The team with just one senior on the roster has a deceptive amount of experience.
And if that Misericordia squad is going to claim its second league championship in three years today, it’s going to be in large part because of the players who have been on this stage before.
When the Cougars take the floor for today’s 3 p.m. Freedom Conference championship game at DeSales, a handful of players who helped win the 2012 title for the program will be at the forefront.
Obviously that lone senior, point guard Matt Greene, will play a big role. But so, too, will players like guard Joe Busacca and forward Cael Evans, both of whom came off the bench when the Cougars beat Wilkes in the finals two year ago.
Since then, fellow junior Steve Ware has evolved into one of the league’s best players. And with a game-high 20 points in Wednesday’s semifinal win over FDU-Florham, he remains near the top of his game.
Misericordia will need everything they can get against the top-seeded Bulldogs, who reached the league finals for the seventh time in the last eight seasons. The winner earns an automatic bid to next week’s NCAA tournament.
The teams split the regular-season series, with the home team winning both games.
“Wasn’t much difference in either one,” Cougars coach Trevor Woodruff said. “They were both close games. It was tight here, down to the last possession. And a one-point game with a minute to go down there.
“So I expect the same. You’ve got to play really, really well to beat them anywhere and especially in that building.”
In today’s game, the Cougars will be looking to avoid the slow starts they had in both halves against the Devils.
Busacca in particular was the sparkplug in that game, lifting the team off the mat in the first half.
“He was really our only offense for a stretch there,” Woodruff said. “On the bench we kept saying, ‘Just go to Joe, go to Joe.’ Because he seemed to be making plays and making shots.
“He did a great job of giving us life after a really slow start. … He’s capable of doing that every night. That’s the next step, for him to become an all-conference player is to do it consistently.”
Add Evans right into that same mix.
The Nanticoke grad has come off the bench for much of the season while freshman Erik Kerns starts in the frontcourt.
But Misericordia fully expects Evans to remain a key component in the postseason.
“I talked to Cael probably a week to 10 days ago and I said he’s going to be big down the stretch,” Woodruff said. “I really believe, because there isn’t a lot of size in the league, because he has playoff and championship experience, that he was going to at some point help us win a game or a championship.
“That proved to be true (against FDU) and we made it a point to celebrate him in the locker room because it really was a great performance. He picked the right time to do it.”
Evans had 14 points, eight rebounds and two volleyball spike-style blocks that fired up the crowd and his teammates in the win over the Devils.
DeSales is 24-12 all-time against Misericordia including 4-1 in postseason games. This will be the third time the schools have met as members of the Freedom Conference. The Bulldogs beat the Cougars in the 2010 finals and the 2011 semis.
Misericordia is happy to have another chance at it.
“We just talked four, five months ago about doing X, Y and Z and give ourselves a chance to win a championship,” Woodruff said. “And here we are.”
All-Freedom teams named
Ware and King’s senior Kyle Hammonds were honored Friday when both were first-team All-Freedom Conference selections. Monarchs freshman Dan Rutecki also received top honors, winning the league’s Rookie of the Year award.
Greene was a second-team pick on the men’s side.
The women’s team was announced Thursday with Misericordia’s Hannah Seely leading the local schools with a first-team selection.
Wilkes’ Elena Stambone and King’s freshman Kayla Feairheller were both honorable mention picks.