With 10 wins on the season, Marian entered last night's contest with Jim Thorpe with a "magic number" of "1" to clinch a spot in the District 11 Class A Tournament.
However, it's been the "magic" of the last three weeks that has ultimately sealed the Colts' playoff destiny. Last night's 46-42 victory over the Olympians just made it official.
Since a 68-63 loss to Minersville on January 10, Marian has now won seven of its last eight games. Even more impressive is the fact that the Colts are winning games without the benefit of two key starters, as point guard Anthony Agosti is lost for the season with a wrist injury, while center Alden Whah has missed most of the last three games with a knee ailment.
Master magician/head coach John Patton certainly doesn't have any tricks up his sleeve to account for his team's winning ways, but rather, it's a "refuse to lose" attitude that has the Colts back in the playoffs for the seventh straight season.
"It wasn't too long ago that we were 4-8 and everybody was counting us out," stated Patton. "Since then, different guys have stepped up and the team as a whole developed a winning attitude. Plain and simple, these kids just don't want to lose. They have a will to win every time they step on that court and the rest of us are just along for the ride."
Jim Thorpe started the game with a full-court press that led to a quick 4-0 lead off two straight Marian turnovers. However, two Nick Kweder buckets and a 13-0 run put the Colts ahead 18-7 late in the opening quarter.
Kweder, forced into the starting lineup due to injuries, scored all eight of his points in the first six minutes of the game, as Marian led 25-17 at halftime.
"It was a rivalry game and the kids were up for it, but for whatever reason, we just didn't execute and play smart in the first half tonight," stated Jim Thorpe head coach Brian Carroll. "With their injuries, Marian is a small team, and instead of attacking them tonight, we were settling for perimeter shots. We're not a good shooting team to begin with and Marian just sat in a zone and got us out of our game."
Jim Thorpe amped up the pressure in the final stanza and a 7-0 run midway through the fourth quarter tied the game up at 42-42.
The Olympians certainly had their fair share of opportunities to take the lead, but missed free throws, an offensive foul negating a made field goal and missed shots summed up the season for a team that has now dropped its 12th straight game after starting the year 5-2.
"It just seems contagious. Once one bad thing happens, it snowballs, and that's been the story of our season," added Carroll. "In my five years here, this team is one of the best defensive teams I've had, but also one of the worst as far as putting the ball in the basket. Give Marian credit, they played a zone and forced us to make shots."
With the game tied at 42 and momentum in Jim Thorpe's favor, Marian's Ryan Karnish came through when his team needed him most. Karnish's three-pointer from the right corner banked in with 59 seconds left for the final illusion of the night and a 46-42 victory.
"Ryan's got a shooter's mentality and we'll certainly take any shot he gets. When it left his hand, I actually thought it was going to hit the side of the backboard," added Patton. "It was just one of those things. It's the shot that beat us at Panther Valley, it's the shot that beat us at Nativity and it's the shot that sent us into the playoffs tonight."
Karnish scored a game-high 13 points to lead Marian (11-9), while Eric Swankoski added nine points and 12 rebounds.
For Jim Thorpe (5-14), Khaaliq Lynch netted 10 points.
Harleston 0-0-0-0, Moore 2-0-0-5, Lynch 4-0-2-10, Ciavarella 3-0-0-7, Baobolia 0-0-0-0, Brown 2-0-0-4, Clark 3-2-2-9, Johnson 2-0-4-4, Ennis 1-0-0-3. TOTALS: 17-2-6-42.
Kweder 3-0-0-8, Karnish 5-0-0-13, Pilla 3-0-0-8, Motil 2-3-4-7, Richards 0-1-5-1, Swankoski 4-1-2-9, Weber 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 17-5-11-46.
Jim Thorpe 10 7 15 10 - 42
Marian 18 7 12 9 - 46
Three-Pointers: JT - Lynch 2, Moore 1, Ciavarella 1, Clark 1, Ennis 1; M - Karnish 3, Kweder 2, Pilla 2.