The Abington Heights boys basketball team had one starter back from last year, but the Comets were a popular pick as the area’s top team as the season got underway in December. Newspapers, radio stations and television stations spread the word, helping to create a bandwagon that grew bigger and bigger as the season went along.
The Comets fulfilled those high expectations by capturing the Lackawanna League Division I crown and winning their third straight District 2 Class AAA title, posting a 26-2 season that ended in the second round of the state playoffs.
It was not as easy as it looked, even though the Comets went on a long playoff run a year earlier and returned all-state player and Bucknell-bound J.C. Show from that starting lineup.
“No, I don’t think there was any extra pressure put on this team because of last year’s team success,” Comets head coach Ken Bianchi said. “Every year we put more pressure on ourselves to be a good team than [the pressure] we get from outside sources. We lost four starters from last year’s team so, except for J.C., this team was playing with each other as starters for the first time. There was no reason for them to feel any pressure because we didn’t know how good we could be until the season progressed.”
They were good enough to beat every local team they played, losing only to District 3 power Susquehanna Township and, in the state playoffs, Archbishop Carroll. Bianchi felt the regular-season loss showed a lot of positives about his team.
“I don’t know if I can pick just one turning point or crucial moment that gave us extra momentum for the season, but one that comes to mind occurred in our game against Susquehanna Township [a team that played in the state Class AAA semifinals],” Bianchi said. “In that game, we were losing by 21 points in the third quarter and cut that lead to three points before losing 62-55. That comeback showed our team that when they play well, they can play with just about any team in the state.”
The Comets survived a couple of haymakers thrown by Scranton Prep, a longtime rival that managed something many other opponents could not do — lead after halftime against Abington Heights.
“Scranton Prep is always highly regarded; they have good players and good coaches so we know they will be a tough opponent. We were very fortunate to come out on top in both games this year,” Bianchi said. “They had a lead in the third quarter in both of those games. They were a very tough opponent.”
While Abington Heights often made winning look easy, the team had an inner drive that kept them from taking any opponent for granted.
“Complacency is not a word we ever had to use this year because the players know that if we think that might be happening, another player is just waiting to get in and give it his best effort,” Bianchi said. “Besides that, if you haven’t seen us play this year I can tell you that J.C. [Show] would not allow that to happen in a game or practice.”
While Show, who ended his career with a boys school record of 1,950 points, was around to make sure the team kept its desire, the rest of the eight-man rotation generated enough to complete the package around its star.
“Evan Maxwell got a lot stronger over the summer and gave us an inside-outside threat,” Bianchi said. “He can run the floor, block shots and loves to dunk the ball.”
“Tim Toro improved greatly from his freshman year, he is a good defensive player who led our team in rebounding,” he continued. “If he works on his 15-foot jumper, he can be a real force for us the next two years.”
“Joe Carroll was one of the most unselfish players we have had at AH. He’s a good defender who will take a charge and can hit the 3-point shot when open,” Bianchi said. “He didn’t care who scores or how many shots he got as long as we won. He also got several assists during the game. He’s a team-first guy.”
Bianchi also had praise for other players on his team.
“Ethan Danzig got stronger during the off season. He really improved his defense and rebounding, and was our top 3-point shooter,” he said. “He hit some big shots for us this year and will be very hard to replace. Nate Hollander was second on our team in assists. He was a real menace when he is on the floor. He disrupted our opponent’s offense. He is quick, strong and relentless on defense. We were at our best at defense when he was on the floor.”
“James Sherman was very athletic and ran the floor,” Bianchi continued. “He gave either of our two bigs a rest if they needed it or if they got in foul trouble. We didn’t lose much when he was in the game. Clay Basalyga was all over the floor when he was in the game. He dove for loose balls in practice as well as in games. He took charges on defense and loved to drive to the basket on offense. He was a high energy guy who always gave us a lift when he was on the floor.”
“We did have some guys who had to step up and fill key spots left vacant by the loss of four starters from last year’s team but we expected them to do that,” Bianchi said. “We knew what to expect from J.C. and we had an idea of what to expect from Maxwell, Toro and Hollander, but the hard work that Danzig and Carroll put in during the off-season really paid off. They both had great seasons.”
It is that work between seasons that has paid off with a tremendous amount of success for Bianchi and his coaching staff over the years. Despite losing a lot of talent, one can look for the Comets to come back next year as hungry to win as they were this season.
“The same as it has been for the last four years,” he said. “We are losing eight seniors and four are starters. It will all depend on how hard our underclassmen work in the off season to improve their game and hopefully make us a contender next year. Only time will tell.”