LEBANON – There was a time when Scott Clentimack wasn’t quite sure what his Lebanon Catholic boys’ basketball team was up against. When it became apparent, it was a shock – or more accurately a culture shock.
On Friday night at Lebanon High School, Clentimack’s Beavers were afforded a glimpse into the world of the Philadelphia Public League, in an opening-round game of the PIAA Class A playoffs. What Lebanon Catholic saw was an athletic, physical and disciplined outfit staring back at it.
Playing just blocks from its home on Assumption Hill, the District Three champion Beavers were at times over matched and overwhelmed by Sankofa Freedom, during a 54-41 season-ending setback. After leading 10-2 early, Lebanon Catholic was outscored 52-31 over the last 28 minutes of play.
Lebanon Catholic, which had claimed its fourth District Three Class A title in program history eight days prior, concluded its year 13-8. District 12 third-place finisher Sankofa Freedom Academy Charter School, which is located in northeast Philadelphia and came in third in the fabled Philly Public League, improved to 15-12 on the season.
It may have been that the Beavers deserved a different fate.
“I tried, but we didn’t know a lot about them,” said Clentimack of the Warriors. “I don’t think they do a whole lot of scouting down there (in Philly). I don’t know if I needed to. I don’t know if it would’ve been any different. I wasn’t going to be able to guard a 6-9 guy. And I don’t think it changed anything.
“I knew coming in they were going to be pretty good,” continued Clentimack. “I didn’t say we couldn’t beat them. We’re pretty good. They (the Warriors) had to do everything to get out of here with a win. I think they knew they were in a battle.”
“We didn’t know much about them at all,” said Lebanon Catholic senior captain Timmy Orr of the Warriors. “We only learned their starting lineup today. But we saw their heights and we knew they were from the Philly Public League, so we knew they were going to be pretty good.
“They’re a good team,” Orr added. “They’re athletic and fast. But I don’t feel like we played the best we could’ve. Our shots didn’t fall, especially mine. But we fought hard.”
The flow of the game turned for good in the middle of the first quarter, when Sankofa Freedom responded to Catholic’s early burst with 15 unanswered points. That gave the Warriors a 17-10 lead, and although they weathered a number of Catholic storms, they would never trail again.
“We needed to shoot the ball better,” said Clentimack. “I thought I could see us having one of those nights where we shot nine-for-12 on three-pointers and they weren’t going to be ready. But it didn’t happen. With their size and athleticism, I thought we were going to have trouble getting to the rim.
“I thought if we could get our shots to fall, it might be a different game,” Clentimack added. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to. We had some opportunities. But do you know what I told my kids? I don’t have a problem with it. They’re better than us. It’s not like we laid an egg. I thought we played well. I thought we played hard.”
“Maybe their zone rushed us a little,” said Orr. “Other than (Anthony) Pletz, I don’t know if anyone hit a jump shot.
“Obviously I thought we needed to hit more shots,” added Orr. “And we needed to rebound. They killed us on the boards.”
In the opening minutes, everything that could go right for the Beavers did, and they opened a 10-2 lead.
“At that point I’m thinking ‘if we’re going to shoot the ball like that, they’re (the Warriors) going to be all over us,'” said Clentimack. “Perhaps they took us a little lightly. Then they began to kick it in. It seemed like they took it up a notch. You could see it in their faces.”
“I think they overlooked us,” said Orr. “That wasn’t them in the first four minutes.”
Only three Beavers found their way into the score book – Pletz, who canned four threes and compiled 18 points, Orr, who notched a dozen, and Alex Frattaroli, who recorded 11. Lebanon Catholic lost junior guard Anthony Thomas to a leg injury in the first half, and he did not return.
Sankofa Freedom Academy Charter School made good on just six of its 15 foul shots.
“He’s been a great leader, a great player,” said Clentimack of Orr. “There’s nothing more I could’ve asked of him. It’s (leading) not really in his personality, but he knew that’s what he needed to do to bring this team together. This team’s chemistry, I can’t describe. It’s better than any team I’ve ever coached.
“It was a great year,” Clentimack continued. “This was a work in progress. These kids had their lunch handed to them for three years. It’s tough to keep your focus when it’s two years down the road. It’s easy to quit. I give this team a lot of credit for hanging in there.”
“It was a good season,” said Orr. “Our goal from Day One was to win a district championship. When we got what we wanted, then we set new goals. We wanted to win a state championship.
“Just the fact that we struggled the last two years made this year better,” Orr added. “To me, winning a district championship after going 5-17 was pretty good.”
After Sankofa Freedom enjoyed a 26-22 margin at the break, Orr pulled Catholic to within 35-33 with 2:43 of the third period remaining. But the Warriors netted the next nine points to open a 44-33 bulge.
Eight straight Beaver points – five from Peltz, an Orr reverse lay-in and a Frattaroli charity toss – got them back to 44-41. But Sankofa Freedom held Catholic without a point for the final 2:57 to win going away.
“I’d say probably in the middle of the fourth quarter, I looked up at the scoreboard and we were down ten,” said Orr. “I kept shooting, but they just weren’t falling tonight.”
“There’s nothing we can do,” said Clentimack of Catholic’s draw. “It’s predetermined. It’s a one-seed (first-place finisher) playing a three-seed (third-place finisher). At this point, every team is good. Even if they (the Warriors) don’t have a good record, they’re playing good.
“It (Philadelphia teams coming into the PIAA) has changed it significantly,” continued Clentimack. “At the lower levels more than the upper levels. We’re a good single A team. But that wasn’t a single A team. But that’s how it is. The PIAA left them (Philly schools) in.”