Marrisa Pazzaglia drives in for a lay-up during a recent practice with the Lady Invaders.Jason Riedmiller photo / For Go lackawanna
The end of the season will determine which teams are champions.
It’s no coincidence, however, that on an annual basis the high school basketball teams that end up being champions seem to keep finding each other at the start of the season.
Soon enough, the top teams will be fighting for division titles and playoff seeding, then eventually district championships and state tournament berths.
First, however, they have to get through the openers.
Part of what has made the non-league portion of the schedule so interesting in recent years is that the best teams have been so willing to jump right into strong competition.
It certainly helps that, unlike in football, losses in early non-league games do absolutely no damage to playoff hopes. Non-league games count in the overall record, but are referred to as “exhibitions” by many.
The only impact these games have on the big picture is in providing an early indication of which teams are the strongest at the start of the season and giving the other potential contenders a lesson in what they need to improve on to be a factor.
On the first night that Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association teams are allowed to play games in the winter sports season, two games will match the top boys’ basketball teams from different divisions against each other.
District 2’s defending champions in the top two classifications will meet when Class AAAA champion Scranton hosts Class AAA champion Holy Redeemer Friday night. Both also won regular-season titles, the Knights in Division 1 of the Lackawanna League and the Royals in Division 2 of the Wyoming Valley Conference.
Two division leaders meet at Riverside. The Division 2 champion Vikings, who also won a District 2 Class AA championship, host Montrose, which had the best record in Division 3 but came up short of a title through playoffs in the league’s half-season system.
All three Lackawanna League powers have key players returning.
Terry Turner, Malik Draper and Karlon Quiller lead a loaded Scranton lineup that has the potential to become one of the strongest teams the league has ever produced.
Scoring leader Jerry Kincel returns at Riverside, which was eliminated with a one-point loss to powerful Communications Tech in the second round of the state tournament.
Colby Major is back at Montrose.
The games at Scranton and Riverside are not the only interesting openers.
On the same night, Holy Cross is at Abington Heights in an opener that annually matches two of the Lackawanna League’s top teams. The Crusaders won the first-half title in Division 2 last season when Abington Heights tied for second place in the second half in Division 1.
Scranton and Holy Cross are facing the tough 1-2 punch of following up a Friday night opener with a Saturday afternoon game.
After playing Holy Redeemer in the opener, Scranton will come back against Pocono Mountain West. Last season, when the Knights lost only two other games – by two points in overtime and by four points – Pocono Mountain West ripped Scranton, 71-49, in the same situation.
Holy Cross is home Saturday against defending Division 3 champion Lackawanna Trail, which won the first-half title in Division 3 last season. Holy Cross junior Josh Kosin, one of the area’s top big men, will be put to the test against Lackawanna Trail 7-footer Steve Miller.
The Crusaders have a different challenge in the opener trying to contain J.C. Show, who averaged 15 points per game for Abington Heights as a freshman.
Lackawanna Trail is at Tunkhannock Friday night before taking on the Crusaders the next afternoon.
The girls have a high-profile opener as well, although West Scranton and Dunmore will wait until Dec. 11at 1:15 to open their seasons.
The rare Sunday game features teams that won both division and district titles.
West Scranton is trying to replace heavy graduation losses from its Lackawanna Division 1 and District 2 Class AAA champions. Dunmore will be without four-year starter Ashley Murray, but otherwise has much of the lineup back from a team that won Lackawanna Division 2 and District 2 Class AA titles on the way to an appearance in the state championship game in State College.
The marquee openers will not decide anything. They will, however, give the best possible preview of what can be expected in the season ahead.