ALLENTOWN – It’s not that Conwell-Egan Catholic (CEC) played poorly. The Eagles turned in a solid performance in their PIAA Class 4A Round of 16 matchup against District 2 rival Greater Nanticoke.
The Trojans did a lot of little things, however, in order to advance to a state quarterfinal matchup with District 12 rival West Philadelphia Sunday at Bethlehem Freedom.
Like the two putback baskets by sophomore Trahjan Krupinski and senior Zack Cardone that put Greater Nanticoke up, 44-37 heading into the fourth quarter. With less than a minute left in the third period, Krupinski fought for a rebound in traffic under the basket, then banked the ball high off the glass.
For his part, Cardone flew across the paint and put back a missed jumper to beat the buzzer for his only basket in the battle. But boy, was it ever a big one?!
“Little things, sometimes, turn into big wins,” said Egan head coach Eric Kindler.
Time and again, Nanticoke beat the Eagles to the rebound, despite the fact their opponent had a distinct size advantage.
“It was unfortunate; we had a size advantage, we had an athleticism advantage. It’s simple fundamentals,” added Kindler.
“This team wasn’t just here just to be here; they’re here because they do things well. When you get to this level at this time of the year, people are going to make plays and we didn’t make them on the defensive end, especially in the second half.”
Egan trailed by two points at the half and by three with 3:10 to go and just could not come up with a key play down the stretch.
“We had opportunities where we had chances to take it from a two-possession game to a one-possession game or even lead,” But we chose not to because we let guys go by us or we didn’t get a body on a guy.
“You can’t have that if you want to win.”
The Eagles got a game-high 25 points from junior Patrick Robinson, a performance that included six field goals in the first half, four of which he canned in the initial frame, trying to get his team back from an early 12-4 deficit.
Senior Darien Simmons added 13 points including a pair of field goals in the second period and seven points in the fourth quarter. Junior Eric Esposito poured a pair of 3-pointers into the bucket in the second period including a trey to begin the quarter.
He didn’t score another point in the battle, however, and Egan simply did not have enough output to counter the efforts of GN seniors Luke Butczynski (18 pts.) and Justin Casey (14) along with those of sophomore Nate Kreitzer (17). All three hit for double digits with Casey coming through with seven points in the second period and Butczynski canning eight points in the third quarter and five more in the fourth.
“They’re a team that is extremely streaky with regard to their scoring. Today they were more consistent throughout the game, which is unfortunate because we needed a drought from them.
“They controlled the tempo of the game, which was unfortunate for us as well because we really needed to stretch the defense and the offensive end through transition and we didn’t do that.”
Trailing 12-6, the Eagles used a 13-4 run that stretched into the second period and put them on top for the first time, 19-16. The Trojans responded with an offensive spurt of their own, outscoring Egan 12-3 to take a 28-22 lead with less than two minutes remaining in the first half.
The scoring string by Nanticoke was capped by back to back buckets by Butczynski, the second of which was a 3-pointer. The forward capped a 12-6 scoring run Nanticoke began in the second half that put them on top 40- 32 with three minutes left in the third period.
Still, the Eagles trailed just 53-50 with 3:10 remaining in regulation and had the ball in their hands after a Trojans turnover. A rushed shot led to a miss and Egan followed with a turnover of their own that GN senior Cody Piestrak converted on a wide open layup.
“It’s a matter of growth. No game requires super human strength or ability. It requires your team to raise up,” said Kindler. “By raising up, it simply means playing sound defense, being patient on the defensive end, and finishing box-outs.
“Sometimes, you abandon that stuff when you get anxious and you try to take matters into your own hands.”
Looking back, Kindler thinks it was an up and down season at Egan and it was.
“It’s a grind and it can be grueling at times; the nature of the league is tough,” said the coach. “We’re just trying to carry the torch of success that was brought a few years ago.
“I was pleased we got back to the city championship game and won a game in the state tournament
“We saw flashes and I had flashes
“I’m excited for the guys we have coming back; we have a great core.”
Midway through the season after a 10-point win over West Catholic, the Eagles were 5-3 in the Philadelphia Catholic League (PCL). But they lost their last five duels, a play-in battle with Bonner Prendergast and the District 12 4A championship vs. Imhotep Charter.
Egan rebounded however with an 81-59 triumph in states over District 11 rival Saucon Valley, a win ignited by 24 points from Robinson. Patrick led the team in scoring, averaging 17.2 points-per game for the Eagles.
In addition to Simmons, Egan waves goodbye to Danny Green, Devin Harris, Victor Nyanway and Chauncey Wreh.
Greater Nanticoke 62, Conwell-Egan 54
(March 17 at Parkland)
Greater Nanticoke 14 14 16 18 – 62
Conwell-Egan 10 16 11 17 – 54
GREATER NANTICOKE (21-7) — Luke Butczynski 5 5-6 18, Nate Kreitzer 4 7-8 17, Justin Casey 5 4-8 14, Cody Piestrak 2 2-4 8, Trahjan Krupinski 2 1-1 5, Zack Cardone 1 0-0 2; Totals: 19 19-28 62.
CONWELL-EGAN (10-15) — Patrick Robinson 10 4-5 25, Darien Simmons 5 3-3 13, Eric Esposito 2 0-2 6, James Leible 2 1-2 5, Devin Harris 1 0-0 3, Sean Stokes 1 0-0 2; Totals: 21 8-12 54.
3-POINT GOALS: CEC — Esposito 2, Robinson, Harris; GN — Butczynski 3, Kreitzer 2.