READING — Archbishop Carroll coach Francis Bowe Jr. didn’t know what to expect from the Patriots Tuesday night after they had 20 days off since their previous game.
“I’m not going to lie to you,” Bowe said. “Our first practice back was really rough, trying to get their legs back and trying to get them to make the right decisions. I was pleasantly surprised by how we came out tonight.”
Carroll rolled up a 27-point lead late in the third quarter and then held off a furious rally to beat Berks Catholic 68-61 in a PIAA Class 4A boys basketball opener Tuesday night at Wolf Gymnasium.
The Patriots (13-10) learned Friday they would be in the state tournament as the District 12 No. 5 team after Martin Luther King Jr. withdrew. They made life miserable for the Saints (23-5), the District 3 champions who fell behind 37-18 at halftime.
“I liked the fact that we could heal,” Bowe said. “Moses (Hipps) and Dean (Coleman-Newsome) had some bumps and bruises.”
Hipps, a 6-4 sophomore, scored 31 points and Coleman-Newsome, a 6-4 junior, had 12 for Carroll, which advanced to a second-round game Friday against Athens, a 42-40 winner over Mid Valley.
Berks Catholic coach Snip Esterly knew that Carroll’s record and seeding were deceiving. He understood the challenge that the Patriots posed to the Saints.
“They’re very good,” Esterly said. “I think they’re as good as Reading.”
That’s the ultimate compliment in Berks County, and Esterly might have been right.
The Saints trailed 54-27 in the middle of the third quarter and then 58-34 near the end before staging a frenetic comeback. They scored 19 consecutive points during one stretch and trimmed their deficit to six points twice in the fourth quarter.
“That says a lot about these kids,” Esterly said. “It says everything. These guys never quit. That’s why I like them so much. We made a run.
“We had a chance to cut it to three. Ryan (Koch) had an open 3, which he usually buries. It really would have gotten loud in here.”
The Patriots used their size and shooting to build a large advantage in the first half.
“We executed our plan,” Bowe said. “We knew they could shoot the snot out of the ball. You saw that in the second half. We thought if we could put pressure on their point guard, Jay Jay (Jordan) – he’s a tremendous ballplayer – we could get him tired by the third or fourth quarter.
“We just defended well. We made them uncomfortable.”
Jordan scored 21 points despite sitting several minutes in the first half with three fouls. Koch had 18 points and Aidan Sands, one of two Berks Catholic senior starters playing their final high school game, had 11.
“We just came out slow,” Sands said. “I came out slow. We had to get the nerves out and understand that this was our last chance. We fought as hard as we could.”
Hipps, who has already received offers from a couple Big 5 schools, was magnificent in the first three quarters. He had 25 points, including four 3-pointers. Overall, he made 7-of-13 shots from the field and 13-of-16 free throws.
“You can’t leave anybody on that team (to help),” Esterly said. “They can all shoot. Hipps….oh my God. If you take one lapse, it’s up and good.”
Coleman-Newsome lowered his head and plowed his way to the basket to give Carroll a 56-32 lead with 1:20 left in the third. Little did anyone in the building expect they would be the Patriots’ last points until Coleman-Newsome scored a layup with 2:55 to play.
Jordan and Koch each had eight points during the run, which Sands capped with a three-point play to make it 58-51 with 3:07 to go.
Koch drilled a 3 to make it 60-54 and then another to cut it to 67-61, but with 8.8 seconds left.
Berks Catholic made only 12-of-26 free throws, including 5-for-13 by Jordan.
“We didn’t hit our shots,” Esterly said. “You gotta make your foul shots to keep it close. If we would have made eight more with that run, it might have been a different story.”
Sands smiled afterwards, even though the Saints had a very difficult first-round draw.
“I realized it could be my last game ever,” he said. “I had to do whatever I could. I got excited and then more excited. We just fell short.”
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