Huskies humbled in semis
MONROEVILLE — March may be a time for miracles, but, more times than not, the better team wins.
Bishop Carroll Catholic played with pride for 32 minutes, but it was no match for the size and talent of Kennedy Catholic.
The Huskies fell, 77-30, to the Golden Eagles in the PIAA Class 1A boys basketball semifinal matchup at Gateway High School on Monday evening.
“Their length was unreal,” Bishop Carroll coach Cosie Aliquo said.
Kennedy Catholic started four players 6-foot-5 or taller, and center Oscar Tshiebwe towered over the Huskies at 6-foot-10.
“When they sat in the zone, they looked like Syracuse,” Aliquo said. “When they went man, the size still affected us. You could just tell that we were a little bit timid.”
Alec Ratchford converted a layup courtesy of a Tshiebwe goaltend to trim an early deficit to two points, but the Golden Eagles scored 16 of the final 18 points in the first quarter to pull away.
“We had them at 9-7, and then, the next thing you know, they went on a run that was unreal,” Aliquo said. Manis Norman picked off an errant pass and provided Kennedy Catholic a 25-9 lead before the end of the first frame.
The Huskies settled in and tallied 14 points in the second quarter.
Senior Ben Eckenrode scored all nine of his points in the first half on three 3-pointers. Still, the Huskies trailed 46-23 at the half.
“We sure tried,” Eckenrode said of combatting the size advantage. “But it was a tall task.”
Yes it was.
Maceo Austin scored 18 of his game-high 26 points in the first half. Mattia Acunzo reached double digits before the break, and Tshiebwe had four dunks by the end of the second quarter.
The talented group has garnered the attention of several division one programs. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins and Indiana coach Archie Miller both attended the game. Acunzo, Austin and Tshiebwe are all juniors.
The bright spot for the Huskies came at the very beginning of the third quarter. Carson Ertter opened the second half with a mid-range basket, and Ratchford drained a baseline jumper to force a quick Kennedy Catholic timeout.
“I was proud of them because they kept battling,” Aliquo said. “There was a time in the second half that we forced three turnovers in a row, but we just couldn’t capitalize because of their length.”
After the timeout, Bishop Carroll failed to score for the remainder of the quarter.
“We think we’re one of the best teams in the state, in any classification,” Kennedy Catholic coach Rick Mancino said. “I think you saw the athleticism.”
Kennedy Catholic will head to the Hershey with aspirations for a fourth consecutive PIAA title. The Golden Eagles will take on Lourdes Regional at the Giant Center Thursday at 2 p.m.
Mancino said it can be challenging to keep players with such a high skill level focused for an entire season. Both Austin and Tshiebwe hold scholarship offers from Pitt, while Tshiebwe also holds offers from Penn State, West Virginia, Virginia and other notable programs.
“The best thing to happen to us this weekend was all of the upsets in the (NCAA) tournament,” Mancinio said. “Am I satisfied? No. Nobody in that locker room is satisfied. But I’m happy with how we played tonight.”
Bishop Carroll will lose only two seniors this year, but their presence will be missed. Eckenrode and Ratchford both made a lasting impact on the program.
“Hard to replace,” Aliquo said of the two. “They leave here with two district titles and an appearance in the western finals.”
The coach said the two helped paved the way for next year’s team.
“I’m proud of them for leading the younger guys, because they’re all back,” Aliquo said. “I told them that, depending on how hard that they work, they could be back here next year.”
Ratchford said he appreciated his role as a leader this year.
“We worked hard, and used our leadership to show them our ways,” Ratchford said. “We helped them grow their basketball skills, and hopefully they’ll go far next year.”
KENNEDY CATHOLIC (77): Norman 2 0-0 4, Acunzo 7 2-2 17, Austin 12 0-0 26, B. Taylor 2 0-0 4, Tshiebwe 8 0-0 16, Herster 4 0-0 8, Amos 1 0-0 2, Hudson 0 0-0 0, N. Taylor 0 0-0 0. Totals 36 2-2 77.
BISHOP CARROLL (30): Karlheim 1 0-0 2, Ertter 2 2-2 6, Rodkey 0 0-0 0, Ratchford 3 0-0 6, Eckenrod 3 0-0 9, Mcdannell 1 0-0 2, Burk 1 0-0 2, Gottshall 0 1-2 1, Semelberger 0 0-0 0, Lauer 1 0-0 2. Totals 12 3-4 30.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Kennedy Catholic 25 21 18 13 — 77
Bishop Carroll 9 14 4 3 — 30
3-point goals: Kennedy Catholic 3 (Austin 2, Acunzo); Bishop Carroll 3 (Eckenrode 3).
Records: Kennedy Catholic (22-4); Bishop Carroll (20-9).