WILKES-BARRE — The only number that matters now is one. As in one more victory.
That seventh-seed tag hung on Pittston Area to start the District 2 Class 3A tournament? Meaningless. Even more so after Tuesday night’s semifinal game at Wilkes University.
The Patriots knocked off yet another higher seed — this time No. 2 GAR — as Mason Gross scored 15 points and Tyler McGarry added 12 in a 45-42 victory.
Pittston Area (18-7) will have even a bigger task on Friday as it plays top-seeded Abington Heights (24-1) for the D2-3A championship. The Patriots last played for a district title in the 2001-02 season, losing to Scranton Prep in the D2-3A championship.
Tuesday’s win also locked up a state playoff spot for Pittston Area. GAR (19-6) will play fourth-seeded Honesdale (21-4) Friday for third place and a spot in the state tournament.
“From the beginning, the coaches nailed it in our heads that we’re the underdog, we’re the underdog,” Pittston Area sixth man Mike Delaney said. “We knew 100 percent we can beat anyone.”
That seemed likely when Delaney hit two free throws with 23.6 seconds left for a 45-40 lead. GAR’s Nigebo Francis, though, was fouled trying to score on a rebound with 13.5 seconds left. He hit both free throws to move GAR within 45-42.
GAR trapped Delaney on the ensuing inbound pass, but he managed to fling the ball to McGarry. The ball, though, got poked loose there and GAR’s Isaiah Francis was able to crank up a hurried three-pointer that clanged off the rim.
GAR coach Paul Brown viewed two segments as critical. Pittston Area opened the game with a 9-0 run and then had a 10-2 run that started on McGarry’s three-pointer with 13 seconds left in the third quarter and extended into the fourth.
The latter burst turned a one-point deficit into a 40-33 Pittston Area advantage with 3:12 remaining.
“Those two runs are basically what won the game for them,” Brown said, “because I think other than that, both teams played great defense. It was one of those situations where we knew what they were running and they knew what we were running. Both teams defended well.
“We recovered from that first run, but once they got that second run we had to start fouling.”
Also critical was a three-pointer by Pittston Area’s James Emmett in the second quarter. It shut off a momentum-swinging run by GAR that gave the Grenadiers a 27-22 lead, their biggest advantage of the game.
“Our offense moved the ball well,” said Emmett, who nearly doubled his regular-season scoring average by tossing in 10 points. “They had to double down on ‘D’ and that gave me some openings.”
Pittston Area coach Alan Kiesinger was more pleased how Emmett closed things. He drew the assignment of guarding Francis, the Wyoming Valley Conference Division II MVP. Francis finished with 15 points, with nine coming in the fourth quarter.
“James Emmett did a phenomenal job defensively,” Kiesinger said. “Talk about a challenge. (Francis) is so long and athletic and talented. He can kill you from the outside, he can kill you from the inside, he can hurt you driving the basket. He’s the total package. I give James a ton of credit for stepping up and being able to contain him a little bit.”
District 2 Class 3A semifinals
Pittston Area 45, GAR 42
PITTSTON AREA (45) — Hassan Maxwell 0 0-0 0, Mike Schwab 0 2-2 2, James Emmett 2 4-4 10, Tyler McGarry 4 1-2 12, Mason Gross 4 7-10 15, Mike Delaney 0 6-6 6. Totals 10 20-24 45.
GAR (42) — Isaiah Francis 6 2-2 15, James Holmes 3 0-1 8, Jahlil Harvey 2 0-1 4, Nigebo Francis 3 2-2 8, Dajon Rush 0 0-0 0, Greg Skrepenak 3 0-0 7. Totals 17 4-6 42.
Three-point goals — PA 5 (Emmett 2, McGarry 3); GAR 4 (I.Francis, Holmes 2, Skrepenak).