WILKES-BARRE TWP. – The first shot didn’t fall. Nor the next. Nine in all missed their marks.
Scranton Prep, though, didn’t win 23 of its previous 25 games through panic. The Cavaliers won at times through resolve, and that’s what carried them to a second consecutive District 2 Class 3A boys basketball championship Friday night.
Prep followed the cold shooting by hitting eight of its next nine shots, taking control and eventually running away from Berwick for a 70-45 victory at Mohegan Sun Arena.
“It was a different setting. They were a little anxious and excited,” Prep coach Andrew Kettel said of the slow start. “But this was terrific what District 2 did (playing at the arena). It took us awhile to get into the groove of the game.”
Once Prep (24-2) did, it was on the way to a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Class 3A state rematch with District 4 runner-up Shamokin (25-2) on Friday, March 4. The teams played in the opening round of states last season, with Prep winning 88-58.
“We played them last year and it was a tough game,” Kettel said. “They’re well coached and have four guys back.”
Brett Para broke Prep’s drought by connecting on a short jumper at 6:02 of the first quarter. The basket gave the Cavaliers a 2-0 lead and they led the rest of the way.
“We were confident coming in,” Kettel said. “We felt we had some mismatches offensively we could take advantage of. And I think our guys did a good job of finding the people who had those mismatches.”
Legan Bailey topped those people. The junior guard’s 6-foot-3 size gave him a distinct size advantage over anyone Berwick could put in the backcourt except for Tyler Evans. Bailey jump-started a stagnant offense with seven of his game-high 17 points in the first quarter.
Prep’s depth then showed as Dan D’Arienzo came off the bench and scored two fastbreak layups, the second resulting in a three-point play and a 19-8 lead.
Berwick finished off the first with a basket by Damon Beckhorn and started the second with an inside bucket by Jude Goodard. Evans, who finished with a team-high 13 points, later added a 3-pointer to move the Dawgs within 21-15.
There, the rally attempt fizzled. Prep ripped off the next 15 points — the final two on a dunk by Bailey where he was called for a technical foul for hanging on the rim — to bust out to a 36-15 advantage.
Turnovers were a huge problem for Berwick in the first half. The Dawgs made 14, including eight in the second quarter. Rebounding was also lopsided. Prep grabbed 23 boards to Berwick’s 12 in the first half as the Dawgs had issues with Cavalier center Joe Rossi, a 6-6 senior who carried some bulk to him.
Berwick, which last won a district title in 1980 as a member of District 4, came into the game as a huge underdog. Prep had wiped out its three previous district opponents by an average of 47.6 points.
Berwick (16-10) will play in the 3A state tournament as well, opening with District 3 fourth seed Lampeter-Strasburg (23-4) on Friday, March 4.
“They’re upset right now,” Berwick coach Jason Kingery said. “People said, ‘Berwick’s just happy to be here.’ We came to win. We didn’t come here to show up and say, ‘Hey, we’re here.’”
Reach John Erzar at 570-991-6394 or on Twitter @TLJohnErzar.