few other teams all very well could contend in the playoffs this February.  Also, Bethlehem Catholic was a team to watch on our basketball preview show back in December, and they have done very little to disappoint so far.

We’ll have more opinions and video highlights of other high school sports teams, in addition to wrestling videos, coming up over the next several weeks here at the “SportsTalk Shop.”

Also, keep checking back to the RCN-TV website for our schedule the latest games to be broadcast on RCN-TV and feel free to send your sports comments and opinions to us at RCNSporsTalk@rcn.com