GREENSBURG – When Marquel Matusic converted a three-point play with 5:55 left in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s WPIAL Class AA first-round game at Hempfield, the Washington High School boys basketball team had all the momentum.
Had a six point lead, too.
The WPIAL quarterfinals were within sight.
Then, well … a whole heap of trouble.
Wash High went quiet over the next four-and-a-half minutes, as Burrell put together an 18-0 run to hand the Prexies a 61-50 loss and crush any hopes this senior-dominated roster had of making a playoff run.
“Look up at the clock, we’re up six with 5:55 left,” Josh Wise said. “I look up again, and we’re down 12. In the blink of an eye, it was gone.”
Five different players scored during the stretch for No. 7 seed Burrell, which advanced to play Greensburg Central Catholic in the quarterfinals.
With starting point guard Darius Spinks “unavailable,” according to Prexies coach Mark Gaither, Wash High struggled to initiate its offense.
The Prexies committed five turnovers in the first three quarters, seven in the fourth.
“We didn’t run our offense,” Wise said. “We didn’t play as good of defense as we should have. We didn’t play with intensity.”
Pete Spagnolo had two steals during the run and five overall. More important, he finished with 18 points. Matt Hess contributed 15 points and six rebounds for Burrell (17-6), Cole Bush nine points and 11 rebounds.
Wise led Wash High (17-7) with 19 points, though eight of those came in the first quarter.
“He’s a heck of a ballplayer,” said Burrell coach Rob Niederberger. “We knew he was going to shoot the ball a lot. We knew he was going to make a lot. I told them (at halftime), ‘He could come out and be unconscious like he was in the first quarter.’ You just have to weather the storm. He’s not Michael Jordan. Eventually, he’s going to start missing some shots.”
Jordan Drew had a strong game inside, contributing 12 points and seven rebounds, and Jaylin Kelly added eight points.
Washington trailed, 40-36, with 1:49 to go in the third quarter after Jake Prefling drilled a three, but the Prexies responded with 6-0 run that stretched into the fourth, capped by a thunderous, two-handed dunk from Wise.
Drew scored on a floater and Matusic converted his three-point play before Burrell answered with the decisive run.
“We talked about rebounding the ball and attacking the hoop,” Prexies coach Mark Gaither said. “When we made the first run and came back and took that lead, we were limiting them to one shot, we were securing the rebound, and we were running, using our speed and getting to the hoop. Then we got a little stagnant, took some forced jumpers, some forced shots.”
Wise made a pair of pretty three-pointers early, as Wash High jumped out to an early 8-4 lead. The Prexies continued the strong start, getting eight points from Wise in the frame, and led 18-14 after one.
After Wise made a baseline jumper at 5:49 of the second quarter to put the Prexies ahead, 20-19, Burrell ripped off a 7-0 run, punctuated by a three-pointer from James Liput – which featured Liput winding an imaginary video camera as he jogged back on defense.
That 26-20 lead became 30-26 at halftime after Liput scored on a floater with 1:12 left in the quarter. And after a ho-hum third, things heated up considerably in the fourth.
Of course, as Wash High found out, they cooled rather quickly, too.
“We put ourselves in a position to win,” Gaither said. “Then we kind of self-destructed.”