It’s deja vu all over again.
For a third time.
Abington Heights is into the PIAA Class 5A semifinals for the third consecutive season. The Comets have ruled District 2 and for the most part the eastern region of the state since the PIAA expanded from four to six classifications.
(Records since expanded to six classifications)
That amazing run of 78-9 has also helped push head coach Ken Bianchi’s career record. Trey Koehler made an interesting point after the Comets defeated Sun Valley. He was a freshman in the first game of the 2015-16 season when Bianchi reached the 700-win milestone.
In the PIAA Class 5A quarterfinal win over Sun Valley, Koehler, George Tinsley, Jack Nealon, Drew Nealon and Andrew Keris, the team’s seniors, have been a part of 99 more wins (one being a forfeit over Berks Catholic) and, as they celebrated another trip to the state semifinals, earned coach Bianchi his 800th career win.
However, as has always been the case, Bianchi had his mind on the task at hand. And that is a semifinal rematch against Archbishop Wood — two years in the making.
Abington Heights is 11-1 in the PIAA playoffs since the 2016-17 season. That one loss? Well, it came in the PIAA Class 5A semifinals on March 21, 2017 against Archbishop Wood, which went on to repeat as the PIAA champion, in a 68-57 battle where the Comets never recovered from a 10-point deficit after the first quarter.
BY JOBY FAWCETT
BETHLEHEM — The faint sound of clapping could be heard coming from behind the closed door of Abington Heights’ locker room.
Players and coaches gave themselves a round of applause for an all-out effort that fell just a bit short.
Still, they earned one final salute.
It would have taken another strong postseason performance for Abington Heights to knock off Archbishop Wood, the No. 1 Class 5A team in the state, in a semifinal showdown.
The Comets nearly delivered, but fell, 68-57, on Tuesday night at Freedom High School, ending their historic run through the PIAA boys basketball playoffs.
Archbishop Wood (27-3) advances to the final in its first state playoff appearance and will face Meadville on Friday night at 8 p.m. at the Giant Center in Hershey.
“We did really well, a lot better than a lot of people expected,” said Abington Heights 7-foot senior center Seth Maxwell, who scored a game-high 23 points and blocked two shots. “We played our game. We could have won this game and that is something I am really proud of.
“There was no quit in this team.”
Archbishop Wood had too much firepower and shot too well for the Comets (25-4) to come up with another victory in the program’s first trip to the state semifinals.
Despite having the clamps put on him for most of the first half, Collin Gillespie, the much-celebrated Villanova recruit, led the way with 18 points.
Andrew Funk came off the bench and hit for a season-high 17 points. He scored 11 in the first quarter, which featured three 3-pointers when Archbishop Wood built a 24-14 advantage.
Tyree Pickron, who is a 1,000-point career scorer, added 16 with 11 in the second half. He hit a 3-pointer (and followed with a layup as part of the decisive 13-2 run that started after Abington Heights closed to within 43-41 with 2:20 to play in the third quarter, and ended with a timeout at 5:30 in the fourth and down 56-43.
“That’s what makes them such a great team,” Abington Heights senior guard Tom Rothenberger said. “They have great shooters and a lot of guys who can score. Every time we got close they made some shots and put us back into a hole.”
12-1 Archbishop Wood (19-8)
2-1 Abington Heights (26-2)
■ When: Monday, 7:30 p.m., Bethlehem Freedom High School.
■ How they got here: Archbishop Wood defeated Holy Ghost Prep, 52-41; Beat Penncrest, 61-38; Beat Pottsville, 55-43. Abington Heights beat Pottsgrove, 72-48; Beat Mastery North, 54-52; Beat Sun Valley, 61-46.
■ Players to watch:
Archbishop Wood — Rashool Diggins (6-0, So., G, 17.6 ppg.); Daeshon Shepherd (6-5, So., F, 14.5 ppg.); Justin Phillips, 6-6, Sr., G, 13.5 ppg.); Jaylen Stinson (5-11, So. G, 13.5 ppg.); Muneer Newton (6-4, So., G, 2.8 ppg.).
Abington Heights — George Tinsley (6-5, Sr., F, 19.2 ppg.); Trey Koehler (6-2, Sr., F, 14.1 ppg.); Corey Perkins (6-0, Jr., G, 8.1 ppg.); Jack Nealon (5-11, Sr., G, 7.9 ppg.); Mike Malone (6-4, Jr., C, 3.4 ppg.).
■ What’s next: Winner advances to Friday’s championship game to play the winner of the Moon vs. Mars game.
■ The buzz: Abington Heights is the defending PIAA Class 5A champion. … The Comets won 11 of their last 12 state playoff games with the lone loss being to Archbishop Wood. … Coach Ken Bianchi has 800 career wins. … Tinsley, who is going to Binghamton University, has 1,539 points in his career and ranks No. 3 all-time in program history. … The teams have won the last two state Class 5A championships. … Archbishop Wood is 8-0 in PIAA playoff games in its history and defeated Pottsville, which handed Abington Heights one of its two losses. … The teams both defeated Mastery North this season.
Joby Fawcett has covered high school sports — including football, girls and boys volleyball, girls and boys tennis, girls and boys swimming, boys basketball, girls and boys track and field, and girls and boys lacrosse — for 22 years. The High School Sports Blog offers deeper insights plus statistical and historical information for fans and features photos, videos and graphics along with Top 5 polls for tennis and volleyball. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5367; @sportsTT