By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
MERCER COUNTY —
The PIAA basketball playoffs do not begin until Friday, but Mercer County already lost a team.
Kennedy Catholic High disclosed Monday the discovery of an academically-ineligible player, who competed in last Friday’s District 10 Class A consolation contest.
Kennedy Catholic edged Eisenhower in double-OT, 66-62, earning a berth in the statewide tournament. The Golden Eagles were to meet District 9 champion Ridgway Friday at Clarion University’s Tippin Gymnasium in the opening round; instead, Eisenhower will represent D-10 as its 3rd-place team.
Kennedy Catholic High administrator Peter Iacino said the school self-reported the infraction to PIAA on Monday, and the statewide scholastic governing body issued its ruling and notified the schools involved.
Fifth-year KC Head Coach Rick Mancino was heartbroken after sharing the news Monday afternoon with his players. Mancino was notified of the decision earlier Monday by AD Chris Elliott.
Mancino admitted, “I know we won a close game (Eisenhower) ... but it was nice to get in the state playoffs. The kids were excited. I thought we had just as good a season as anybody, when you look at the teams.”
Kennedy concluded a 13-9 regular season, but lost to District 10 Class AAA champion Farrell twice, 2-time D-10 AA champion West Middlesex, single-A titlist Cochranton, the WPIAL’s Lincoln Park Charter and North Catholic, and Erie’s First Christian Academy twice, most recently in the D-10 tourney semifinals.
While watching film on Ridgway on Sunday, Mancino said one of his assistants noted that Kennedy’s players “ ... had that look in their eyes (against Eisenhower), like they didn’t want the season to end.
“It’s just awful the way its ended,” Mancino admitted. “Obviously, not every team’s gonna win a state championship, not every team’s gonna win its last game. But for it to happen like it did ... I feel bad for the players, especially the seniors — five of them have been with me since they were freshmen.
Mancino cited Gerald Zachar, Sam Crow, Gavin Cianci, Matt Hurton, Jake Feeney and Guillermo Quinonés, noting,
“Five of the six play other sports. But Matt Hurton was probably with me more than any player other than Mac Hartman, who graduated last year. I can honestly tell you that I can’t recall (Hurton) missing more than two open gym (sessions), and he gave us a month’s notice he wouldn’t be there. He lived in the gym more than anybody I know — and that’s not to slight the other kids,” Mancino emphasized. “I just couldn’t ask for a better kid.
“We had some ups and downs, but it’s sad for those guys ... ” related Mancino. “They’re great kids, and they’re all gonna be successful, go on to college, and they’re all gonna do well in college. Believe me, what they’re all gonna do with their lives, it’s all positive.
“I never had a problem with them,” Mancino continued. “As a coach, I felt bad yelling at them because they’re all great kids. Their parents probably never have to yell at them at home.”
“They all knew that basketball was gonna end eventually, but ... I just feel awful for the kids,” concluded an emotional Mancino.