POTTSVILLE – The PIAA state playoffs are games of "survival" and "advancement."
For Marian, last night was a game of "retribution."
In a rematch of last year's first round state playoff game (a 45-40 season-ending loss to Millville), the Colts redeemed themselves in a big way with a 59-44 victory over the Quakers (21-5). The win improves Marian to 23-5 (winners of 18 of its last 20 games) and sets up a second round showdown next Tuesday night with District 1 Champion Girard College (a 54-49 winner over Constitution) at a site and time to be determined.
The state playoff victory is the first for Marian head coach Mick Stefanek and marks the first time in eleven years that the Colts have made it out of the first round of the State Tournament (since a 53-43 first round victory over Mount Calvary in 1999).
"This is a great group of kids to be around and I'm so proud to be their coach," stated Stefanek. "These guys have established a mark for the program and for myself. They gave me my first District Championship and my first state playoff win. Hopefully, we have a few more 'firsts' left in us."
The Colts certainly had it in them in the first quarter and first half.
Cody Decker opened the game with back-to-back three-pointers in the first 50-seconds. Marian extended the lead to 15-5 on a Chris Barletta three-pointer at the 4:35 mark of the quarter. The trey proved significant because it was the first of three triples for the Marian point guard in the opening quarter, the last of which fell through the net as the horn sounded.
As time expired in the first quarter with Marian holding a 27-11 lead, time was quickly running out on the Quakers' season.
Barletta scored 11 of his game-high 15 points in the quarter, as the Colts converted 11 of their first 16 shots from the floor.
Marian's offensive explosion carried over into the second quarter with the Colts making three of their first four attempts and five of their last six shots to end the half. Ryan Gimbi chipped in with six points off the bench in a second quarter that Marian forced seven Millville turnovers. The Colts rolled into halftime with a 45-19 lead, while shooting an amazing 65-percent from the field (19-for-29).
"Nobody could have predicted the way we played in that first half," lauded Stefanek. "Without a doubt, that was our best first half of basketball in recent memory. This is a special group of kids that played a special half and got a special win."
"I think everyone in this locker room remembers what happened last year (against happened last year (against Millville) and that was a huge motivating factor for us coming into tonight's game," stated Barletta. "We're weren't going to let history repeat itself. We want to keep playing basketball and the only way to do that is to win."
Matt Yaich matched Barletta with 15 points, while Ryan Gimbi added 12 points to lead the Colts.
For Millville, Sam Plocinski's 13 points led the way, while Wes Lyons was held to just 11 points.
Lyons, the Quakers' leading scorer, came into the game averaging 20.0 points per game, but was completely shut down by Yaich and a suffocating Marian defense.
"We've been doing a pretty good job this season of taking the opponent's main gun away and trying to force someone else to beat us," said Stefanek. "We had a very good defensive game plan going in and the kids executed. Matt (Yaich) drew the assignment on Lyons and he did a good job of shutting him down."
Marian's lead swelled to 30 points (53-23) late in the third quarter, but Millville made the score respectable by shooting 8-for-10 from the floor in the final quarter.
The Colts shot 50-percent from the field in the game (26-for-52) and outrebounded the Quakers 29-24. Millville had 14 turnovers for the game, while Marian turned the ball over nine times.
"The kids came into this game hungry and for obvious reasons, looking back at what happened last year," concluded Stefanek. "How they felt was how they played. They came out with emotion and they came out with fire. They took it to them early and there was no getting back into the game for Millville."
Last night, Marian got its payback.
Tuesday night, they get the defending state champions.
Baabe 4-0-0-9, Peterman 0-0-0-0, Sinegra 0-0-0-0, Plocinski 5-0-0-13, S. Slusser 1-0-0-2, Watts 0-0-0-0, T. Slusser 0-0-0-0, Schaeffer 1-0-0-2, Zeisloft 1-0-0-2, Thomas 2-0-0-5, Lyons 5-0-0-11. TOTALS: 19-0-0-44.
Barletta 6-0-2-15, O'Donnell 0-0-0-0, Stawick 0-0-0-0, Decker 3-0-0-8, Gimbi 6-0-0-12, Gottstein 1-0-0-3, Yaich 7-1-1-15, Sherkness 3-0-2-6, Fital 0-0-0-0, Karnish 0-0-0-0, Pilla 0-0-0-0, Richards 0-0-0-0, Motil 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 26-1-5-59.
Millville 11 8 7 18 - 44
Marian 27 18 8 6 - 59
Three-Pointers: Millville - Plocinski 3, Lyons 2, Baabe 1; Marian - Barletta 3, Decker 2, Gottstein 1.