HERSHEY – A Giant Center court-side observer intoned the opinion Oscar Tshiebwe resembles Jamaican Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt – the tapered muscular build, the new ‘do, etc.
He certainly did resemble Bolt on the penultimate play of regulation during Saturday night’s PIAA Class 6A championship game.
Kennedy Catholic High senior Tshiebwe blocked a breakaway attempt by Pennridge’s John Dominic with five-tenths to play, coercing overtime. He later converted 3 of Kennedy Catholic High’s seven free-throw attempts in the second overtime, helping give the Golden Eagles a 64-62 win.
The McDonald’s All-American later blocked a potential game-tying shot in the second OT, teammate Maceo Austin rebounded and subsequently knocked down a free throw with eight-tenths of a second to secure the program’s fourthth consecutive PIAA championship – first in the 6A enrollment class.
“That end-of-regulation block may have been the best block of the year!” gushed Golden Eagles’ Head Coach Rick Mancino. “That’s why he’s a McDonald’s All-American, that’s why he’s leavin’ for Atlanta (this) morning. Don’t ask me why we were in that situation.
“But you know what? They didn’t quit. A lot of kids might’ve given up on that play, but Oscar is ... I think everybody knows that’s why he’s going to be playin’ basketball for a long time,” Mancino breathlessly added.
“He’s unreal. That’s why he’s a McDonald’s All-American,” praised Ike Herster, whose corner trey tied the tilt at 50 with 69 seconds remaining in regulation.
“This atmosphere was crazy! It was a real good game and they were a real good team. We just came and fought real hard,” Herster said, adding, “Coach Mancino told me, ‘Shooters shoot, you’ve gotta keep shootin’, and that’s what I did.”
Following Herster’s heroics the game was tied at 52 at regulation’s end and 57 after the first extra four-minute session.
The Golden Eagles did not garnered a field goal during the second overtime, but converted 7 of 13 free-throw attempts – not great, but just enough.
“You’ve gotta push. It’s not an easy game, playing the finals, but we’ve gotta play as a team. It’s not an easy game, but that’s why we ended up winning, ‘cause we played so hard,” summarized Tshiebwe, who posted a a stat line of 16 points, 21 rebounds, five steals, three blocks and two assists.
Austin, the reigning Class 1A player of the year and, like Tshiebwe, a returning first-team all-state selection, etched his name in PIAA annals, concluding his scholastic career as a four-time state champion who never lost a playoff game. He was flu-stricken and cramping at the conclusion of the first overtime, but still standing at the final buzzer.
“Coach told us not to think about (the emotions of trying to win a fourth state championship) like that, just think about it like it’s a regular game, and we’ll think about (a 4-peat) later,” Austin answered. “Of course, that’s always gonna be in the back of our heads.
“It stinks that it’s the last game (of his high school career), but I’m just happy goin’ out on a good not,” added Austin, who authored a 19-point, five-rebound, three-steal line.
Regarding Tshiebwe, Austin praised, “He saved us a few times with those blocks.”
The game included a half-dozen deadlocks and 15 lead changes.
Pesky Pennridge put on a passing clinic during the first half that included two ties and eight lead changes.The Rams recorded 10-for-20 shooting from the floor –– assisting on eight of those buckets –– and controlled the tempo en route to a 28-25 margin at intermission, also converting 6 of 7 freebies.
Conversely, Kennedy Catholic connected on only 11 of 29 first-half field-goal attempts against the Rams’ zone. And KC senior standout Mattia Acunzo accumulated his thrrd personal foul with approximately 54 ticks to play. He, too, was around to celebrate at the end.
Also keying Kennedy Catholic (27-3) were Acunzo (18 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists), Herster (10 points, 2 assists, 2 rebounds and a steal), and Manis “Bullet” Norman (5 assists).
“This one means somethin’ special to me because everybody was sayin’ that we couldn’t do it in 6A, that this is the ‘big boys’ league. Well, we did it, so that’s why it’s real important to me.”
Pacing Pennridge (26-5) –– the fourth-place finisher out of District 1 –– was Sean Yoder (18 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and a block), and Trent Fisher and Jon Post (12 points apiece). Post pulled down a team-high 9 rebounds, though the Rams were outrebounded, 41-34.
Kennedy Catholic connected on only 22 of 60 floor shots (36.7 percent) and converted 16 of 28 free throws (57.1), compared with respective totals of 21 of 50 (42 percent) and 14 of 17 (82.4) for Pennridge. However, the Golden Eagles coerced the Rams into 15 turnovers, eight by the otherwise superlative Sean Yoder.
Austin reflected, “It’s a dream come true. I was in my backyard when I was young, just dribblin’ around, thinkin’, dreamin’ of winnin’ four. To actually do it is just surreal.”
Mancino mused, “I’ll tell you, every state championship – I don’t undermine those (1A) championships, those are all great state championships, every state championship’s great. But I understand what people are sayin’ about 6A, and it was hard competition, very hard competition, great teams.
“But, you know what? It’s gonna say ‘state champs’ on the banner. Though I don’t want people to think I’m undermining those great teams that played in single-A. But it is nice. We played the final game (of the weekend), in double-overtime, against one of the best teams in the state ... and we’re proud!”
PIAA CLASS 6A CHAMPIONSHIP
KENNEDY 14 11 13 14 5 7 64
PENNRG. 16 12 12 12 5 5 62
KENNEDY CATHOLIC –– Austin 7-4-11-19, Acunzo 6-5-6-18, Tshiebwe 6-4-6-16, Herster 3-2-4-10, Norman 0-1-2-1, Amos 0-0-0-0, Moore 0-0-0-0, Thomas 0-0-0-0. 3-pt. goals: Herster 2, Acunzo 1, Austin 1 Totals: 22-16-28-64.
PENNRIDGE –– S.Yoder 5-7-9-18, Dominic 1-1-2-4, Post 6-0-0-12, Fisher 4-3-3-12, L.Yoder 2-2-3-6, J.Gillespie 2-0-0-6, Dunn 0-2-2-2, P.Gillespie 1-0-0-3. 3-pt. goals: J.Gillespie 2, S.Yoder 1, Dominic 1, Fisher 1, P.Gillespie 1. Totals: 21-14-17-62.