by BRYAN EVERSON
The swings of momentum didn’t end up going heavily enough the way of the Red Hawks Wednesday night, but the final score didn’t depict the hard fought battle that closed the book on their season.
Athens nearly fought back from a double-digit deficit in the second half, but Warren De La Salle was able to spoil the district hosts with a 75-59 victory in a semifinal matchup.
“It kind of got away from us in the second quarter and that was really the difference in the ballgame, but we really fought back,” Athens coach Dave Scott said. “I really thought we cleaned some stuff up [after halftime], but in the end we had to take some chances and they made us pay. I know it ended up being a 16-point game, but it was a helluva lot closer than that.”
The visitors, who finished second place in the Catholic League’s Central Division, led by just two after the first quarter, but a 9-2 run that included back-to-back 3-pointers by Easton Sikorski helped break the game open before halftime.
Fortunately for the Red Hawks, the Pilots turned it over nine times in the third quarter, and a number of the miscues were capitalized on. Junior Taylor McCaskill’s 3 and his dish to Clark Joslin for an easy basket both came courtesy of De La Salle turnovers, and senior Justin Koch followed up with a handful of points to narrow the difference to five within the first several minutes of the third quarter.
“Justin struggled a little bit early, but he really sparked us in the third quarter and started playing some really good defense,” Scott said.
Just as the Pilots began to pull away again late in the quarter, Joslin, who finished with a team-high 17 points, ignited the crowd with several buckets that again came off turnovers. His triple that opened the fourth quarter cut the lead to just 51-48, as close as Athens would come after the break.
“He was able to hit some shots, and our crowd feeds off our crowd [and visa versa],” Scott said of Joslin. “He really gets energized by our home crowd.”
Junior Luke Pfromm, though, proved to be the answer that De La Salle needed to seal the victory. The 6- foot-5 forward scored 13 of his game-high 19 points in the fourth, almost all of them coming inside the paint.
“We cut [their lead] down pretty quick right away in the third, but it seemed like every time we got it down to like five [they responded],” Scott said. “I mean, Pfromm, he just came and made some big-boy plays. It wasn’t that we were losing him [defensively], but sometimes good players just make good plays.”
In spite of the loss, Scott praised the effort level of his players, including senior Prahalad Bhagavatula, who he said, “really came in and gave us some energy.”
“He wasn’t part of our program last year, and it took him a little while to figure out everything we were doing, but he stepped in and gave us valuable minutes this season,” Scott said.
Scott also complimented his other two seniors, guards Josh Spryszak and Eli Smith.
“Kids like Josh were a big part of what we did all year,” Scott said. “I can’t say enough about the job he did. Eli was a great senior, too, and a great part of our program.”
While Athens will return a nucleus next year that includes McCaskill, who averaged 15 points over the final 10 games, and others like Joslin and Brendt Stephens. Scott noted that he doesn’t expect the talent of the competition to dip, either.
“We’ve got a lot coming back, but so does everybody else,” Scott said. “Troy has everybody coming back, Hazel Park [too]. Avondale loses a lot, but they’ve got a lot of kids coming up and some good juniors. Oak Park has a ton of underclassmen. Our league, if it stays like it is, it’s going to be really tough again. Hopefully, we can improve and capitalize on having some three and four-year seniors, grow from this and keep getting better.”
Troy would play its regional games at Athens if the Colts are able to win a district final against Birmingham Seaholm on March 10.