Welcome back Dean DiBonifazio.
After missing four straight games because of an emergency appendectomy, Jim Thorpe's junior guard made his return to the lineup a memorable one.
On Saturday, in the District 11 Class AA quarterfinals at Weatherly, the 5-8 sharpshooter drained five three-pointers and scored a game-high 18 points to help lift the fourth-seeded Olympians to a 55-45 victory over Blue Mountain.
The win sends Thorpe (17-7) into Tuesday's semifinals, where it will face No. 1 seed Pottsville.
"The first practice after our loss to Marian (in the Schuylkill League semifinals) he gave me the note (that cleared him to play)," said Olympian head coach Brian Carroll. "He's really been working hard at trying to get back into form. Obviously he was in form today.
"He was huge because their gameplan was to sag on us. When they sagged on Rashid (Epps) and Corey (Cinicola) it took them away for a while. He missed some early, but it helped open things up. I'm proud of him the way he came back after that illness. He was a big boost today for the team."
Both of DiBonifazio's treys in the opening half tied the score, as did his driving bucket midway through the third quarter. His next two bombs, later in the third frame, gave his team leads of 34-32 and 37-34.
"I was just excited to get back out on the court," said DiBonifazio, whose previous high game was 13 points. "The shots were feeling good when I left them go. They just didn't drop early but they told me if I'm open to keep shooting the ball."
While DiBonifazio's presence and his long-range jumpers provided a spark, his assist to teammate Epps helped set the Olympians ablaze.
With just seconds to play in the third quarter, DiBonifazio broke loose downcourt. After getting an Eagle defender in the air he simply dropped a pass to a trailing Epps, who slammed it home for a five-point lead.
The momentum of the dunk carried into the final period as Thorpe continued to build on the advantage.
"We sort of feed off a little spark to ignite everything because sometimes we get a little dull in the offense," said Carroll. "It started when Dean banked in a three from the corner and everybody went nuts. The next thing you know he's dishing to Rashid and that was the exclamation point. That got us rolling."
Epps, who was limited to touches, still managed 13 points and 11 rebounds. Sam Lux, who made four free throws down the stretch and was able to penetrate to the basket on numerous occassions, finished with 16 points.
"I was pretty sure (DiBonifazio) would be playing," said Blue Mountain mentor Dustin Werdt. "The kid hit some shots, give him credit. He stepped up when they needed him to. We missed shots and had turnovers at important times."
Maloney 4-2-2-10, Hartranft 3-0-0-7, LaScala 1-1-1-3, Garrity 4-3-6-11, Cryts 4-1-2-10, Tobash 2-0-0-4, O'Brien 0-0-0-0, Rhody 0-0-0-0, Freed 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 18-7-11-45.
DiBonifazio 6-1-3-18, Lux 5-6-8-16, Epps 6-1-2-13, Cinicola 1-0-0-2, Richardson 2-1-2-5, Johnson 0-0-0-0, Clark 0-1-2-1. TOTALS: 20-10-17-55.
Blue Mountain 13 6 15 11 - 45
Jim Thorpe 13 9 17 16 - 55
Three-pointers: Blue Mountain - Cryts 1, Hartranft 1; Jim Thorpe - DiBonifazio 5.