H.S. Boys Basketball: Hazleton Area falters in second half in District 2 Class 6A title game

Mar. 1—WILKES-BARRE TWP. — Four minutes of ugliness followed by 12 minutes of beauty.

That summed up Hazleton Area's first half Thursday night in the District 2 Class 6A boys basketball championship game.

Then the ugliness reared its head in the second half again.

The Cougars were in a nine-point hole early and then took a nine-point lead only for Scranton to dominate the second half for a 68-58 victory at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Both teams move to the PIAA Class 6A playoffs on Saturday, March 9. Scranton (20-4) will play the District 1 ninth seed, either Plymouth-Whitemarsh (16-9) or Spring-Ford (19-6). Hazleton Area (16-9) will face the District 1 third seed, either Chester (20-4) or West Chester Henderson (21-4).

Scranton exploited Hazleton Area inside for a quick 11-2 lead. A Hazleton Area timeout curbed the Knights' momentum.

"They called a timeout," Scranton coach Tony Battaglia said, "and, honest to God, over the years timeouts have really stopped our momentum. I think the energy we had in the first few minutes and the little celebration we had when we felt we could play with them and the game would go a little easier, it seems over the year (timeouts) suck the energy out of us."

The Cougars then got going offensively, with Nikoli Santiago going on a personal 9-0 run to tie the score 11-11.

Freshman Dylan Stish carried the Hazleton Area to start the second quarter with seven consecutive points to give the Cougars a 17-15. Luis Guzman finished off the second with an inside cut for a 32-23 lead at halftime.

Scranton missed several inside shots in the second quarter, but started hitting them in the third quarter. Big man Pedro Lugo had just one basket in the first half, but had three in the third quarter. His rebound dunk was followed by a 3-pointer by guard Tony Battaglia as the Knights moved within 39-37 at 2:54.

"That's something we do as a team," Lugo said. "They drive to the basket and hit me and I dunk it."

Lugo had three dunks as part of his 12-point, 13-rebound night.

Scranton caught Hazleton Area at 41-41 on a power move by Oliver Almonte and then passed the Cougars 43-42 to end the third.

"We had some bad possessions, took some bad shots," Hazleton Area Pat Brogan said. "They started getting more loose balls in the second half. They outrebounded us in the second half. We were helping up instead of helping back with their big guy and they got too many easy layups."

Santiago hit a 3-pointer to start the fourth, giving Hazleton Area a 45-43 lead. The Cougars never led again. An 11-0 run by Scranton, with Almonte and Lugo working inside and Battaglia drilling his fifth trey, gave the Knights a 58-47 lead with just over four minutes remaining.

A 3-pointer by Guzman moved Hazleton Area within 62-55 with 1:12 to play, but a steal and layup by Scranton's Chris Chandler pretty much ended the comeback attempt.

"We'll take a day off or two, but we'll come back," Brogan said. "We're in the states. We're in the state tournament with 32 teams and it will be a great experience to play a tough opponent from District 1."

District 2 Class 6A championship

Scranton 68, Hazleton Area 58

HAZLETON AREA (58) — Gennaro 1 1-2 3, Santiago 9 0-0 20, Stish 3 5-5 12, S.Guzman 0 1-2 1, Marshall 5 1-2 12, Saladin 0 0-0 0, Diaz 0 0-0 0, L.Guzman 4 1-2 10, Reimold 0 0-0 0. Totals 22 9-13 58.

SCRANTON (68) — Battaglia 4 4-6 16, Barrett 1 0-0 3, Chandler 4 0-0 8, Almonte 5 6-8 16, Lugo 6 0-2 12, Roberts 2 2-3 6, Murphy 2 0-0 5, Burrell 1 0-0 2. Totals 25 12-19 68.

Hazleton Area'11'21'10'16 — 58

Scranton'15'8'20'25 — 68

Three-point goals — HAZ 5 (Santiago 2, Stish, Marshall, L.Guzman); SCR 6 (Battaglia 4, Barrett, Murphy)