By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
Simulating an opponent in practice is not the same as encountering those same strengths in game situations.
Kennedy Catholic High boys’ basketball team worked against a myriad of defenders during the last 2 weeks in preparation for Lincoln Park Charter’s three quarter-court traps. But you have to experience the Leopards’ length live in order to fully appreciate it.
Or dread it.
Lincoln Park coerced the Golden Eagles into 23 turnovers Friday night en route to a 54-45 PIAA Class A playoffs opening-round win at Farrell’s E.J. McCluskey Gymnasium.
“I thought we turned the ball over way too much — unforced errors,’ admitted 4th-year KC head coach Rick Mancino. “And on top of it all, too — and I’ve been there as a player — when you miss shots, the game’s tough. We had some open shots the first half, but we just missed ’em (6 for 20). That’s just part of basketball.”
“I always say that you can’t simulate a press in practice like what you see in a game, you know?” rhetorically asked veteran Lincoln Park head coach Mark Javens. “So no matter if they break it, you have to stick to your guns, and we’re not gonna change the way that we play. We’ll make adjustments as we go on, but basically we’re gonna play the same way we’ve played all year long.”
The teams were tied at 12 through 8 minutes. After a handful of lead changes Lincoln Park led 20-19 with 4:03 remaining to intermission.
But from that point the Golden Eagles endured a drought of more than 7 minutes. The Leopards led 24-19 by the break and 29-20 with 4:49 left in the 3rd period when Kennedy’s Mac Hartman hit a free throw.
Kennedy Catholic closed within 6 on a pair of 4th-frame occasions — the latter (45-39) with 3:19 left on Chris James’ drive. But the Leopards’ lead extended to 10 in about 42 seconds as 6-foot-9 Elijah Minnie made a free throw, then followed with a traditional 3-point play on a slam dunk and subsequent freebie.
Four free throws followed, evenly divided between Antonio Kellum and Minnie, as the Leopards led 53-39 with 2:10 to play.
The Golden Eagles eased no closer than the final margin.
“We wanted to be close in the fourth quarter, but we just couldn’t make some of those shots,” Mancino lamented. “Then when we did make a shot, we gave up an easy shot or turned the ball over.”
Back on Jan. 23 in Midland, Lincoln Park outlasted KC, 70-62. But in Friday’s rematch miscues and missed shots (18 for 43, 41.8 percent) were too much to overcome.
“That’s all we’ve worked on for the last two weeks, actually. We knew that’s what they do,” Mancino admitted. “I’ll be honest, when they went ‘man,’ that was probably the first time in about 15 games I scouted them that I saw them play ‘man.’
“But the press and the traps, we were ready for them, we knew what they’d be doing,” Mancino continued. “They caused turnovers, and ... that’s what we worked on and worked on. We’d put nine, 10 guys on defense, pressuring all over the floor at practice ’cause we knew we couldn’t turn the ball over.
“But it was just turnover after turnover.”
“We’ve played that all year long, whether it’s half-court or full court, and there’s some options off it that we like to throw at teams that already have seen us play,” Javens related. “Kennedy Catholic did a nice job when they played us the first time. But we watched it on film — we didn’t play our best; I’m not sure if they played their best the first time around — so we knew it was gonna be a good game.
“Coming up there, first round of states, very formidable opponent. It’s always nice to get a ‘cupcake’ the first round,’ Javens continued, adding, “but they’re no cupcake. So we’ll take the win, and we’re looking forward to the second round.”
Lincoln Park (20-6) was paced by Minnie’s 19-point, 12-rebound double-double and Maverick Rowan, who recorded 14 points and a half-dozen caroms. Also, Ryan Skovranko handed out 4 assists. The Leopards’ 18-for-52 shooting (34.6) was worse than KC’s, but Lincoln Park posted 18-for-29 free-throw shooting and committed only 13 miscues, 5 after intermission.
Keying Kennedy Catholic (17-7) were Jeffrey Thompkins, who tallied a team-high 14 points before fouling out with 4:06 left, James (13 points) and Case Western Reserve University-bound Hartman, who had 11 points and a game-high 9 caroms. Hartman and Jimmy D’Onofrio divided 8 assists, also.
Thompkins, Hartman, D’Onofrio, Arlen Brewer and A.J. Weldon are KC’s seniors.
“ ... I probably saw Mac and Jimmy more than their families,” Mancino related. “All our players are good kids, and that’s one thing we’re fortunate with. They’re all gonna do well when they get out. ... They’re what we want at Kennedy, they’re great kids. It’s one of those things that not’s gonna hit you until you’re collecting uniforms.”
Kennedy became the 3rd consecutive Mercer County club ousted from the PIAA playoffs by Lincoln Park, which eliminated West Middlesex the past 2 years.
“I told our guys, in sports, unfortunately, only one team’s smiling at the end of the year,” Mancino said.
“Obviously, the last two year’s we’ve made it to the finals,” Javens said, “We’ve met some pretty good teams from Philadelphia. But I think we have the talent to do it. But just because you have talent doesn’t mean you’re gonna win. ... We always talk about the three S’s — soft, selfish and not so smart. If (the Leopards) come out and play hard, play unselfish, and smart, we can get some things done.”
Note: Rowan is the son of Beaver Falls’ Ron Rowan, who matriculated at the University of Notre Dame and ultimately played at St. John’s University. ... KC converted 5 of only 9 free-throw tries. ... Brewer also was DQ’d on personals, and Hartman finished with 4. .. The Leopards were whistled for a dozen fouls.
PIAA CLASS A PLAYOFFS
LINCOLN PARK 12 12 14 16 54
KENNEDY 12 7 10 16 45
LINCOLN PARK — Rowan 5-4-5-14, Minnie 6-7-10-19, Skovrarko 3-0-0-6, Cottrill 1-1-2-3, Kellum 2-4-6-0, Tomassetti 1-2-6-4. Totals: 18-18-29-54.
KENNEDY CATHOLIC — Thompkins 5-2-4-14, James 5-2-3-13, Hartman 5-1-2-11, D’Onofrio 1-0-0-3, Zachar 0-0-0-0, Brewer 2-0-0-4, Wassil 0-0-0-0. 3-pt. goals: Thompkins 2, D’Onofrio 1, James 1. Totals: 18-5-9-45.