By Jim Raykie
My daughter Jamie, has been a “gym rat” since she was old enough to go to Farrell’s E.J. McCluskey Gymnasium with me multiple times a week throughout the years. Maybe since she’s been about 4 or 5 years old.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. But she should have known better last Tuesday night.
Having watched Coach Roland Shannonhouse’s Steelers fall behind by 18 points with only 4:51 left in a District 10 semifinal game last week against Erie Strong Vincent at Meadville High School, she couldn’t bear to watch anymore as she headed for the foyer.
I asked, “Where are you going?” She answered, “I’ll meet you outside after the game.”
She should know that with the advent of the three-point shot in Pennsylvania high school hoops years ago, that no lead is safe until the clock pretty much hits zero.
But admittedly, the most ardent of Farrell supporters couldn’t fathom what was to transpire during the last four minutes of the game. It was a comeback from the basketball dead for the ages.
The team was collectively flat on its back, knocked out by the physical Colonels. I’ve been watching Farrell basketball since I was 10 years old, and I’ve never witnessed a comeback of this magnitude in the high school ranks in almost a half-century of basketball.
Consider the major obstacle against it at the high school level – no shot clock like in college and the NBA to extend play and alternate possessions.
Farrell unleashed a full court press double-teaming the inbounds pass and Malik Miller and Chris James drained long-range three pointers on the Colonels, and in the blink of an eye, the lead had been cut to 10.
As Farrell volunteer assistant coach Frank Sincek said afterward, “The fat lady wasn’t only singing, but the orchestra was playing.”
But the momentum shift was too much for the Colonels to stop, and it culminated with DeWayne Burns’ twisting driving layup with 9 seconds left that turned out to be the game winner.
The roars of the Farrell crowd eventually drew Jamie back inside the double doors leading into the gym in the foyer, with all of the frenzied action unfolding right in front of her as well as the jubilant mob scene on the court after the final whistle.
At the top of my list of comebacks before the Strong Vincent game, was a Farrell victory over Clairton in 1971 at the former Pittsburgh Civic Arena in the WPIAL championship.
That one turned into the “Larry Prince Show” in the second half, as the Farrell guard hit eight straight long-range jumpers (they would have been three-pointers today) to shock the Bears and send them home a loser.
I had a chance to talk with Sam Burns last Thursday. Sam was a key player on that 1971 team. He had called to express some disappointment in The Herald’s inability to write about the game in detail in print because of the game’s late finish.
“That’s the best comeback since our game with Clairton in March of 1971 in the WPIAL championship,” Sam said, without any prompting.
We had a chance to relive that Clairton game and talk a bit about Dewayne, Sam’s great-nephew, who packs a lot of heart and toughness into his 5-9 frame.
It was a real treat watching the game with Sincek and other former coaches Dave Burich and Gene Sarazen. Coaches always have a different perspective on a game than fans, and it’s always interesting to listen to the insight and commentary.
Jim Raykie is the executive editor of The Herald and his column appears on Mondays.