A few years ago Richard Allen sat in the bleachers watching big playoffs games and dreaming. Saturday at Montoursville, Allen sprinted toward midcourt as time expired, St. John Neumann teammates engulfing him.
He is older now, but the kid in Allen had come out again. He walked out of a dream and helped make it a reality. A year-long ghost had been exorcized. A celebration 13 years in the making broke out. Now it was Allen and his teammates being adored from above.
The quest is finally complete. St. John Neumann is the District 4 Class A champion.
St. John Neumann’s Alize Johnson, center, looks for a shooting lane over Sullivan County’s Lucas Hatton on Saturday during the District 4 Class A championship game at Montoursville.
Jordan Cole played a brilliant second half and every player coach Paul Petcavage used made a big impact Saturday as St. John Neumann rallied from a 10-point third-quarter deficit and edged Sullivan County, 37-32 in a thrilling district final. The Knights (23-2) captured the program's third district crown and first since 2000 while dethroning the team that edged it in last year's dramatic final.
"The fan section started climbing down and the little kids are coming up to us...It's amazing," Allen said. "I used to be one of them and now I'm holding this (gold medal). It's awesome."
Neumann plays Friday in the state tournament against Harrisburg Christian at a District 4 site. Sullivan (22-3) plays Greenwood at a District 3 site.
How much this meant to Neumann and its enthusiastic fan base which helped pack Montoursville and roared throughout the second half was obvious afterward. The players were treated like celebrities and everyone wanted pictures of players who have produced one of the best seasons in school history. Neumann is one of the state's smallest schools but is tight knit. What the team did Saturday will never be forgotten by those who made it happen and those who watched it unfold.
"It's just amazing. That's all I can say," said Ryan Reid, who scored eight big points off the bench. "We knew we could do it."
"I told them after practice the other day you don't get two opportunities like this very often in your life, to play the same team in the same district final," Petcavage said. "That's incredible so we have to take care of business and they did."
Sullivan looked like it was headed for a repeat early, though, dominating the first half, holding Neumann to 10 points and still leading by 10 midway through the third quarter. The Griffins captured last year's title by winning a low-scoring game and making a furious fourth-quarter rally. Nearly a year to the date, Neumann turned the tables and found a way to win, revealing as much about its character as its talent.
Cole scored 15 of his game-high 17 points in the second half and his two third-quarter 3-pointers started changing the game's complexion. Neumann pulled within four by the end of the third and went ahead for the first time when Reid banked in a runner with 4:14 remaining. Cole then made a difficult spin move, splitting two defenders and converting a 3-point play that put Neumann ahead 34-29 with 2:28 left.
A Zach Meyer 3-pointer made it 34-32 and Sullivan nearly took a lead, but Sean Flannery's go-ahead 3-point attempt just missed at the 30-second mark. Cole hit a free throw and then grabbed a defensive rebound off another missed 3-pointer. He then stepped to the line again, encountering a 1-and-1 situation with three seconds remaining.
Cole was one of several Knights who experienced heartache last year when Sullivan won in the final minute. A shot at redemption and the elusive championship at hand, Cole dribbled a few times, released and produced one of the great moments in Neumann history. Cole drained the first shot, received a huge hug from Noah Beiter before swishing the next shot. Seconds later, all the Neumann teammates embraced at midcourt. All the hard work had paid off and a determined, outstanding opponent had finally been vanquished.
"It might have been the best moment of my life," Cole said. "Last year we had to watch them cut down the net and we have been playing with a chip on our shoulder ever since. I just wanted to make that shot and it feels amazing. I'm just so proud of the team. They all played great."
Sullivan has lost only to Neumann and nearly delivered the upset. The Griffins played outstanding defense in the first half, forcing Neumann into a 4 for 27 performance while methodically working their offense.
Derek Wilkins outscored Neumann by himself in the first half, scoring all 11 of his points. He finished a rebound shy of a double-double while Conner Wylie grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds. Four-year starter Kelby Mullen also played a terrific first half. His steal and coast-to-coast layup put Sullivan up 23-13 early in the third quarter. From that point on, though, Neumann allowed only three more field goals.
The Griffins are state tournament bound for a third straight year and have had the best three-year run in school history. The result was what Sullivan wanted, but the Griffins have done some big things and have a chance to do more in states.
"Considering the situation, the guys kept fighting and battling and trying to make the right play," Sullivan coach Glenn Vaughan said. "The locker room after the game was one of the most difficult things I've ever done. It feels like the end of the world but it certainly is not. When you make your goals at the beginning of the season we always say as a team we want to make a run at states and see what happens and we have that chance."
Neumann was at its best when the pressure was highest. It was not easy, but the Knights would not let history repeat itself. Every player did his part as Alize Johnson grabbed nine rebounds, Allen dealt three fourth-quarter assists, Tyree Vidal made several hustle plays, Noah Beiter kept Neumann within striking distance and Reid excelled off the bench.
Together they worked for a moment like Saturday to arrive and then owned it.
"I'm so happy and so blessed to be a part of this," Cole said. "I'll remember this forever. This game was amazing."
Conner Wylie 1 1-2 3, Derek Wilkins 5 0-0 11, Kelby Mullen 3 3-4 9, Zach Meyer 2 0-0 5, Lucas Hatton 0 1-2 1, Sean Flannery 1 0-0 3, Adam Szklanka 0 0-0 0. Totals 12 5-8 32.
Alize Johnson 1 4-7 6, Jordan Cole 5 4-7 17, Richard Allen 2 0-0 4, Tyree Vidal 1 0-0 2, Noah Beiter 0 0-0 0, Ryan Reid 4 0-0 8. Totals 13 8-14 37.
Sullivan13 7 6 6-32
Neumann6 4 12 15-37
3-pointers: Sullivan 3 (Wilkins, Meyer, Flannery); Neumann 3 (Cole 3).
Records: Neumann 23-2. Sullivan 22-3.