POTTSVILLE – No matter how you interpret it, the road to the Schuylkill League championship goes through Pottsville.
For the second straight year, Marian found that out the hard way as last night's collision with the Crimson Tide at Martz Hall sent the Colts on an early exit out of the Schuylkill League playoffs.
The 46-36 setback also detoured any hopes Marian had of avenging last year's 49-25 championship game loss to the Crimson Tide, who now advance to Friday night's Schuylkill League title game against Pine Grove (a 54-47 semifinal winner over Minersville).
The defending Schuylkill League champs led from the get-go and raced out to an 11-3 lead behind Bobby Schappell's second three-pointer of the game at the 3:07 mark of the first quarter.
The Colts (18-5), who entered the contest as a prohibitive underdog, were left in Pottsville's rear-view mirror the rest of the way.
"We knew it was going to be tough, but we certainly came in here with the belief that we could win this game," stated Marian head coach John Patton. "We tried to keep it a low-scoring game and we tried to play it one possession at a time, but they're good and they do all the little things right."
One big thing Marian did right was contain Pottsville's Nick Schlitzer. Schlitzer, the Schuylkill League's scoring leader at 21.0 points per game, was held to just 13 points, as the Colts focused most of their defensive attention on the Philadelphia University-bound senior.
However, as Schlitzer was held in check, Schappell picked up the pieces.
The senior sharpshooter book-ended the second quarter with a three-pointer to start the frame and then buried his fourth trey of the first-half on a buzzer-beating triple to give Pottsville a 27-16 halftime lead.
"We were focused on him (Schlitzer) and we knew we had to stop him, but even when he's not scoring, he's so good at finding ways to get other players involved," added Patton. "To Pottsville's credit, they had some other guys step up tonight and make some big shots."
Schappell, who entered the contest averaging 9.6 points per game, scored all 12 of his points in the first half, while Jacob Tobin came in off the bench to hit for eight points.
Pottsville (22-1) attempted only 28 shots in the game but managed to shoot an efficient 57-percent from the floor, as they converted 16 field goals, including 3-for-4 in the fourth quarter.
Marian continued fighting for much of the second half, as Chris Barletta buried a three-pointer with 2:49 remaining to cut the deficit to eight (42-34). However, the Colts would get no closer.
Ryan Gimbi finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds to lead Marian, while Barletta chipped in with 12 points.
The Colts shot 14-for-34 from the floor and held a 23-18 advantage in rebounds.
"Our kids played hard against a very good Pottsville team and you can't ask for anything more than that," concluded Patton. "The effort they gave tonight should bode well for us in the future."
Marian's immediate future is the District 11 Class A playoffs, where the Colts will enter as the top-seed and will next be in action on Tuesday, March 1.
Schappell 4-0-0-12, Heffner 1-4-4-6, Guers 1-0-0-2, Bridy 2-1-4-5, Tobin 4-0-1-8, Schlitzer 4-4-8-13, Wile 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 16-9-17-46.
Keer 0-0-0-0, Stawick 1-0-0-3, Barletta 4-3-7-12, Pilla 0-0-0-0, Ryba 0-0-0-0, Gimbi 5-3-5-13, Baker 4-0-0-8, Nesgoda 0-0-0-0, Dam. Richards 0-0-0-0, Dom. Richards 0-0-2-0, Weber 0-0-0-0, Agosti 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 14-6-14-36.
Pottsville 13 14 7 12 - 46
Marian 8 8 8 12 - 36
Three-pointers: Pottsville - Schappell 4, Schlitzer 1; Marian - Stawick 1, Barletta 1.