Bishop Carroll made its fourth consecutive trip to the District 6 Class A championship game on Friday night at St. Francis University.
Still, the undefeated and state third-ranked Huskies were looking for some redemption after falling just short of the district crown in each of the past two seasons.
In fact, top-seeded Carroll faced the defending 6-A champion Bishop Guilfoyle, a LHAC rival whom the Huskies had beaten in two close games earlier this season.
“It’s the most satisfying feeling in the world,” Bishop Carroll senior guard Mitchell Madonna said after Bishop Carroll saw a 14-point lead shrink to three in the final seconds before holding off the Marauders, 51-48. “Ever since we lost the last two years, both at the buzzer, we’ve been more hungry than ever. It’s amazing when it finally pays off.”
Bishop Carroll (25-0) advanced to play the District 9 fourth-place team on March 7. Second-seeded Bishop Guilfoyle (19-6) will meet the District 5 runner-up Forbes Road.
“We’ve played them three times, and you know they’re not going away,” Aliquo said, referring to regular-season wins over the Marauders (53-45 in overtime at home and 64-61 on the road). “It would be the same thing if they were up on us. That’s the respect we have for them. That’s a great ballclub over there.
“You know what, our guys didn’t go away either.”
Senior Marcus Lee’s presence certainly was felt. Lee scored 13 points and had 13 rebounds. His torrid start put Carroll in control in the first half.
The 6-foot-6 center scored 11 of the Huskies first 13 points and had three first-quarter rebounds as Bishop Carroll led 13-5.
“We just wanted to get out to a hot start,” Lee said. “My teammates gave me the ball. I was able to read the defense and score.”
Lee picked up his second foul with 2:02 left in the first quarter. With Lee on the bench, Bishop Guilfoyle closed within 15-11 after one quarter and tied the score at 17-all after Brandon Chadbourn hit two free throws with 5:45 remaining in the opening half.
Brandon Martinazzi (11 points) made a jumper and later hit a 3-pointer to reestablish a 24-17 Huskies lead.
Scott Lucas’ putback basket beat the first-half buzzer and gave Carroll a 30-22 advantage at intermission.
“We said, ‘Let’s go inside first and get that established, and then let’s go from the outside,’” Aliquo said. “We figured they couldn’t guard (Lee) on the inside and we found it he was pretty tough.”
The Huskies’ David Maruca gave his team a 14-point lead, 42-28, with a basket at 3:05 of the third. The damage might have been worse, but Guilfoyle hit four 3-point field goals in the quarter, two by Sam McCloskey (11 points) and one apiece by CJ Fulare and Jamey Brumbaugh (11 points).
Chadbourn (11 points) made a free throw, got a rebound on the second free throw attempt and scored a basket to set a 47-37 score through three. He opened the fourth with a 3-pointer to cut it to 47-40.
“There are three seniors in the starting lineup and two juniors,” said Madonna, who joined Lee and Maruca as senior starters. “We’re an older team, very mature. We’re used to the pressure. That helps in the end when the score is close.”
After Carroll’s Scott Lucas was called for his fourth foul, Bishop Guilfoyle coach Chris Drenning emphatically turned to the Marauders’ student section and encouraged the crowd. He enthusiastically waved and motioned to both sides of the section
The fans became even louder after McCloskey hit two free throws to set a 47-43 score at 5:13. Fulare’s basket at 4:21 closed the gap to 47-45.
Madonna, who had five third-quarter points, hit a basket to make it 49-45, and Maruca hit two free throws with 58.5 showing to put the Huskies up 51-46.
Guilfoyle didn’t go away. Damon Rickens scored with 44.3 left to cut the margin to three points.
“We just tried to make sure they didn’t get any 3’s,” Lee said. “We didn’t want to send it into overtime. We wanted to close it out and get the win.”
Guilfoyle got the ball back and used two time outs in the final 11.8 seconds but couldn’t get the last shot.
“They scored. We needed a bucket. We missed our foul shot but we went down and played solid defense and didn’t give them anything,” Aliquo said. “They got the last look and luckily it didn’t go in.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.