Wildcats can't keep up with Royals
HEMPFIELD TOWNSHIP — The end of the road was a bumpy stretch for Homer-Center.
Facing fast-paced, high-scoring Vincentian Academy, the Wildcats saw their season end with a 94-66 loss to the Royals in a PIAA Class A second-round boys’ basketball playoff game Tuesday night at Hempfield High School’s Spartan Field House.
Homer-Center, which trailed all game, pulled within as few as five points in the third quarter, but Vincentian (24-3) was just too much. The Royals entered the game averaging 91.4 points per game, most in the WPIAL in any classification, and they shot 39 of 76 (51.3 percent) while forcing 23 Homer-Center turnovers.
The Wildcats finished 23-4 in a season in which they battled back to win the Heritage Conference championship and, for the second straight year, get to the state playoffs.
[PHOTO: Homer-Center’s Robert Della Penna, right, consoled teammate Joe Capitosti during the closing minutes of the Wildcats’ 94-66 loss to Vincentian Academy on Tuesday night in the second round of the PIAA Class A basketball tournament. Homer-Center, the last local team standing in the playoffs, had its season end with a 23-4 record. (Jamie Empfield/Gazette photo)]
“I’m proud of the guys,” Homer-Center coach Bob Rado said. “How can you look back at the season and not be proud? It was a joyride for us. Sure, we would’ve loved to take another step on the ladder, but, like I told the guys, as long as they can sit in there and say ‘I put everything I had on the floor for you,’ that’s all you can ask for.”
Vincentian, the No. 4 seed out of the WPIAL, opened the game on runs of 7-1 and 11-3 and took a 53-40 lead into halftime.
Consecutive baskets by John Ireland, Darren Carr, Joe Capitosti and Jacob Citeroni in a span of less than a minute cut Homer-Center’s deficit to seven, 61-54, in the third quarter, and Carr got a layup after a media timeout to pull the Wildcats within five, 61-56, with 2:55 left in the third.
The Royals came out of the timeout re-focused, though, and closed the quarter with a 13-0 run, extending their lead to 74-56.
“Pretty much how we expected the game to go, other than them to go on that run and get within five points there,” Vincentian coach George Yokitis said. “But we responded pretty good.”
“We got down early and we came back to within five,” Rado said. “All it takes against this team is a couple mistakes and it turns into a seven-point, nine-point difference.”
Vincentian’s extreme up-tempo game made for a tough time for Homer-Center, not just in defending the Royals’ offense. Vincentian pressed and got to loose balls, constantly moving and keeping the Wildcats out of sync.
“We ran into a very good team, a very good athletic team,” Rado said. “They weren’t the biggest team, but they have that smothering defense and that trap. They forced us into so many turnovers. They shot really well from the 3-point arc. Against a team like that, you can’t turn it over as much as we did. … It wasn’t a slouch we lost to, and they deserve it. They outplayed us today.”
“I learned this about 25 years ago when (Rick) Pitino was at Providence,” Yokitis said. “He talked about his style and his pace, and he said it might be difficult, because we do it every night and they only do it when they play us, so we should have an advantage, right? If somebody played real slow, it would be the same way. They do it all the time, so that’s an advantage.”
Vincentian had four players in double-figure scoring, including Ryan Wolf, the WPIAL’s leading scorer, with a game-high 30, and Jay Cortese with 25.
Capitosti scored 18 to lead the Wildcats, and Carr had 12. John Capitosti scored nine points, and Robert Della Penna and Ireland each had seven. Homer-Center actually shot a solid 44.3 percent (27 of 61) when the Wildcats weren’t turning the ball over.
Homer-Center had six seniors on its roster, four of whom started. The veteran leadership was key in getting the Wildcats through the ups and downs, getting them to the conference title and the state playoffs.
The seniors’ love for the game was apparent as they fought through the postseason, making Tuesday’s loss that much tougher.
“They’re all going to be successful, the seniors, because they have that work ethic that’s going to carry on,” Rado said. “And it’s been a fun year. We all had fun. We knew when it was time to get down to business, but in the meantime we shared memories different times in the year where we just got together and just were a family and did things as a family. Those are the memories that you take. You lost the game and are disappointed over it, but they’ve got to see the whole picture, not just a piece of the puzzle. I can’t be more proud of what they did for us and the community, and they were fun to watch.”