Schenley wins on Higgins’ shot in OT
When Jack Higgins lost his shadow and found the ball in his hands with few seconds remaining, he rose for a picture-perfect jumper that would determine whether Schenley was going to win, or if the PIAA Class AAAA Western Regional final was headed for another overtime.
George Jr. Republic coach Bob McConnell knew better, and tapped his assistant on the shoulder to tell him the shot was going in. Schenley also knew it could count on Higgins, who had made a game-winning 3-pointer earlier this season. Not that the Spartans didn’t trust coach Fred Skrocki’s superstitions, but if they were going to make a trip to Hershey, it was going to be on Higgins’ 3-point shot and nothing else.
They have the chocolate kisses to prove it.
Higgins made the 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds left in overtime and Schenley added three free throws for an 83-77 victory over George Jr. Republic Wednesday night at Slippery Rock University to clinch its first return to the PIAA finals in 23 years.
‘If there’s anybody that can make that shot,’ Skrocki said, ‘it’s Jack Higgins.’
Schenley (29-2) will try to win its fifth state title when it plays Coatesville (30-1), an 80-65 winner over defending champion Chester, in the PIAA Class AAAA championship at 8 p.m. Saturday at Hersheypark Arena. Schenley won PIAA Class AAA crowns in 1966, ’71, ’75 and ’78.
Skrocki had worn the same attire, from his long-sleeved black T-shirt and blue swimming trunks under his jeans, during the PIAA playoffs. The Schenley coach had carried a card with the phrase, ‘Miracles Happen.’ This time, he held a mass card for his late father, whose he felt was watching over the Spartans.
Schenley needed a miracle and a spiritual presence after letting a 70-63 lead slip away in the final minute of the fourth quarter. Shawn Hawkins had scored 14 of his game- and career-high 31 points – reaching the 1,000-point mark for his career in the process – in the breakthrough third quarter. But George Jr. (25-4) knew that Schenley was vulnerable against full-court pressure after watching the Spartans lose in the past two City League championship games and nearly blow an 18-point lead against Central Catholic on Saturday in the PIAA quarterfinals.
‘We’ve watched Schenley play so many times that we felt they had a real difficult time holding onto a lead,’ George Jr. coach Bob McConnell said. ‘I said, ‘Seven points is nothing against these guys.’ ‘
The Spartans led, 66-60, when a melee broke out. Schenley’s Charles Jackson and George Jr.’s Bradley Warner tangled, and Roger Randolph shoved Schenley’s Nate Gerwig to the floor. Higgins retaliated by pushing Warner from behind. Jackson, Warner and Randolph were all assessed technical fouls and all three fouled out, but Higgins escaped without so much as a personal foul. While the Tigers lost two of their top players, Schenley had to finish without its best ballhandler in Jackson.
George Jr. rallied behind Cedric Horace and Tyrique Glasgow, who had five 3-pointers and finished with 22 points. Horace, a 6-foot-3 senior guard, scored six of his 22 points in the final minute of regulation, including a driving layup with 10 seconds left to tie the game at 70-70 and send it into overtime. Schenley got the ball past midcourt, but didn’t get a final shot off.
‘Horace sorta just took over the game from every aspect down the stretch,’ McConnell said.
The Tigers took a 74-72 lead on Horace’s 15-foot jumper with 2:48 left in overtime. Higgins, a 6-4 swingman who had 29 points, nailed a 3-pointer and Hawkins made a reverse layup to make it 77-74. Then Glasgow made a three from the right wing with 42.6 seconds remaining to tie the game at 77-77.
During a timeout, Skrocki looked at his team and shed his concerns.
‘I didn’t even worry,’ Skrocki said. ‘There’s something – maybe a magic – with this team. We’re due. When you look at eyes and see eyes staring back at you, you know you’ve got them.’
Added Higgins, ‘We saw it in the coaches’ eyes that they didn’t want it to end.’
Higgins eluded Matt Anderer, who had followed his across the court, but found himself trapped in the left corner and passed to Troy Mason on the baseline. Mason returned it to Higgins on the wing.
‘When he gave it back, I saw four seconds left,’ Higgins said. ‘We either were going to a second overtime or were going to win. I didn’t want to go another overtime.’
Higgins had made a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Kennedy Christian in the Blackhawk Christmas tournament final, so the Spartans knew that they had a chance with the ball in his hands.
‘He made it before,’ Hawkins said, ‘so everyone had faith in him.’
Cannon White’s inbounds pass sailed out of bounds, and the Tigers fouled Nate Watkins with 1.7 seconds left. McConnell was given a technical foul after arguing that Schenley’s Larry Bryant should have been given a technical after taunting George Jr. Instead, Bryant was told to take a seat on the bench. Watkins made one foul shot, and Hawkins sank two for the technical to send Schenley back to the PIAA finals.
‘It feels good, but we’re going there focused,’ Hawkins said. ‘We’re still a half-step away.’