GREENSBURG - There are those games that become larger than life over time, that become embellished through the years as players tell their kids and eventually their grandkids about being a part of them.
Bishop Carroll's 92-85 victory over WPIAL champion Vincentian shouldn't be one of them. It doesn't need to be.
No, Wednesday's wildly entertaining PIAA Class A second-round boys basketball playoff game - one of the most riveting and exciting contests this writer has witnessed in more than 20 years at the keyboard - had it all already: great individual performances, incredible offense, big plays on defense, clutch shooting, comebacks and responses to those comebacks, gutsy coaching moves, sensational drama and an upset winner.
The pace was so fast it seemed the officials might have called fouls just to catch a breath.
It was, quite simply, one for the ages, win or lose.
Of course, it's more enjoyable when you win.
"It's pretty exciting," said Carroll sophomore guard Brandon Martinazzi, whose 18 points only was the fifth-highest anyone totaled. "We played these guys earlier in the year, and we knew coming in it was going to be a tough game. Our defense has been pretty good, but they're putting up 90, 100 points sometimes. So we knew it was going to be an up-tempo game."
The Huskies overcame 14 Vincentian 3-pointers by four different players in the Royals' Rick Pitino-inspired offense, recovered after watching an eight-point lead turn into a four-point deficit in less than three minutes and responded to a seven-point hole in the second half to win going away by converting 26-of-32 free throws.
"Coming in as the underdogs, we looked at it as we gave them their only loss of the season, so why couldn't we do it again? We knew our defense had to step up, and we had to force their shots on the perimeter. We knew they were going to get those shots, and they did, but we bounced back, and our defense was solid the entire game," Husky forward Scott Ranck said.
Ranck, the only senior to play for BC, scored 27 points in the win.
"We really focused what was going on. When we got down, Coach [Cosie Aliquo] told us we had to have a good possession. We can't be forcing shots. That just gets us into a deeper hole," Ranck said. "Other than that, it's just playing in the moment and enjoying it, and trying to make the best out of it."
Unlikely heroes often arise in games like this, sometimes unsung even though their contributions were vital. BC point guard David Maruca helped the Huskies cut down from seven first-half turnovers against Vincentian's insane pressure - Carroll practiced 5-against-7 to prepare - and went 4-for-4 at the foul line in the last 1:20 after missing four of his first five free throws.
"We play that tempo in practice all the time, so I'm used to it, and my teammates help me out. If I make a mistake, they pick me up," Maruca said. "I liked [the challenge]."
Carroll managed to beat Vincentian, improbably, at its own game. Only using six players while Vincentian coach George Yokitis ran 10 in and out until the final few seconds, the Huskies managed to wear down the Royals, seemingly through power of will and maybe a bit of swagger.
"I'd rather play them like this, not like scoring 90 points a night is something you can do," said Martinazzi, whose team scored just 39 in a close loss to Bishop Guilfoyle in the District 6 championship game. "We condition pretty hard. We run around a lot. We're in pretty good shape, so we're ready for this type of game."
Anyone that was in the gym will long remember this performance by both teams. The irony is that the bleachers were sparsely filled. Yokitis lamented earlier in the week that the 5 p.m. start was going to cause a number of fans to miss a great game, and he hit the nail on the head. In fact, even the losing coach admitted this game was something special to be part of.
"It was two evenly-matched teams. They just played a little better," Yokitis said. "I think the cool thing about the way they play and certainly the way we play, I think people like it."
Vincentian slipped to 26-2, its only losses both to Carroll in close, high-scoring games. The Royals won last season in Ebensburg. The series came about because Yokitis was coached as a junior varsity player at Blacklick Valley in the 1960s by Martinazzi's grandfather.
"He said, 'We should have a game.' I said, 'Fine.' I shouldn't have done it if I knew they were this good," Yokitis said.
This Carroll team, in fact, is just the third to reach the state quarterfinals. The other two advanced to the state semis.
"I didn't know that. Coach didn't mention it. That probably was a good thing, so he didn't get us too nerved up," Ranck said. "That's a great accomplishment, but we just want to keep winning these games."
Whatever happens next, though, these Huskies played a game that future generations will talk about.
"It's huge. It means a lot to us," Maruca said. "In the past six years, Bishop Carroll has made it to the first round [of states], the second round once I think. This hasn't been done in awhile. It's huge."
Cmor can be reached at 946-7440 or firstname.lastname@example.org.