READING - Somebody forgot to tell the Marian Colts that they were going up against the defending state champs last night at the Geigle Complex in a PIAA Class A second round playoff game.
Mick Stefanek's club defied all odds and came up a bit short of pulling off the upset against Girard College from Philadelphia.
The Cavaliers overcame a slow start and went on to pull out a 73-67 win, ending Marian's season at 23-6.
Girard (22-7) will now face Reading Central Catholic, who defeated Math, Civics and Sciences (85-53) in the PIAA quarterfinal round on Friday.
"We lost to a more skilled and athletic team, we didn't lose because of our effort," said Stefanek when asked about his team's performance. "I'm proud of our effort. There were a couple of times when they could have packed it in.
"They showed a lot of class and character out there the way they played."
The Colts didn't seem rattled at all as Girard jumped out to a 5-0 lead. Then trailing 7-2 moments later, they went on an 11-0 run in the last 3:30 of the first quarter to take a 13-7 lead.
"To be honest with you, sometimes my team gets a little bored," said Girard College coach Nasser Eggleston. "We came out sluggish and slow, man. You just can't do that.
"We preach coming out fast, but didn't do it. The second quarter made me happy because we finally turned it up. A team like us having just seven points in the first quarter was a little alarming. And that gave Marian Catholic a lot more confidence."
The Cavaliers put together two big runs in the second quarter, with Marian's 6-6 center Drew Sherkness on the bench with two fouls. A six-point run followed by an eight-point run moved Girard from a six-point deficit to a 10-point halftime lead (29-19). The Colts didn't help themselves turning the ball over seven times in the quarter.
"We battled, we battled, we battled, but they have some players," said Stefanek.
One in particular, junior guard Joe Johnson, who has already verbally committed to the University of Pittsburgh, had just two points in the first quarter, but finished with 30 on the night and 12 of them came in the second quarter.
"They took it to us," added Stefanek. "We hurt ourselves with some things. We let them get behind us in transition. We didn't rebound the ball well. But we played with a lot of heart.
"I think they feed off of their emotions and when they get out in transition and things are going their way, they're a tough team."
And that's what happened in the second quarter.
The Cavaliers ran off the first seven points of the third quarter and took a 36-19 lead, but the Colts responded by outscoring Girard 22-11 to trail by just six (47-41) entering the final eight minutes.
The Colts fell behind by 12 again and it was just too much to make up.
"There were times in the game when they got that lead that we were very tentative," said Stefanek. "I don't know why we were tentative. But that's one thing that stands out to me."
Backing up Johnson's effort was Cliff White with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Torrell Candelaria also added 11. Matt Yaich had 20 points for the Colts, while Drew Sherkness added 15 points and 12 rebounds and Chris Barletta 11 points.
"Matt Yaich has been steady for us all year," Stefanek said. He had a lot of bad luck in his career with injuries and sickness and it was good to see him finish the year like he did. It was great for him to leave with a district banner and beat Jim Thorpe, which was something in his mind that he could have possibly left without ever doing.
"They're a good group of kids on and off the court. I'd do anything for them now and in the future."
Johnson 10-7-9-30, Peeples 0-0-0-0, Oluwole 0-3-4-3, Whiting 2-0-0-6, V. White 0-0-0-0, Candelaria 4-3-7-11, C. White 5-2-2-13. TOTALS: 21-15-22-63.
Barletta 5-0-3-11, O'Donnell 1-0-0-3, Decker 1-0-0-3, Gimbi 2-1-4-5, Gottstein 0-0-0-0, Yaich 9-1-1-20, Sherkness 5-5-6-15, Fital 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 23-7-14-57.
Girard 7 22 18 16 - 63
Marian 13 6 22 16 - 57
Three-Pointers: Girard - Johnson 3, Whiting 2, C. White 1; Marian - Barletta 1, Yaich 1, Decker 1, O'Donnell 1.