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Delco Christian can’t escape sticky Holy Cross defense

BETHLEHEM — Delco Christian had a plan on offense Wednesday afternoon. Holy Cross knew it, every which way.

A smaller Crusaders defense understood that in order to mitigate the threat of Obinna Nwobodo and Jacob Bronkema in the post and the lanky Jackson Piotrowski driving to the hoop, they’d have to defend proactively. So a 2-3 zone, with constant post denial against bigger marks, was the order of the day.

Add in foul frustration and the Crusaders’ dogged work on the boards, and it was a long day for DC.

With Piotrowski accounting for nearly half of Delco Christian’s points, the Knights didn’t have enough steam to get past Holy Cross, losing 50-38 in the second round of the PIAA Class 2A boys basketball tournament at Bethlehem Freedom High School.

“We knew (Nwobodo), he’s a really good post player,” Holy Cross guard Tyler Mozeleski said. “So we wanted to get in front of him and make sure he didn’t get the ball as easy as he did in some other games, because if he did, chances are he’s probably going to score. Same thing with (Piotrowski). We wanted to take him out of the game and make him do things he didn’t want to do.”

Piotrowski was hardly deterred, scoring a team-high 18 points. But the rest of the Knights scored just 20, with Bronkema and Nwobodo combining for a lowly three, all at the line. And with 13 turnovers, eight in a ragged first quarter, the Knights never established a rhythm.

“That’s really tough because we knew we had the one-on-one matchups with them that we wanted, but we just struggled getting it up,” Piotrowski said. “Props to them, they did a really good job locking up the post. It’s frustrating.”

Mental errors didn’t help the cause for the District 1 champion Knights (17-11). Nwobodo was saddled with two quick fouls, then picked up his third well after Kieran Burrier had released his shot with one second left in the second quarter. The two points at the stripe put DC down 10 at the break, but the three fouls stunted a Nwobodo second-half resurgence.

His brother, Ebuka Nwobodo, provided a boost with four second-quarter points, before he picked up fouls three and four quickly to start the third, effectively ending his impact.

And then there was the cardinal sin in the dying seconds of the third quarter, after DC trimmed the deficit to six, the smallest it had been since the opening quarter. But they lost Mozeleski on a screen, allowing the guard to bury a 3-pointer to make it a nine-point spread heading into the final frame.

“That was the lowest they had it in a while, six points,” Mozeleski said. “And when we bumped it back up to nine, it gave us a little more of a cushion and we felt a little more comfortable than we would have at six heading into the fourth quarter.”

Mozeleski capitalized on the Knights’ intermittent defensive lapses with 21 points, including 4-for-5 from 3-point range. He scored 13 points in the first half.

“We knew that most of their defense, since they’re a lot bigger guys, they’re going to have trouble guarding our guards, because there’s going to a mismatch all the time,” Mozeleski said. “So we knew at least one of our guards would be open, so we took that to our advantage. It happened to be me that was open most of the game.”

Burrier added 10 points, 12 rebounds and a team-high three assists. Leahy O’Connor hit a pair of first-half triples for six points, and Caleb Callejas added seven points.

DC’s sparks were sporadic. Tyler Rossini had seven points. Micah Guindo had a pair of steals in the third quarter to get DC within six. But it was Piotrowski or nothing most of the game. For a team laden with underclassmen, Wednesday’s frustration informs what will follow in the offseason.

“We’re laying the groundwork for future years, especially next year,” the junior Piotrowski said. “We want to go out and win states next year, honestly. It’s a hard loss here, but it shows us what we can do and it’s motivation to get ready for next year.”

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