LORETTO - The public address announcer at St. Francis University's DeGol Arena shouted out the names of each of the Bishop Guilfoyle players following Friday night's District 6 Class A boys basketball championship.
When C.J. Fulare was announced, the BG fans erupted with their loudest cheers of the postgame ceremony.
BG coach Chris Drenning put a gold medal around Fulare's neck and spoke in his ear.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
The BG boys basketball team mob C.J. Fulare after his game-winning shot.
"I told him, 'You'll have that shot the rest of your life,''' Drenning said. "No matter what happens from here on out, he'll always have that shot.''
Fulare drained a 3-pointer from the left wing with two seconds remaining to lift the Marauders to a thrilling 42-39 victory over rival Bishop Carroll. It was BG's first district title since 2007 and 11th overall.
The Marauders (20-5) will now head to interdistricts to face Smethport in the first round next Friday. Carroll (21-5), which lost a second-straight heartbreaker in the district final, will face Shanksville-Stonycreek next Friday.
Fulare's heroics put an exclamation point on a rubber game that was nip and tuck throughout with BG holding the biggest lead of nine points in the third quarter. The teams had split two regular-season games with each winning on the other's home court.
Fulare was somewhat of a surprise hero because the 5-foot-11 junior was 0-for-4 from the field up to that point and averages 4.6 points per game. Drenning's son, Brandon, had buried six 3-pointers in the game and scored a game-high 22 points.
But, thinking Carroll would be hounding his son, Coach Drenning designed a play for Fulare during a timeout with nine seconds left in a 39-39 game. The play was supposed to be a slip screen in which Fulare would break to the basket and the inbounds passer would lob the ball to him for a layup.
However, when the court didn't open up for Fulare, BG inbounded the ball in the backcourt to Pat Irwin. Despite having three fouls to give, Carroll, which played just one senior Friday, allowed Irwin to drive hard to the top of the key.
"In the huddle, we talked about how we had three fouls to give,'' Carroll coach Cosie Aliquo said. "That was the game plan in the last minute - don't give them a shot. But I guess that's where the young and inexperience [shows] at that time.''
When the Carroll defense collapsed on Irwin, he fed Fulare, a lefty, who calmly nailed the winner. Carroll's Scott Ranck threw up a desperation shot at the buzzer, but it wasn't close.
"I had confidence with my shot,'' Fulare said amid a BG celebration on the DeGol Arena court. "[Carroll] was so focused on stopping Brandon, that Coach said someone else would be open. It hasn't really sunk in yet, but it will.''
The BG players, including seniors Irwin and Drenning, said they didn't doubt Fulare's ability to hit the winning shot.
"He knocks them down in practice all the time,'' Irwin said. "He might get a little nervous in games at times, but I knew he had it in him.''
Fulare's shot came 43 seconds after Carroll's Marcus Lee swished a 3-pointer from the corner to tie the game at 39. BG had built a 25-21 halftime edge and increased it to 32-23 in the third quarter before Carroll rattled off the last nine points of the period to even it at 32 heading to the fourth.
Carroll gained a 36-35 lead with four minutes to go, but Tyler Koehle and Sam McCloskey put BG back on top, 39-36, to set up the frantic final minute.
While Brandon Drenning kept BG in the game offensively - "My teammates got me open and got me the ball within rhythm,'' he said - Irwin drew the assignment of shutting down Carroll sharp-shooting sophomore Brandon Martinazzi and held him to 10 points. Martinazzi averaged 18.1 points per game but managed just six shots from the field.
"Brandon [Martinazzi] is such a good player,'' Coach Drenning said. "Both Pat and Sammy [McCloskey] are great on-the-ball defenders, and our help guys did well, too. There was a long stretch [more than five minutes of the second quarter] where [Carroll] didn't score, and our defense did that.''
The loss stung extra for Carroll because of a similar setback to Northern Cambria in last year's final. Ranck, the lone senior on the court for BC, tied Martinazzi for the team high with 10 points.
"I told the guys this is two years we were beaten at the buzzer,'' a subdued Aliquo said. "Maybe if we guard the perimeter, we'll be better. We had a breakdown on defense, and [BG] capitalized.''
For BG, it will now get to hang a championship banner in its gym for not just the girls basketball team, which also won a district title Friday, but for a boys team that set that as its goal when Drenning took over as coach last May.
"I'm happy for the seniors and happy for the kids - all of them,'' Coach Drenning said. "They all worked hard.''
BISHOP GUILFOYLE (42): Koehle 2 0-0 4, Patterson 1 0-0 2, Fulare 1 0-0 3, Drenning 8 0-0 22, Irwin 2 0-0 4, Rickens 1 0-0 2, McCloskey 1 1-2 3, Chadbourn 0 2-2 2, Wolf 0 0-0 0, Nardelli 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 3-4 42.
BISHOP CARROLL (39): Ranck 5 0-0 10, Lee 3 1-3 8, Madonna 0 1-2 1, Martinazzi 4 2-3 10, Maruca 4 0-0 8, Suckinos 1 0-0 2, Lucas 0 0-0 0. Totals: 17 4-8 39.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Bishop Guilfoyle11 14 7 10 - 42
Bishop Carroll13 8 11 7 - 39
3-point goals: Bishop Guilfoyle 7 (Drenning 6, Fulare). Bishop Carroll 1 (Lee).
Officials: John Thompson, Jeff Heider, Steve Searer.
Records: Bishop Guilfoyle (20-5); Bishop Carroll (21-5).