Tense, action-laced play is what the PIAA state basketball tournament brings to high school sports fans every March. And when a game comes down to the final possession with one bucket deciding the coveted trip to Hershey to play in the state final, heartbreak must enter the big stage where the drama plays out.
District 12’s number-one seed West Catholic is one of Philly’s best basketball teams, and their season’s schedule is punctuated by playing the City of Brotherly Love’s best teams, so championship basketball tempo and intensity is no stranger to the Burrs. Nor is it to the Shamrocks of Trinity – who jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the first two minutes of the PIAA state semifinal game at Governor Mifflin’s old 1950’s styled gymnasium loaded with frenzied fans, as the ’Rocks sent an early message that they can play and beat anybody, too.
But, the Burrs responded like championship caliber teams do with a 26-11 run that gave them the halftime lead. Behind the shooting marksmanship of senior Trey Weiand though, Trinity stuck close to a team that was quick defensively and big enough to match up with the ’Rocks’ size inside that has killed teams all season.
Up 49-47 with 2:16 left in the game and with possession, Trinity was in the driver’s seat to win the basketball game. After a timeout, both teams settled into a half-court chess match of attack and defend, which is normally where Trinity’s poise and patience win the day under the tutelage of legendary coach Larry Kostelac. But, a nifty steal by the Burrs’ posterior defense turned the game’s momentum and another costly Trinity missed defensive rebound gave West Catholic a one-point lead and possession with only 28 seconds remaining.
Then, too, the Burrs had the proverbial jittery hiccup as it seems all high school players do when things matter most and the pressure soars, as they turned the ball over, giving Trinity a last-ditch effort to win with 10.3 seconds left.
Running a brilliantly designed inbounds play that freed up Owen Schlager for a drive to the bucket that drew contact but no foul call, Schlager’s short range shot and bid to win the game in the last second rattled off the rim as Burrs’ defenders crashed the glass to deny any rebound, Trinity’s hopes of returning to the state final for an incredible seventh time fell mere inches short.
It was a heartbreaking end to a superb Trinity (26-4) season. After the game, a clearly disappointed Coach Kostalec said, “I could not be more proud of these kids. They ran the last play we set up to perfection, but it just did not go in. We had the opportunity to win the basketball game and that is all you can ask for…. Yes, they are very disappointed right now, and so am I. But, as adults we know the sun is going to come up tomorrow…. They will remember this for the rest of their lives because they worked so hard to get here. I am just so proud of our kids, how they played all year long, how they represented the school, how they represented Trinity and our program. They gave it their all.”
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness