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Upset bid falls short for Blue Devils

Old Forge falls short in 32-21 loss to RCC in PIAA Class 1A playoffs

Old Forge guard Tony Goodall (5) passes around the Reading Central Catholic defense Tuesday night in a PIAA Class 1A second roung game in Hazleton.

photo by BILL TARUTIS

Pictured clockwise from top left, Old Forge’s Dom Avvisato looks to pass against Reading Central Catholic; Connor Fultz comes away with a loose ball for the Blue Devils; and Mario Martinelli passes the ball under pressure from RCC guard Marcus Dawkins in a PIAA second round game at Hazleton Area High School on Tuesday.

photos by BILL TARUTIS

The Old Forge game plan was simple. Keep the ball away from PIAA Class 1A power Reading Central Catholic by staying patient on offense while making every possession count. And for most of the game, that’s just what the Blue Devils did.

But for a five-minute stretch of the third quarter, Old Forge got away from the plan that proved effective for the previous 17 minutes and it was all the District 3 champions needed to prevent a monumental upset by the Blue Devils as the Cardinals took home a 32-21 victory at Hazleton Area High School on Tuesday night.

It was an ominous start for the District 2 champs as RCC leading scorer Marcus Dawkins came up with a steal and a dunk after and Old Forge stop to give the Cards a quick 2-0 lead. But it would be Central Catholics only points of the quarter as the Blue Devils played methodical on offense and frustrated RCC on defense with its 2-3 zone.

The Blue Devils scored its first points of the game on a Dom Avvisato jumper at the 4:01 mark, and Tony Goodall followed two possessions later with a three-pointer from the top of he key for a 5-2 lead with 2:41 left in the opening period.

Old Forge took a 7-2 lead into the second quarter when Connor Fultz drained two free throws after being fouled on a strong move to the basket with two seconds remaining in the first.

RCC got a free throw from 6-foot-9 center Donovan Jack – who was being watched by Maryland assistant coach Bino Ransom – to stop its scoreless streak at 7:17. But Goodall answered with a three-pointer from the corner, and the Blue Devils were ahead 10-3 with 6:58 left in the first half.

The Cards got their first field goal in almost 10 minutes of action on a bucket by 6-foot-4 swingman Marquis Marshall – the son of UConn great and former NBA player Donyell Marshall – and added another, a three-pointer by reserve guard Andrew Hoffa, on its ensuing possession to get with 10-8 with 4:34 left in the second quarter.

But Old Forge stayed patient on offense as it forced RCC into 3-of-11 shooting, including a 2-for-8 performance in the second quarter, and five turnovers in the first half. The Blue Devils finished the first half ahead, 12-8, as Tim McGrath drained both ends of a 1-and-1 as the Blue Devils gritty forward drew Jack’s third personal foul while handling the ball 40 feet from the rim.

Goodall started the third quarter on fire, draining a triple from the left corner before hitting a jumper from the left elbow to give Old Forge a 17-8 lead that sent the Blue Devils faithful into a frenzy with 7:13 left in the period.

Unfortunately, it was the final highlight of the night for Old Forge.

The Blue Devils rushed the offense on their next five possessions, missing two tough shots while turning the ball over three times. On the other end of the floor, RCC got into a rhythm and controlled the boards.

Adonis Fleming drilled a three-pointer from the left wing, and Dawkins followed his own miss with a put back to get the Cards within 17-15 with 2:58 left in the third.

Fultz stopped the mini-run with two free throws at the 2:10 mark to put Old Forge ahead 19-15, but it would be the last point the Blue Devils scored until Colin Carey’s layup with 38 seconds remaining in the game.

From that point, Dawkins and Jack took over on the boards.

Dawkins grabbed two offensive rebounds on his own misses before scoring while being fouled with 1:55 left in the third. The 6-4 junior guard who has gained the attention of some Division I schools drilled the free throw to get RCC within 19-18.

Jack then scored on an offensive rebound with 1:18 remaining in the third to give the Cards its first lead since Dawkins’ opening dunk at 20-19.

Joe Rys started the quarter for RCC by making 1-of-2 free throws before Jack scored on another offensive rebound to put the Cards ahead 23-19 with 6:26 left.

From there Central Catholic slowly pulled away as Old Forge missed seven straight shots to start the final stanza and the Cards converted 9-of-12 free throws in the final 4:47.

Goodall led the Blue Devils with 11 points, including three triples, to finish his career with 854 points and 91 three-pointers. He also added three rebounds.

McGrath added four free throws for Old Forge. Fultz chipped in with three rebounds, three steals and two assists and Avvisato added four rebounds.

The Blue Devils took just 23 shots on the night, making six. RCC shot 9-for-24 from the field and outscored Old Forge, 12-6, from the free throw line.

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