For a group of seniors that had accomplished so much throughout their careers on the hardwood, it wasn’t expected to end like this for the Bangor boys basketball team.
Not in the Slaters’ first and only game of the 2017 District 11 tournament. Not before they could return to a district championship and have a crack at the program’s first title since 1988. And not before the three-time defending Colonial League champs could make a run into states, where they had reached the PIAA Sweet 16 just a year ago.
Pottsville had other plans, though, surging past Bangor in the second half for a 48-35 win Monday night in the District 11 Class 5A semifinals at Pleasant Valley High School.
“There’s a lot of upset kids right now because they gave their heart and soul to this program,” Slaters head coach Bron Holland said. “We certainly expected to move on and we didn’t. That happens and we have to own that.”
Top-seeded Bangor finished the year 23-2 while the No. 4 Crimson Tide advanced to Thursday’s district championship to take on No. 6 East Stroudsburg North, which pulled off a thrilling win over Central Catholic in the earlier semifinal.
The Slaters led 20-19 at halftime but fell apart in the second half, going cold from the floor besides senior forward Dylan Benton (19 points), who scored 12 of their 15 points over the final 16 minutes.
“They denied and they just do a good job riding you down low without their hands once you catch the ball,” Holland said. “We had trouble cutting, screening, rebounding. They took us out of every phase of the game, really.”
Pottsville, meanwhile, found a third-quarter spark in the form of 6-foot-7 junior Ian Renninger. The powerful inside force scored 11 of his team’s 15 points in the third quarter as it outscored Bangor 15-5.
“We played zone the whole first half and then we switched to man and they pounded the ball inside. He’s a stud,” Holland said. "When you’re allowed to set extremely physical screens and throw people around, it’s tough to stop them. They went to him and he finished.”
The physicality and the lack of whistles was a source of frustration for the Slaters, which only grew in the second half as the Crimson Tide held and extended its lead.
“It’s usually called, but they’re tough kids up there,” Holland said. “We knew that. Pottsville’s always tough. We enjoy playing physical, but that was another level tonight.”
Holland said he was happy at the half with the way his team had played defensively, limiting Pottsville to 19 points — of which Renninger had just two. But things quickly fell apart in the second half as the Crimson Tide used a 10-1 run in the third quarter to take the lead and an 8-for-8 effort from the line in the fourth quarter to keep it.
Back-to-back put-backs from Benton cut Pottsville’s lead to 38-33 with 3:13 left in the game, but it wasn’t enough in the end.
“I give Pottsville all the credit in the world because they play phenomenal defense and when they’re allowed to play physical like they did, they’re going to be tough to beat because we certainly couldn’t do much against them with them playing that physical,” Holland said. “Give them credit, they played really well and their kids are experienced and battle-tested. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but they just took us out of everything we wanted to do offensively. That was the bottom line.”
Bangor’s talented group of six seniors — Dylan Benton, Seth Benton, Reece Jones, Anthony Schiavone, Colton Holland and David Pagotto — finish their high school careers with a 69-11 record over the last three years with three Colonial League championships and a PIAA tournament win from 2016.
They would have liked to add to that resume before it was all over, but that slipped out of reach Monday night.
It’s going to hurt for a while for those guys, especially with the success that they’ve had, getting to the district final last year and going to states,” Bron Holland said. “But that’s the beauty of sports. You have to learn how to handle victory graciously and now they have to learn how to handle this. It’s not going to be easy for them.”
Greg Joyce may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GJoyce9. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.
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