HERSHEY, Pa. - The Conwell-Egan boys' basketball squad had a seven-day stretch last month when it lost to traditional Catholic League powers St. Joseph's Prep, Neumann-Goretti, and Archbishop Carroll.
The dividends of playing such a rigorous league schedule were reaped in full during the PIAA Class AA tournament, as the Eagles stormed to five victories and captured the program's first state championship.
"We were prepared for this," senior wing guard Chase Kumor said after a 61-52 triumph Saturday afternoon over previously undefeated Aliquippa at the Giant Center.
"We've seen everything during the year. Roman, Carroll St. Joe's Prep, Neumann-Goretti. . . . We've seen the best of the best."
Conwell-Egan (21-8) was surprisingly ahead, 31-15, at intermission. The speedy Quips (29-1) rallied and trimmed the gap to 45-43 with just under 5 minutes to play.
"That's all we wanted, to be in position to win the game," Eagles second-year coach Frank Sciolla said. "We knew all around the state that we were not the trendy pick to win."
From there, Conwell-Egan went on a decisive 8-0 spurt that began with Stevie Jordan's fastbreak layup, courtesy of Vinny Dalessandro's block and LaPri McCray-Pace's outlet pass, and McCray-Pace's put-back of Dalessandro's missed tip.
The Eagles sealed the historic win by draining 15 of 17 free throws in the final quarter. Jordan (7 for 8) and McCray-Pace (5 for 5) combined to go 12 for 13 in that span. "We had the right people at the foul line," Sciolla said.
Overall, C-E made 28 of 35 free throws. McCray-Pace (22 points, eight rebounds) went 14 for 18 from the stripe, and Jordan (21 points, four boards, two assists) was 10 for 12.
Kumor, who will play basketball and study nursing at Salisbury (Md.), hit three second-quarter three-pointers en route to 14 points. His third gave the Eagles their largest lead at 29-12.
Senior guard Stephon McGinnis spurred Aliquippa, District 7's titlist, with 17 points. Jassir Jordan, a 6-5 junior who gathered 11 boards, played only five minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.
"I would love to see those guys play football," Sciolla said of the Quips, who shot only 1 for 9 from beyond the arc in the opening 16 minutes. "They have great athletes."
Senior Sean Kelly aided Conwell-Egan's cause by collecting eight rebounds. "I'm unbelievably happy for our seniors," Sciolla said. I know how much this means to them."
Aliquippa 8 7 20 16 - 51
Conwell-Egan 12 19 8 23 - 62
A: Darrien Fields 5, Jassir Jordan 13, Stephon McGinnis 17, Charles Humphries 6, Kaezon Pugh 5, Sheldon Jeter 5.
CE: LaPri McCray-Pace 22, Stevie Jordan 21, Chase Kumor 14, Sean Kelly 1, Vinny Dalessandro 2.