In recent seasons, the Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School girls basketball program has been such a regular participant in the PIAA Class A state girls championship game that it's more newsworthy if the Lady Marauders aren't playing in the big game at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center than if they are.
The Northern Cambria girls basketball team also had a nice run of success late this past decade, appearing in the Class AA state title game in 2008 and the Class A state final in 2010. The Lady Colts lost both times, including a 49-29 setback to BG in 2010, but made a name for themselves as one of the top small-school girls programs in the state.
Fast forward to 2012, and the BG boys and Northern Cambria boys teams are bidding to carve a similar niche for themselves.
Mirror file photo by Patrick Waksmunski
The Colts’ Jeff Hogan shoots between Bishop Carroll’s Scott Ranck (left) and Marcus Lee.
BG, District 6 champion Northern Cambria and Bishop Carroll are all alive in the PIAA state playoffs. They're all playing in Class A, and they're all involved in first-round state playoff games tonight.
BG, the third-place finisher in the District 6 tournament, carries a 14-11 record into its 7:30 p.m. game with District 4 champ Sullivan County (21-3) at 7:30 p.m. at Montoursville High School. Northern Cambria (20-5), which used a last-second shot to defeat Carroll in the District 6-A championship game, battles District 10 third-place finisher VisionQuest (12-10) in a 7:30 p.m. tipoff at the Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School. Carroll (14-12) faces District 9 runner-up Johnsonburg (22-5) at 6:30 at Clarion State University.
Josh Baker is taking the Marauders to the state playoffs for the second time in his five seasons as BG's coach.
"I think we have a championship-caliber team, I really do,'' Baker said. "We're focusing on a one game-at-a-time situation, and working toward [tonight's game]. Sullivan County is a big, physical team that likes to get up and down the court in transition. If we play a solid man [to man defense], focusing on the tempo we need - which will be a little slower than [Sullivan County] likes - and we rebound well, I think we'll be in good shape.''
BG's balanced scoring attack is led by junior guard Brandon Drenning, who has averaged 8.8 points per game. Senior forward Tai Irwin (8.1 ppg), junior guard Patrick Irwin (7.5 ppg), and junior forward Zach Patterson (7.3 ppg) have similar averages.
At BG and Northern Cambria, plenty of school spirit and general good will exists for all the athletic teams.
"We fully support our girls team,'' said Baker, a Bishop Guilfoyle graduate himself. "I'm extremely happy for the success that they've had. We support them in their quest for another championship, but we kind of view ourselves as our own separate entity. We set our own goals and work toward our own goals.''
The same situation exists at Northern Cambria, insists Colts coach Dan Weber, who has had his team in the state playoffs three straight years.
"[Northern Cambria] is a good community where everybody pulls for everybody,'' Weber said. "The girls basketball and girls volleyball teams have had great success here, and we root for them as much as they root for us. I'm thankful to be in a situation where everybody gets their fair share of support.''
The Northern Cambria boys team starts five juniors - guards Adam Polites, Derek Bearer, and Josh Bonatesta, and forwards Nick Lee and Jeff Hogan, who hit the winning basket against Carroll in the District 6-A championship game. Polites and Bonatesta have averaged over 15 points per game, while Hogan has averaged nearly 14 and Lee nearly 11.
"Our balance has been phenomenal, and it's been a key reason for our success,'' Weber said.
The Bishop Carroll boys program is making its fourth state tournament appearance in the past five years, all under head coach Cosie Aliquo. The Huskies have three starters - senior guard Ryan Lauer (13.6 ppg), sophomore center Marcus Lee (11.8), and junior forward Scott Ranck (10.8) - averaging double figures.
"My players are all good kids on and off the court,'' Aliquo said. "They work very hard during the season and in the offseason, and it pays off.''