BOGGS TWP. — From the stands at Bald Eagle Area High School, D.J. Irving recognized the hallmarks of Archbishop Carroll basketball that he’d grown accustomed to as a player, an alumnus, and now a basketball coach.
One thing in particular stood out to the 2010 grad above all others in the PIAA Class AAA semifinal game.
“Definitely their defense,’ Irving said of the Patriots’ 59-32 win over Cathedral Prep. “They’ve got guards that pressure the ball and they’ve got big guys back there blocking every shot. I think defense is definitely their bright spot.’
Irving, whose basketball career has led him down the road to Penn State where he’s a graduate assistant, has seen plenty of Carroll hoops. He did his share of ball-hawking and pressing in the Carroll backcourt. Yet even he couldn’t help but be impressed at how effectively Carroll’s defense silenced the Ramblers.
While the 70-points-per-game scoring average may jump off the page, Carroll’s spot in Friday’s Class AAA state title game was booked at the other end of the court. As Carroll’s offense gradually sputtered to life, the search for a spark led to the defensive end, where Carroll’s tenacity was comprehensive.
They forced 18 turnovers, 11 in a first half in which Cathedral Prep (22-7) scored 13 points. The Patriots pocketed 14 steals, nine by Josh Sharkey, the low-to-the-ground point guard with the impossibly quick hands. They blocked seven shots, a parade led by Derrick Jones’ five first-half rejections, that had the quaking Ramblers thinking twice about entering the lane thereafter.
But most impressive is how much they muted Cathedral Prep’s ability to hit a basic two-point shot.
It took the District 10 champs seven minutes to hit their first field goal. The next two-pointer came with 53.9 seconds left in the third quarter.
In all, the Ramblers sunk just four two-pointers. And while their 3-point shooting clip (a very respectable 7-for-15) kept them in contact, Carroll’s offense was never going to abate long enough for Cathedral Prep to find enough open looks.
At the heart of the suffocating defense was David Beatty, Carroll’s athletic sophomore. With physicality to burn and plenty of help defense from Samir Taylor and Sharkey, Beatty put the clamps on Ramblers’ leading scorer Matt Colpoys. The forward scored 12 points, but he shot 2-for-9 in the first three quarters before a little fourth-quarter window dressing to the final stat line.
“His moves are very predictable, so I try to stare at his waist to see where he was going,’ Beatty said. “I just went as hard as I could and kept the right mindset that I wasn’t going to let him score and help him lift his team up.’
On its own, the defensive intensity was impressive. But what it delivered on the other end was even more vital.
Carroll endured a lackluster shooting first half, entering the break up just 20-13 in a game that could’ve easily shifted in the Ramblers’ favor. But it didn’t. And the reason was that Jones scored six points before Cathedral Prep attempted its first shot of the second half thanks to three turnovers.
“It was a big emphasis because knowing Cathedral Prep from playing them last year, they like to hold the ball and run the clock,’ Taylor said. “The whole point was to pressure the ball and get turnovers and get into transition.’
Irving doesn’t need to be in the huddle to know that the root of that aggressiveness isn’t Xs and Os. He knows it the Patriots’ resilience, instilled by coach Paul Romanczuk since Irving wore Carroll red. It’s the same fire that drove Irving to score 17 points (and notch seven steals) in the 2009 state title game, when the Patriots romped past Greensburg Salem, 75-54.
Irving makes those statements nodding toward a crutches-bound Ernest Aflakpui, the kind of absence that only a select few teams in the state could even dream of coping with.
Carroll’s toughness leaves just one more dream, one Irving is confident his Patriots have the mental fortitude to achieve.
“Don’t be satisfied,’ he said. “You’ve still got one more game to go. Make sure you play your heart out and get another state championship trophy from Carroll.’