READING, Pa. - Maybe the 21/2-hour drive in stop-and-go traffic from South Philly had something to do with what Neumann-Goretti's coach Carl Arrigale said was a "lack of focus" against Harrisburg's Bishop McDevitt.
Whatever it was, the Saints, who trailed the determined Crusaders by three points with just over a minute to play, nearly saw their bid for a fifth PIAA Class AAA state title in six seasons go up in smoke.
But Lamarr "Fresh" Kimble and company survived Friday night's thrilling quarterfinal. The Saints sank 7 of 8 free throws in the final minute to leave the Geigle Complex with a 76-71 victory.
"This wasn't one of our better nights, but we fought through it," Kimble said. "We're moving on, but we're not happy with the performance. We have to play better if we want to keep the title."
Down by 49-34 midway through the third quarter, McDevitt, District 3's runner-up, evened things with a 17-2 burst.
"We didn't guard anybody, they beat us to every loose ball, and they won on the boards," Arrigale said. "We just made enough plays to pull it out and live for another day."
After Rasheed Browne's three-pointer put the Saints (27-2) in front by 61-57, the Crusaders answered with a 9-4 spurt that was capped by Mark Ray's three-pointer and Kyree Calli's alley-oop slam off a feed from Milik Gantz.
"We missed a couple of shots, made a few unforced turnovers," Kimble said. "But that's a good team we beat. We knew they were going to put up a fight."
In an all-District 12 semifinal Tuesday at a site and time to be determined, N-G (27-2) will take on Imhotep Charter (22-9) for the right to play for top honors at Hershey's Giant Center. The Panthers ousted District 3's Susquehanna Township, 58-49, in Friday's opener in Reading.
Sophomore guard Quade Green (22 points) hit four straight free throws to put the Saints ahead for good, 69-68, with 51.4 seconds to go. Zane Martin (19) and Kimble (11) were also double-digit scorers.
Junior forward James Williams paced the Crusaders (22-6) with 23 points.
Bishop McDevitt 17 9 23 22 - 71
Neumann-Goretti 23 18 10 25 - 76
BM: Milik Gantz 16, James Williams 23, Mark Ray 13, Reggie Hopkins 2, Nick Gemmell 3, Kyree Calli 11, Alex Marsico 3.
NG: Vaughn Covington 9, Lamarr Kimble 11, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree 8, Zane Martin 19, Quade Green 22, Rasheed Browne 7.