CANONSBURG – Among the Trinity boys basketball team’s concerns on the final play of yesterday’s EQT Energy Classic opener against Pikeville were two players: guard Ethan Rowe and center Ray Kasongo, who had combined for 45 of the Panthers’ first 60 points.
Nowhere close to that group was Blaine May, a freshman guard who had just five points.
Nevertheless, it was May who tipped in a rebound after two Rowe misses as time expired to help the team from Kentucky down the Hillers, 62-60, in a heartbreaker to kick off the tournament and the season at Canon-McMillan.
Not only did the basket come from an unlikely source, but May also had to reach back with his right arm to redirect the ball into the basket – about as unlikely a winning shot as possible.
“We know you have to guard everyone, but I think if there’s someone we want taking the last shot, it would probably be someone other than those two,” Trinity senior Corey Hunsberger said of Kasongo and Rowe. “I give (May) a lot of credit for making a tough shot as the buzzer went off, but we definitely weren’t game-planning for that in the huddle. You can’t expect that to happen.”
The same could be said for what led to the final play.
Trinity was ahead, 51-40, with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter before Pikeville went on a 14-2 run to grab a 56-53 lead after a layup from May at 3:01.
The Hillers tied the score at 58 on a short jumper from Jared Deep and again at 60 after two Hunsberger free throws, but that final play, as unexpected as it turned out to be, dealt Trinity a tough loss.
“We were focusing on (Rowe and Kasongo),” first-year coach Stan Noszka said. “We thought they were going to run a screen and roll with (Kasongo); we thought we were set for it. As it turned out, I think we were. They got one or two rebounds, then the kid got a tip out of nowhere.
“It’s a disappointing loss, but it’s the first game of many. I’m sure we’ll bounce back.”
The bounce-back will begin today at 2 p.m. when Trinity takes on Saltsburg, which lost to Wash High in the third of four boys games yesterday. Because of the tournament’s structure, the Hillers can no longer win the title and will instead have to play for fifth place.
The 6-8 Kasongo finished with 17 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks, and Rowe scored a game-high 28 points. Berton Miller led Trinity with 14 points. Hunsberger had 12, and Deep added 11.
Trinity forced a 32-all tie early in the third quarter on a rebound and putback from Avery King. After a Rowe layup, the Hillers took a 42-36 lead using a 10-2 run that featured a pair of 3-pointers from Miller.
“We were running our offense real well,” Noszka said of the third quarter spurt, where Trinity outscored Pikeville, 23-9. “I think after that we got a little too one-on-one, kids trying to make something happen instead of letting the game come to them.”
Pikeville had a 12-10 lead after the first quarter. After Steve Vorum pushed Trinity ahead, 13-12, at 7:48 of the second quarter with a 3-pointer, Rowe responded for Pikeville by scoring 10 of the next 12 points to give the Panthers a 22-15 lead with a 3-pointer at 5:12.
Trinity clawed back and made it a one-possession game at 22-20 when Kasongo was called for goaltending on a Miller layup. But Pikeville closed the half by scoring nine of the final 13 points – including seven more from Rowe, who finished with 18 in the quarter – to take a 31-24 lead at the break.
Trinity lost in the championship game of the EQT Energy Classic last year – in overtime, on a last-second free throw, no less. The Hillers bounced back from that to go 14-11 and reach the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals, and Deep thinks this year should be no different.
“We’re a pretty ‘together’ team,” Deep said. “Off that [loss last year], we just came back and had a great season. We just have to off this, finish out the tournament undefeated, go down to Florida for the KSA Classic and start section play with one loss.”