Irving recalls a win over Neumann-Goretti

D.J. Irving knows what it’s like to face long odds against Neumann-Goretti.

When the 2010 graduate of Archbishop Carroll led his Patriots up against the Saints in the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class AAA tournament in 2009, Neumann had claimed the previous 18 meetings between the Catholic League rivals.

“We had nothing to lose,’ Irving said by phone Thursday. “After a while, you get tired of losing to a team. Coach Paul (Romanczuk) was confident in us, he just told us to play our game and have fun.’

The fun that day translated to a 70-65 win at Archbishop Ryan, the Patriots’ biggest hurdle in the quest for a title in the Catholic League’s inaugural season in the PIAA.

Then, as now, Carroll was an underdog. Two of their three losses that season came at the hands of Neumann-Goretti, dropping decisions of 63-49 and 75-58, during the regular season. Carroll bowed out in the Catholic League semifinals to Roman Catholic, denied a chance at revenge as the Saints marched to their first of what would become six straight Catholic League titles.

But in the PIAA quarterfinals, that opportunity presented itself. Carroll had scraped by Phoenixville, 56-50, and downed Shamokin, 62-51, to set up the meeting with the Saints at Ryan. They were marked underdogs against a team ranked in the top 20 nationally powered by four Division I players (Tony Chennault, Tyreek Duren, Mustafaa Jones and Danny Stewart), but that didn’t matter to the All-Delco Irving.

“Before the game, Coach Paul pulled me and (then sophomore guard) Juan’ya (Green) to the side and told his to just be confident and take our shots,’ Irving said. “He had the ultimate confidence in us that if we could play our game, we’d win. He knew what I could do even more than I did.’

The confidence was rewarded. Green scored 26 points on the night, including 13 in the third quarter, capped by a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from a step behind halfcourt to end the frame.

In the fourth quarter, Irving handed off to his backcourt mate Green, who two seasons later would be the Daily Times Player of the Year before playing at Niagara and Hofstra, where he just finished his redshirt junior season. Green scored 12 of his 16 points in the fourth, including a 7-for-8 performance from the line to seal the win. The triumph still stands as Carroll’s only win over Neumann-Goretti in 31 attempts.

Carroll rode that wave of momentum past York Suburban, 65-57, in the semis before trouncing Greensburg Salem, 75-54, in the final behind 18 points from Kasheef Frestus, 17 (and seven steals) from Irving and 16 from Green.

This year’s Carroll team has progressed deeper in the tournament before meeting up with Neumann thanks to the shifting dynamics of the PIAA. Their regular- season meeting was a nail-biter, a 71-69 Neumann-Goretti win thanks to a 3-pointer by Quade Green in the final seconds.

What Romanczuk summoned from his players at Archbishop Ryan that night six years ago was the product of striking the delicate balance between the Catholic League’s immense history and the necessity of the present.

Romanczuk admitted Wednesday at practice that he was still conjuring how to present the history between the teams to his team and what message he could derive from it.

Irving — who played at Boston University and is currently a graduate assistant at Penn State and who was on hand to witness Carroll’s semifinal win over Cathedral Prep, 59-32, at Bald Eagle Area High School Tuesday — has an idea what Romanczuk will try to convey to the current crop of Patriots.

“You have to know that you can’t change what already happened,’ Irving said. “You have to live in the moment and play with toughness. You have to play to win, play as one unit. You don’t have to play for anything else but the Carroll name.’

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