BROOKHAVEN — As the lead volleyed back and forth Thursday night at The Christian Academy, so did the onus of the Crusaders offense.
In the third quarter, as TCA weathered a run by Delco Christian in an entertaining Bicentennial Athletic League semifinal, Grant Sareyka stepped to the forefront. He knocked down four shots in the frame for 10 points, keeping TCA within five after three quarters.
And when it came time to spark the run that would put DC away for good, Sareyka deferred, creating space for Isaiah Mitchell.
Each player had eight points in the fourth quarter, all of Mitchell’s coming from the field, as TCA outlasted Delco Christian, 61-58.
“To be honest, the lane’s open because they’re focused on Grant,” Mitchell said. “Every team tries to double-team him. They know we’ve got other assets, but they want to stop him. If they stay open on him, I’ve got an open lane and I’m going to finish over anybody, over contact.”
The win is the 13th straight for the Crusaders (22-3). It moves them into their first final in just their third season in the league. TCA will take on Holy Ghost Prep, a 74-69 winner over Dock Mennonite, in Saturday’s final.
The dynamic guard duo was outstanding. Sareyka poured in a team-high 24 points, 18 after halftime. He had 10 of TCA’s 12 points in the third quarter to withstand a 10-0 burst from DC to open the second half and an 11-5 spurt to close the third and stretch the lead as large as five.
Mitchell supplied the answer in the fourth. He capped a 6-0 start to the quarter with a drive to make it 49-48, then after trading baskets, again went to the hole to put TCA up for good at 53-52.
“Coach told me to let it go, get out of my head, fourth quarter, just attack how I play my game,” Mitchell said. “And it just all went from there.”
The pair also combined for a solid floor game. Sareyka pocketed four steals and handed out two assists. Mitchell had team-highs in rebounds (six), assists (three) and steals (five).
In contrast to TCA’s guard-first approach, Delco Christian (17-8) clawed back into the game via the post. One unusual suspect was Obinna Nwobodo, more for the “how” then the “who.” He scored 18 points to go with 12 rebounds, but his ability off the dribble really opened things up. Particularly in the second quarter, with Jackson Piotrowski sitting with three fouls, Nwobodo shed his low-post home for a point-forward approach.
“I don’t usually take it off the dribble,” Nwobodo said. “I usually stay in the post. But the times I do, it’s when I know I have a not as agile defender on me. … It worked well, we just lost in the end.”
Grant Sareyka. Onions
TCA up 7. pic.twitter.com/PbkCE60lac
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) February 14, 2020
Nwobodo scored five points in a 7-0 run to end the half, trimming a 31-20 TCA lead to a manageable four. The Villanova football commit, who missed the December meeting between the teams won by TCA by 11, played like he was making up for lost time.
Piotrowski reasserted himself in the third with eight points, but the Knights combined to go 4-for-18 in the fourth quarter, missing too many shots in the lane to mount a comeback. Part of the reason, in a physical game, was TCA raising its intensity in the post. Though DC held a 37-25 rebounding edge, Jourdan Greene and company held their ground just enough to put off DC drivers.
“It was definitely tough because he’s a football player,” Greene said of defending Nwobodo. “Strength-wise, I know he was a little stronger than me, so I knew I had to find my ways and angles to defend him.”
Greene had seven points, all in the first half, for TCA, which caused 18 DC turnovers and didn’t turn the ball over the fourth quarter.
Joshua Parks hit three 3-pointers and scored 13 points for DC, including a pair of clutch triples in the third quarter, and Jordan Mitchell was 5-for-5 from the field for 10 points. Piotrowski finished with 14, snapping his streak of three straight 30-point games.
The teams now split into their respective district competitions, with TCA the top seed in Class A and Delco Christian No. 2 in 2A. TCA is chasing its first states berth since joining the PIAA four years ago, and the Knights seek a seventh states berth in eight years and a third straight District 1 crown.
Both will take something from Thursday’s clash.
“We know how to win in districts,” Nwobodo said. “We had spurts in this game when we were truly and offensive threat. In my opinion, we’re the best offensive team in the BAL. So over the next few days, we just need to figure it out altogether so we can go out there, play our best game and get the win.”
“It builds our confidence,” Isaiah Mitchell said. “We had three losses earlier in the season, all close games. So other teams didn’t know what we’d be able to do in close games. But we came out and showed what we can do and it just builds out confidence because we want to make a long run in states and winning districts.”