CLARION, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Charlie Breindel made it a point to greet as many Elk County Catholic basketball fans as he could.
He bumped fists with them. He hugged them. All the while he shed some tears with them.
The senior guard on the Crusader basketball team even climbed into the stands at Tippin Gymnasium to show ECC followers how much their support meant to him and the team this season.
Meanwhile on the other side of the arena, there was a different mood. Bishop Canevin players celebrated with their fans and family, hoisting oversized Hershey bars to celebrate their 47-21 win over Elk County Catholic in the PIAA Class A semifinal Friday night and their impending trip to Hershey for the state title game next week.
“That team deserves everything,” Breindel said, acknowledging that Bishop Canevin, the No. 1-ranked team in the state in 1A, was as good as advertised. “They don’t back down and there’s not much more you can say.”
Breindel preferred to give shout outs to all who supported ECC this season.
“The student section came out to every game and supported us,” Breindel said. “It’s been a heck of a ride.
“I don’t think we would have come as far as we did without the students first, the coaches who have been with us all the way through and my parents for sure, and my older brother,” he added.
Elk County Catholic’s strategy against Bishop Canevin was clear.
Slow the game down.
ECC was able to do that up to a certain point in the first quarter. Bishop Canevin, which also carries the nickname Crusaders, was up just 8-5 midway through the first, but took a 12-5 lead heading into the second.
That lead swelled to 17-5 and Canevin entered the half with a 23-9 lead.
Bishop Canevin looked comfortable, even at the slower pace.
“We were talking amongst our staff that this might be the way the game goes,” said Bishop Canevin coach Gino Palmosina. “And, you know, we decided we’re OK with that.”
Bishop Canevin came in averaging 74 points per game. A lot of praise has been heaped the Crusaders’ offense, but it was their defense against ECC that really shined.
Elk County Catholic was still sitting on 13 points with three minutes remaining in the game.
“That’s what we do for the first hour of every practice for the last four months,” Palmosino said of working on defense. “Our length bothers some teams.”
It bothered ECC, which struggled to get the ball inside.
Breindel led Elk County with 13 points. He hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final two minutes.
Bishop Canevin’s scoring was balanced.
Jaden Gales, a 6-foot-6 forward, and Kevaughn Price each scored 10 and nine players scored at least two points for Canevin.
“It doesn’t matter who scores the ball for us,” Palmosina said. “We made a schedule against some 6A and 5A teams at the beginning of the season, and three months ago how (Elk County Catholic) played would have bothered us. But playing that schedule taught us a lot.”
Three of Canevin’s four losses this season came against 6A teams. Its other loss was to a 5A team.
Canevin (24-4) will play St. John Neumann (26-3), the District 4 champion, Thursday afternoon for the state title. The WPIAL champs beat three District 9 teams to reach the GIANT Center — Johnsonburg, DuBois Central Catholic and ECC.
Elk County Catholic (25-6) beat two WPIAL teams to reach the semifinals — Rochester and Union-New Castle — and also toppled District 10 champ Farrell.
“There’s not many teams that had as much heart as us,” Breindel said. “A lot of people doubted us, saying we don’t have the talent, the ability to get here. I think if you have heart, you have the ability to accomplish anything.”