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PIAA Boys Basketball: Familiarity will breed intensity as Bonner, Carroll meet again

Bonner & Prendergast's Isaiah Wong, right, shoots over Archbishop Carroll's Ny'Mire Little during a game between the teams in January. The Catholic League neighbors meet again in the PIAA Class 4A quarterfinals Friday. (Pete Bannan/Digital First Media)

It’ll be a Catholic League building hosting two Catholic League teams Friday night. The only thing that changes when Archbishop Carroll and Bonner & Prendergast collide in the PIAA Class 4A tournament at Cardinal O’Hara High is the stakes: One will advance to the state quarterfinal, one will have its season end.

In a rivalry that doesn’t need extra amplitude, Friday’s date (7 p.m.) provides some.

“You have the rivalry factor,” Friars coach Kevin Funston said. “You always have bragging rights. I think it becomes a little more of a strategy game than a game of, we are who we are and have we taught them enough. Knowing the competition will make it a little more exciting for us.”

The teams met in the regular season at Carroll, a 61-44 win for Bonner & Prendie Jan. 18. But both coaches apply significant caveats to that encounter. Injuries have narrowed Carroll’s roster, burnishing it to a heightened focus that has led to wins in eight of 10. The two losses were to teams still alive in states: An overtime setback to Class 5A squad Archbishop Wood and the PCL quarterfinal loss at 6A side La Salle, where Carroll led by 18 in the second half.

Even so, Funston is careful to point out that the regular-season meeting was a six-point affair after three quarters. So how much of a lesson can be drawn?

“I think you almost kind of throw it out because our roster has changed, our lineups have changed,” first-year Carroll boss Francis Bowe said. “I feel like we are playing our best basketball all year. But I think you can pick up on some of the things the other team does, and we try to focus on that. You go off of how they’ve gotten better, too. They’ve had a tremendous run.”

Carroll (17-10) has won its states games comfortably. A 64-57 over Allentown Central Catholic and 74-62 over Lancaster Catholic.

Meanwhile, the Friars (20-5) got a wakeup call from District 2 champ Nanticoke in the Round of 16, trailing at half before rallying to a 70-52 win.

If there’s any chance of taking Carroll lightly, perhaps the Nanticoke lull will prove instructive.

“I think anytime you’re dealing with 14- to 18-year-old kids, you never really know what you’re going to get and you’re trying to figure out the pulse of the team,” Funston said. “If I can use that first half, it’s as an example of if you don’t bring it and you’re not ready to play, our season can be over.”

Bonner & Prendie has deepened its scoring, with Malik Edwards and Donovan Rodriguez both in double-figures the last two games to augment featured scorers Isaiah Wong and Tariq Ingraham.

Carroll has been powered by an increased emphasis on the post, Tairi Ketner turning in back-to-back outstanding performances. Ny’Mire Little and Kiyl Mack have also been sensational to take the scoring load off the shoulders of Luke House. Bowe is hoping the matchup is less about analysis and more about execution.

“They’ve gotten better; we’ve gotten better,” he said. “We’re just hoping our chemistry is just going to continue to click.”

In other state quarterfinal games:

Sun Valley vs. Abington Heights >> The Vanguards haven’t lost in more than a month (Feb. 7). The stiffest test yet comes from the reigning PIAA Class 5A champs Friday at 7 at Bethlehem Freedom.

This will be the first time the District 1 champion Vanguards (21-7) are officially an underdog in states. But it won’t be the first instance of them approaching the game with the anger of one.

“We took this whole year from the beginning that we had to play with a chip on our shoulder, being where we were four years ago and being in the Ches-Mont, where we struggled,” Sun Valley coach Steve Maloney said. “We just took the underdog mentality then. Nothing’s really changed. Regardless of what the seeds said, we just treated every game like we’re the underdog, and here we are.”

Coming off a 26-point outing in the Round of 16 win over Eastern York, Vinny DeAngelo has 1,693 points, 19 shy of second in program history and 11th in Delaware County all-time (Jim Starkey, 1,712). With Dom Valente having hit four 3-pointers in the Round of 16 and Marvin Freeman accounting for five in the first round, the Vanguards’ offense is clicking. That isn’t dependent on the opponent, even if the District 2 champs are a formidable one.

“I think with our confidence, we’re going to go up there and try to give it everything we really have,” Maloney said. “But nothing really changes from our game plan.”

Saturday

Chester vs. Coatesville >> The Clippers’ postseason reads like a who’s who of traditional PIAA powers: Plymouth Whitemarsh, Lower Merion, Norristown, Harrisburg. So it only makes sense that the District 1 sixth-seed takes on the district’s runner-up Saturday at 1 at Spring-Ford.

In a program where history is revered like none other – and that has more history to revere than any other – those matchups mean plenty.

“We remind them all the time,” coach Keith Taylor said. “You have to know your history. It’s something we tell them. You have to know your history. We talk about it, they see it. Other people talk about it on social media and everything. They know what’s in front of them.”

What’s behind the Clippers (21-6) is forward Karell Watkins, who is suspended for the rest of the season for violation of team rules. But without Watkins, who has missed three of four games and was averaging 19.9 points per game, the Clippers have been playing their best basketball.

Others have filled the void. Zahmir Carroll, once a defensive complement in the post, has found his offensive game. Javan Graham has provided more offense to support 1,000-point guard Michael Smith.

But Akeem Taylor has made the biggest jump, compiling his three highest point outputs in the last four games, including 19 in the Round of 16. Taylor, who averaged 15.4 ppg last year at Chester Charter School for the Arts, can do the job. But his contributions in the Clippers’ system hewed more to a floor game of steals and rebounds, until he needed to score more.

“He always had it, he just didn’t always bring it out,” said Keith Taylor, Akeem’s Uncle. “I guess being at Charter school last year, he had to do those things because he was the man on the team. On this team here, he doesn’t have to do that. He has other guys around him. You just tell him, make sure to be aggressive when he gets the ball.”

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