When he played in the background or at the playground, Noah Beiter never envisioned himself as the defensive stopper. Like most youngsters, Beiter imagined himself hitting the big shots and exciting a huge crowd.
Saturday night at the loud and packed Catholic Community Center, Beiter lived the dream.
Beiter scored a career-high nine points, dealt three assists, hit an array of shots and sparked a game-changing second-quarter run while helping St. John Neumann defeat defending District 4 Class A champion Sullivan County, 50-41. The junior forward, usually known for his defense, scored five straight points after leading scorer Alize Johnson picked up his second foul and went to the bench, keying a 13-0 run that gave Neumann a 15-point lead.
Beiter's offense was crucial as Neumann (18-0, 11-0) stayed undefeated and took a huge step toward winning the HAC-III title against a fellow state-ranked team.
"We dream about the games and the packed stands. It's something special and you can't take it for granted," Beiter said. "They were kind of cheating off me because they know that I really don't shoot that much and I just really took advantage of the opportunities and have to thank my teammates and give them so much credit."
Neumann completed a season sweep of Sullivan (17-2, 9-2), which beat it in last year's district final. The Knights are the only team that has beaten Sullivan and led from start to finish, although it looked like that might change when Johnson picked up his second foul with six minutes remaining in the half.
Instead Beiter heated up, scoring on a reverse layup, hitting a free throw and draining a long-range jumper. He added an assist during the run and finished with three as Neumann built a 32-17 halftime lead.
"Noah played an amazing game all-around, offensively and defensively," Neumann coach Paul Petcavage said. "He's been working hard and it was obvious they were going to cheat off him so he had to step up. He's been working on his shot and it showed and he made some nice moves to the basket, plus he played amazing defense."
Beiter had plenty of help. Jordan Cole scored 10 of his 12 points in the first quarter, setting the early tone. Tyree Vidal finished a point shy of a double-double, Richard Allen ran the court well, played strong defense and had four assists while Ryan Reid shined off the bench.
Johnson scored six points and grabbed eight rebounds but fouled out with 6:18 remaining when Sullivan defensive ace Lucas Hatton drew a charge. Again, just when it seemed Sullivan was going to take charge, Neumann responded with gusto and never let the Griffins pull any closer. Vidal (9 points, 10 rebounds) skied high for two straight putbacks and then made a nice no-look pass to Reid that put Neumann up eight with a minute remaining.
"With Alize out we knew we had to pick it up. We couldn't give up and we just rebuilt that lead," Beiter said. "We showed tonight if we pull together we have enough heart to win a game like this."
"They all had to step up and they all did," Petcavage said. "They all did their thing tonight. It was a good win. Sullivan is a very tough opponent and it's fun the rivalry that we have with them."
Sullivan rallied from an early nine-point deficit and pulled within 19-17 when Kelby Mullen (5 assists) hit two free throws. Just when the Griffins seemed on the verge of a breakthrough, they stumbled. Sullivan had more turnovers (6) than shots (5) in the second quarter.
The Griffins scored only two second-quarter points and turned the ball over six times while Neumann pounced and sent fans who filled the gym before the JV game started into delirium.
"Instead of getting back in the game like common sense would tell us we were going to we let them outscore us 13-0 the rest of the quarter and all the sudden it's a 15-point game and you have to work your tail off every possession," Sullivan coach Glenn Vaughan said. "I was really happy with our character in the second half."
Conner Wylie 4 2-5 10, Derek Wilkins 3 2-4 9, Kelby Mullen 2 4-4 8, Zach Meyer 2 0-0 5, Lucas Hatton 0 0-0 0, Sean Flannery 3 0-0 9, Adam Szklanka 0 0-0 0, Bob Polcrack 0 0-0 0, Jordan Beinlich 0 0-0 0. Totals 14 8-13 41.
Alize Johnson 3 0-0 6, Jordan Cole 3 4-4 12, Tyree Vidal 4 1-2 9, Richard Allen 3 1-1 7, Noah Beiter 4 1-3 9, Ryan Reid 2 3-5 7. Totals 19 10-15 50.
Sullivan15 2 9 15-41
Neumann19 13 4 14-50
3-pointers: Sullivan 5 (Flannery 3, Wilkins, Meyer); Neumann 2 (Cole 2).
Records: Neumann 18-0, 11-0 HAC-III. Sullivan 17-2, 9-2.
JV Score: Sullivan 47-26.