WILKES-BARRE — Just when guard Brady Gallagher found his groove, center Luke Casey took over.
Then, down the stretch, it was Cole Wasco from the foul line.
Even reserve guard Robbie Hopkins chipped in a key basket.
Sunday afternoon was when no single Crestwood Comet proved to be more valuable than the collective group. It led to an ensemble victory at Wilkes University — 64-53 over Hazleton Area — as Crestwood won the Wyoming Valley Conference Division I boys basketball title.
The Comets (14-1 Div. I, 20-3 overall) ended Hazleton Area’s two-season reign atop the division. They also won the divisional title for the first time since the 2007-08 season. Hazleton Area, which suffered its second loss to Crestwood in six days, fell to 13-2 and 19-4.
“We have seniors and they knew what to do,” said Crestwood coach Mark Atherton, whose team won the title on his birthday. “Both teams knew what to take away, what to get. I thought our guys executed the game plan (with) a few wrinkles thrown in. They stepped up, they defended. Sal Biasi is a great player, but I thought there was a hand up on every possession in his face.”
There were plenty of hands, elbows and overall shoving going on underneath as Hazleton Area tried to play physical with the Comets. They fared well at times and not so well at others, as 6-foot-4 Chris Fazzini scored 15 points and the 6-foot-6 Casey added 14 more.
“It was definitely rough inside,” Casey said. “(Hazleton Area’s Kyle) Karmonick is a heck of a player and I told him that. I love the way he plays defense. I don’t like him and I think he doesn’t like me, but I love the way he plays.”
Crestwood took the lead for good at 5:58 of the second quarter when Gallagher hit one of his four three-pointers and converted it into a rare four-point play. He added a step-back trey at the midway point of the second as the Comets outscored the Cougars 7-2 over the final four minutes. He finished with a team-high 20 points.
Crestwood finally put some distance between itself and the Cougars behind three consecutive baskets by Fazzini in the fourth quarter. The final field goal gave the Comets their biggest lead, 49-36 with 5:13 to play.
Like Tuesday’s game, Hazleton Area made some rally attempts and Crestwood was able to cut them all off.
Hopkins made his only basket of the game after the Comets broke the press to bump the advantage back to double digits. Wasco ended Hazleton Area’s last gasp by hitting four free throws in a 12-second span late in the game.
“I just know I have to step up for my team when the moment comes,” Wasco said. “We needed free throws because I know up 10 with two minutes left or a minute left, that’s not enough against Hazleton.”
The margin, though, was enough as neither of Hazleton Area’s three-point aces — Biasi and Brett Barron — found much success behind the arc. Biasi finished with 27 points, but the Comets never allowed him to take control as he’s done many times in his career. Jon Fogarty added 13.
“We’re not a true pressing team,” Hazleton Area coach Mike Joseph said. “For us to come back against anybody in that regard (down) 10, 11 points is kind of tough. In the past, we were a little bit longer, a little bit more athletic with our pressing teams. This really isn’t a pressing team.
“For us to come back, every steal we get we have to capitalize. And it’s got to be two or three in a row and we never got that.”
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Crestwood 64, Hazleton Area 53
HAZLETON AREA (53) — Sal Biasi 8 7-8 27, Brett Barron 2 0-0 5, Jon Fogarty 5 3-4 13, Will Hierro 0 0-2 0, Kyle Karmonick 1 0-0 2, Chris Woodring 1 1-3 4, Hunter Samec 0 0-0 0, Reynal Santana 1 0-0 2, Mark Brehm 0 0-0 0, Zach Zuchoski 0 0-0 0, Chris Panzarella 0 0-0 0, Nick Seach 0 0-0 0, Mike Makuta 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 11-17 53.
CRESTWOOD (64) — Brady Gallagher 4 8-11 20, Cole Wasco 1 4-5 6, Brian Markowski 1 1-2 3, Chris Fazzini 6 2-2 15, Luke Casey 6 2-4 14, Josh Malkemes 0 0-0 0, Jason Dotzel 1 0-0 2, Josh Amosson 0 0-0 0, Robbie Hopkins 1 2-2 4, Leonny Rojas 1 2-2 4. Totals 20 18-25 64.
Three-point goals — HA 6 (Biasi 4, Barron, Woodring); CRE 5 (Gallagher 4, Fazzini).