GREENSBURG - After his Bishop Carroll Catholic High School boys basketball team lost in the Laurel Highlands Conference championship game, Huskies coach Cosie Aliquo said in the back hallway of the Richland Sports Center that he was happy with what the team had accomplished, because nobody expected it to be there.
That's highly debatable. Six of BC's top seven players returned from a team that just missed winning the District 6 Class A championship in 2012. These Huskies clearly were geared to win and win big.
In fact, many of those players were sophomores and freshmen.
Lincoln?Park’s John Tomassetti keeps Bishop Carroll’s Brandon Martinazzi from the ball.
That's why Friday night's heartbreaking 86-84 loss to Lincoln Park at Hempfield Area High School in the state quarterfinals might not have been the end of the road so much as a minor detour.
Capping a 23-win season by being the only team to defeat WPIAL champion Vincentian - for the second time - and then taking the two-time PIAA finalist Leopards to the brink has established the Huskies as program on the verge of something very big.
"It just gives us confidence. We've got the momentum going into next season," said 6-foot-5 junior center Marcus Lee, who scored 49 points in the last two games. "We're going to get into the weight room, get bigger, faster, stronger.
"We've set the bar, and we can get higher than that."
"It's definitely motivation," added sophomore guard Brandon Martinazzi. "You work so hard all year to get to this point, and we came up a little short. But we've got the whole summer to work on it, and we'll see what happens."
In addition to Lee and Martinazzi, starting guards David Maruca and Mitchell Madonna will be back next season. Scott Ranck is the only senior who played for the Huskies on Friday, and Connor Semelsberger is the only other Husky who will be graduating this year.
Ranck's loss will be considerable - the 6-2 forward had an ability to create shots and was playing his best in the last month. However, sophomore Nik Sukinos and freshman David Swatsworth both came off the bench and showed that they can perform against a top team, hitting two shots apiece in the second quarter.
Next year also could be a deeper team than this one. Carroll often only went six or seven deep this season.
"Nick Burk is another big man. If I start working with him, he'll get a lot better," Lee said.
After a strong freshman campaign in which he scored 8.8 points per game, Martinazzi raised his average by nine and has emerged as one of the area's most dynamic talents, with the ability to score off the dribble and invent opportunities going to the hoop against taller players. He and Lee will give Carroll an inside-outside punch that will be the envy of almost everyone in the district next year.
"I think I got better in the sense that I was more aggressive," Martinazzi said. "Over the summer, I picked apart the parts of my game that I thought were weaker. I'm really hoping this summer I can take an even bigger jump."
If there was any chance the Huskies wouldn't push themselves, Aliquo made sure to keep them on their toes.
"I was not easy on this team. And the reason is, this team had a lot of talent," Aliquo said. "They know I'm never going to be easy on them, because, to be there, they need to be pushed."
That shouldn't be a problem. For all the Huskies accomplished this year, they finished second in the LHAC and second in 6-A. They have a lot of goals that still need achieving in 2013-14.
"We got there. We just have to finish," Lee said. "We didn't finish."
Games like Friday's, the two wins over Vincentian and District 6 Class AA champion Penn Cambria and another over 6-AAA champ Johnstown taught the Huskies a lot, as did two close losses to Bishop Guilfoyle.
"I think our defense will pick up some more. I think our offense will continue to improve," Martinazzi said. "I think we need to get stronger and a little bit more athletic, so, even if we have a height disadvantage, we can keep teams like [Lincoln Park] off the boards."
Carroll already played with a lot of belief in itself and a certain swagger. The Huskies constantly would try to beat other teams at their own game.
"Everybody trusts each other. We've been playing together for a long time," Martinazzi said. "We all want to do what's best for each other."
It's might be debatable how far anyone thought the 2012-13 Huskies would go. What isn't debatable is they'll be the team to watch in 2013-14, and, if they win championships, no one should be surprised.
"Heart wins, and these guys won a lot today," Aliquo said. "They won mine. That's for sure.
"They'll be back."
Cmor can be reached at 946-7440 or email@example.com.