Knights repeat their District 4 Class A championship
As the final second ticked away, St. John Neumann fans rose, applauded and savored the moment.
The Neumann players simply smiled, exchanged handshakes and walked toward midcourt. There was no jumping, no dog piles, no delirious celebration.
These players are growing quite accustomed to this championship thing.
Richard Allen scored 20 points, Alize Johnson nearly recorded a second straight triple-double and freshman Kevin Anderson shined as Neumann defeated Sullivan County, 61-48 and captured its second straight District 4 Class A championship Friday at nearly sold-out Montoursville. The Knights won their third championship this season and fifth in the last two years while improving to 27-0. Earlier in the night, the Neumann girls made history and the boys matched it by becoming the program’s first-ever back-to-back champion.
“We kind of want to make this a tradition. We don’t want our fans to not get used to this,” Allen said after excelling in another big game. “There have been some times we’ve been fighting for two wins in a season and now this is something for everybody to get used to. We started slowly this year, but we got better and we showed why we’re the best.”
Neumann is District 4’s first team to capture districts with an undefeated record since Elkland in 2002. The Knights start their quest for a state championship next Friday when they play District 3 fourth-place finisher Greenwood at a District 4 site. Sullivan County (19-6) will play District 3 runner-up Mount Calvary the same night at a District 3 site.
This was the third straight season Neumann and Sullivan met in the championship and both passionate fan bases filled the gym well before tip-off, eager to witness the rubber match. The Griffins played a strong game, trailing by just one early in the second quarter but Neumann showed how well-rounded it has become with five different players scoring at least nine points. Neumann took a double-digit lead early in the third quarter and never lost it again.
Jordan Beinlich played outstanding defense on all-state candidate Alize Johnson, holding him to 10 points, but the senior center hurt Sullivan with his passing, dealing eight assists while grabbing 12 rebounds. Johnson had five second-half assists and Allen, Anderson (11 points) and Njoku-Ibe Amanze (11 points, 7 rebounds) all scored in double figures. Nasza Short scored seven of his nine points in the third quarter when Neumann started breaking things open after taking a 32-24 halftime lead.
“Alize’s done a tremendous job of finding people. All year long we have been saying if you move he will find you. It took us a while to get to the point where our guys would move but he will find you when they double him up,” Neumann coach Paul Petcavage said. “He played a great all-around game and so did all the guys out there.”
Allen and Anderson sparked Neumann early, scoring 13 first-quarter points as the Knights took a 16-7 lead. Sullivan pulled within 19-18 in the second quarter but an Allen steal and three-point play sparked a 7-0 that pushed the lead back to eight. That was how things often went the rest of the way as Sullivan kept fighting back only to watch the Knights respond.
Anderson hit his first three shots and scored eight of his points in the first half. Allen hit five of his first seven shots and the Knights became extremely tough to defend with Johnson and the 6-foot-8 Imanze working inside.
“It was pretty intense,” Anderson said. “Alize and Nasza and Tre (Allen) had my back and helped me get better and make progress and it paid off.”
Johnson dealt three straight assists in the third quarter, then made a steal at midcourt before going in for a one-hand dunk that gave Neumann a 46-30 advantage. Sullivan pulled no closer than 13 again. An Adam Szklanka to Conner Wylie dish made it 55-42 midway through the fourth quarter, but Johnson answered with a steal and Neumann started putting the game away.
Wylie played an outstanding game in defeat, scoring 19 points and grabbing seven rebounds. Szklanka hit his first four 3-point attempts, including a first-quarter buzzer-beater, finished with 14 points and dealt three assists.
“Conner had a rough game last year in this setting and this year he responded well to the night, to the opportunity to everything that goes on in the district final,” Sullivan coach Glenn Vaughan said. “Conner was real powerful for us.”
Amanze was intrumental to Sullivan not taking a second-quarter lead. The sophomore who played sparingly in Nigeria before coming to America last year, scoring six points, grabbed three rebounds and blocked a shot in the second quarter. He also grabbed a big offensive rebound in the half’s final minutes leading to two free throws which stopped a Sullivan spurt and gave Neumann an eight-point halftime lead.
“It’s very exciting for me. I’m so happy to be a part of it,” Amanze said. “They have pushed me and because of them we’re here. Every day we work hard and I thank God for the opportunity.”
Last night’s championship was a lot different the previous two Neumann-Sullivan encounters that featured 34-30 and 37-32 final scores. The rivals nearly matched those scores in the first half as Sullivan showed dramatic improvement after losing to Neumann by 30 a few weeks ago. The Griffins are state tournament bound now for a fourth straight season despite having four new starters this season.
Neumann brought back more experience and played all season with a target on its back after capturing last year’s championship. They have answered all challenges, defeated all 27 opponents. They have embraced the role.
And while the players might not show it, they are excited.
“Last year I was watching these guys from the stands,” Anderson said. “Now it’s a dream. And we’re living it.”
Conner Wylie 9 1-3 19, Adam Szklanka 5 0-0 14, Sean Flannery 2 1-3 6, Bob Polcrack 1 0-0 3, Jordan Beinlich 2 0-1 4, Bobby Frank 1 0-0 2. Totals 19 2-7 48.
Alize Johnson 3 3-6 10, Richard Allen 8 4-5 20, Njoku-Ibe Amanze 4 3-4 11, Nasza Short 4 1-1 9, Kamaal Burkholder 0 0-0 0, Noah Beiter 0 0-0 0, Ryan Reid 0 0-0 0, Kevin Anderson 4 0-0 11. Totals 23 11-16 61.
Sullivan10 14 13 11-48
Neumann 16 16 18 11-61
3-pointers: Sullivan 6 (Szklanka 4, Flannery, Polcrack); Neumann 4 (Anderson 3, Johnson).
Records: Neumann 27-0. Sullivan 19-6.