A Winning Combination
Abington Heights boys basketball coach Ken Bianchi knew he had the makings of a good team.
Having a good team doesn't always mean success will just fall into place, but the Comets made it look that way by rolling to the Lackawanna League Division I title, and claimed the league's big school title.
This was all from a team that wasn't a clear-cut favorite to win the division title, according to its veteran head coach.
"I did not see ourselves as underdogs, but not only was Scranton highly regarded but Scranton Prep had most of their players back and they beat us twice during the regular season before we were able to win the third game in the district final," Bianchi said. "We knew we had four players back, but you never know about the chemistry you'll have from year to year.
"We knew we had the talent to win the division but that was on paper," he continued. "We had to prove it on the floor. In order to do that, we had to play as a team and improve each week, and we did that."
By doing that, the Comets were able to reach some impressive and lofty goals in a talented and deep league.
"I think we exceeded our expectations this season," Bianchi said. "We knew we were capable of winning our division and the district title if we played up to our capabilities, but we never thought we would go undefeated in our division, win the league title and win the district title without losing a game."
"The teams in the Lackawanna League this year and the outstanding job done by all the coaches in our league made every team work hard in order to win games," he continued. "If you weren't ready every night you could get beat. It raised the bar for all of us. That is evident when you look at our league and see that the Lackawanna League won all eight district championships - four by the boys and four by the girls - and that was not a coincidence. All the coaches should be proud of the job they did this season."
The Comets were proud to come away with a divisional title, but the significance may not hit them for awhile as the new divisional setup might take some getting used to. They played fewer divisional games, and added crossover games that reduced the number of home-and-home series. Regardless, Abington Heights won every league game they faced, including twice with District 2 Class AAAA champion Scranton and bitter rival Scranton Prep.
"I think winning the division in the past was more meaningful. This year there were only five teams in our division so we had to beat only four teams," Bianchi said. "We only played the other five teams once per season. Under the old format, if there were 10 teams in the division you had to play every team twice. This year if you had a tough team at home and your closest rival had them away, you had an advantage.
"As for winning the [big school] playoff game, it was nice but it didn't mean all that much," he added. "It didn't count for anything district- or state-wise. Your seeding wasn't affected one way or another. We decided to rest two players with nagging injuries so they would be ready for district play."
Without starter J.C. Show and reserve Tim Toro, the Comets were still able to knock off Delaware Valley, 45-34, in the Lackawanna Division I-II championship game.
The Comets were led by Show, an all-state player as a sophomore, who followed with a superb junior season by averaging 19 points a game.
"'Clutch' [Show's nickname] is at his best in big games and makes big plays in 'clutch' situations. He's our coach on the floor," Bianchi said.
Abington Heights started three guards, with seniors Kevin Elwell, a soccer standout, and Jamie Egan providing solid support.
"Elwell is very versatile," Bianchi said. "He usually guards the other team's top scoring guard. Besides playing tough defense, we need him to help bring the ball up and hit 3-point shots when open."
Egan, a first-year starter, delivered a little bit of everything for the Comets.
"Egan is like silent assassin," Bianchi said. "He's very quiet but makes big plays. He leads the team in 3-point percentage and can rebound for a guard, especially on the defensive boards."
Up front, seniors T.J. Murray and Jason Bamford manned the lane defensively and gave the Comets some offensive balance.
"Murray is the most underrated of our starters," Bianchi said. "He has the uncanny ability to score with his back to the basket using a variety of moves."
"Bamford is a great shot blocker," he continued. "He has the ability to change the dynamics of the game with his presence inside. Great jumping ability allows him to slam many of the offensive rebounds he gets."
There was plenty of support off the bench with three juniors and Toro, a freshman, netting valuable minutes for the Comets.
Bianchi said the following about his other players:
- Nate Hollander: "Great quickness. He can come into a game and give a starter some rest. While in the game he plays great defense and his speed allows him to come up with steals."
- Evan Maxwell and Tim Toro: "Two inside players who can come in and give our big men a rest. Both are good rebounders, aggressive, can hit the offensive boards and score."
- Joe Carroll: "A hard-working junior who won the job of being our replacement for either wing position. He can shoot the ball well and play several positions on defense."
It all added up to a winning combination for the Comets.