WILKES-BARRE — Neither the flu nor Crestwood’s defense could slow down Isaiah Francis enough Tuesday night.
The GAR junior had just enough energy to overcome both and provide the Grenadiers a boost to defeat Crestwood 40-29 in the District 2 Class 3A boys basketball semifinals.
Second-seeded GAR (17-8) will play top-seeded Abington Heights (24-2) on Friday at a site and time to be announced for the the championship. Both teams are guaranteed spots in the PIAA state playoffs. Third-seeded Crestwood (17-8) will play fourth-seeded Scranton Prep (17-8) also on Friday at a site and time to be announced, with the winner getting District 2’s third and final state berth.
Abington defeated GAR 52-45 on Dec. 19 as part of a seven-game losing streak for the Grenadiers to start the season.
“We had a good lead on them last time,” GAR senior guard Willie Winstead said. “We just couldn’t finish off in the second half. We struggled like that in the beginning of the year, but we’ve been finishing games pretty good now.”
GAR finished off Crestwood with a 15-3 run after the Comets took a 26-25 lead on the first basket of the fourth quarter. Francis boosted the lead to double digits for the first time, 38-27, with an inside spin move for a basket and an ensuing free throw with a minute left.
“I sort of did (forget about being sick),” Francis said. “I just wanted to be a game changer.”
Francis finished with 11 points and nine rebounds. His main contribution wasn’t statistics-based. Once he entered the game midway through the second quarter, big man Christian Skrepenak found more opportunities inside. Skrepenak scored three consecutive baskets in the paint, turning a 12-8 deficit into a 16-14 halftime lead.
“The difference was once No. 1 came into the game for us,” GAR coach Paul Brown said of Francis. “His rebounding and court awareness were pretty exciting. That’s when the ball started getting in Christian’s hands more. … When Isaiah got in the game because he was able to stretch the defense out a little bit and they weren’t able to spend so many people on Christian.”
Crestwood overtook the Grenadiers on a three-pointer by Steve Roberts to end the third quarter and an inside basket by Chris Fazzini to start the fourth. Skrepenak, though, muscled inside for a couple more buckets as part of his 16-point night as GAR took the lead for good.
Crestwood succeeded in keeping GAR under 40 points for the fourth time in the last six meetings. Oddly, the Grenadiers, who prefer an up-tempo pace, have won three of those four games.
The Comets failed when it came to extending their leads. They shot just 10-of-34 through three quarters. Brian Markowski led the offense with 10 points followed by Roberts with eight.
“The biggest thing was we couldn’t build a one-point lead to five in a low-scoring game,” Crestwood coach Mark Atherton said. “If we could’ve done that, which GAR did a couple times… It made us play from behind and that’s tough.”
CRESTWOOD (29): Brady Gallagher 1 0-0 2, Cole Wasco 1 0-0 3, Brian Markowski 5 0-0 10, Steve Roberts 3 0-0 8, Chris Fazzini 2 2-4 6, Brandon Cole 0 0-0 0. Totals 12 2-4 29.
GAR (40): Isaiah Francis 4 3-3 11, James Holmes 1 2-2 5, Lamont Twyman 2 0-0 4, Willie Winstead 1 0-0 2, Christian Skrepenak 8 0-1 16, Darius Washington 1 0-0 2. Totals 17 5-6 40.
Three-point field goals— CRE 3 (Wasco, Roberts 2); GAR 1 (Holmes)