WILKES-BARRE — As the last few minutes began to disappear from the scoreboard, so did a lead that once seemed so comfortable to the Meyers Mohawks.
They’d worked all game to hold command of the district championship game.
Tyriek Steward wasn’t about to watch his Mohawks lose it at the end.
“I’m this team’s captain,” Steward said proudly. “I felt like if I didn’t do something there soon, the title was at risk. I had to make plays down the stretch.”
So Steward scored six of his 19 points over the final 78 seconds Saturday, turning a tight, one-point game into a 58-49 victory over scrappy Holy Cross in the District 2 Class 2A boys basketball championship game at Wilkes University’s Marts Center.
Both teams will advance to next week’s PIAA Class 2A playoffs, as 18-7 Meyers will face Towanda (21-4), the No. 3 team from District 4. Meanwhile, 20-6 Holy Cross will play District 3 runner-up Hanover (19-6) next weekend.
“Bottom line is, they made the big plays they needed to,” Holy Cross coach Al Callejas said. “They made the big plays at the end.”
Steward made most of them.
Meyers held a seven-point lead near the end of the third quarter and built that advantage to eight points early in the fourth, but a spirited Holy Cross rally nearly stopped the Mohawks in their tracks.
Crusaders guard Connor Callejas twice cut his team’s deficit to four points by hitting four free throws in the final three minutes, and Rob Torre’s third three-pointer of the game pulled Holy Cross within 48-47 with 1:26 remaining.
That’s when Steward shot out of the gates.
He rolled under the basket for a leaping layup, drew a foul, and hit the free throw to build the Meyers lead back to four points with 1:18 to play. Just nine seconds later, Steward was at it again, driving to the bucket to thunder down a dunk that put Meyers back in control, 53-47.
“We executed an out-of-bounds play where we got Tyriek breaking for the dunk,” Meyes coach Pat Toole said.
And with under a minute on the clock, Steward added a foul shot that helped keep hard-charging Holy Cross at arm’s length.
“Holy Cross is a very good team,” Steward said, “an especially good defensive team.”
And to think the fourth-seeded Crusaders were missing injured starter Connor Jones, one of the team’s top scorers — making their effort against No. 2 Meyers even more gritty.
“Hats off to coach Callejas,” Toole said. “They came in here without one of their scorers, Connor Jones, and really just fought us tooth and nail.”
Still, Meyers hammered out a quick 12-7 lead behind seven first-quarter points from Lamont Twyman. Holy Cross caught up in the second quarter, when Tim Krupsky’s three-point play tied the game 18-18, and took a one-point lead into halftime thanks to a pair of free throws by Billy Traynor.
“We are ugly sometimes,” Toole said. “But when you defend, you’re going to win a lot of games.”
Meyers made a move toward winning its second district title in four years when Steward — held to three points in the first half — shook loose for eight points in the third quarter. He had plenty of help from teammate Shahee Aurelus, who buried three three-point field goals in the quarter as the Mohawks ran up a 38-31 lead. It was the most critical stretch of the the game — and maybe the season — for Aurelus, who matched Steward for game-high honors with 19 points.
“He had a tough night against Mid Valley, he was a little down on himself,” Toole said of Aurelus. “We talked to him about how every night, it could be a different guy (leading the team). He hit a couple (of 3-point shots) and boy, he went.”
But the stubborn Crusaders wouldn’t go away.
They used Traynor’s four-point play — a three-pointer and ensuing free throw — to close within 38-35 with under three minutes remaining in the third quarter. And a strong run through the middle of the fourth quarter made more work for Steward and company at the end.
“We couldn’t get down,” Steward said. “As a team, we preached staying together. No one was going to get frustrated.”
Especially not the captain, who not only got the job done, but gave the Mohawks smooth sailing into next weekend’s state opener.
“It feels very good,” said Steward, the only returning starter from a Meyers team that graduated star scorers Ryan Krawczeniuk and Rasheed Moore from last season’s district silver medalist squad. “Nobody believed in us. We proved everybody wrong.”
Meyers 58, Holy Cross 49
HOLY CROSS (49) — Bailey Simrell 0 0-0 0, Connor Callejas 4 6-6 15, Brendan Leese 2 0-1 4, Erik Nelson 1 0-1 3, Kyler Kovaleski 0 0-0 0, Nick Vinansky 0 0-0 0, Rob Torre 4 0-0 11, Tim Krupsky 1 1-1 3, Billy Traynor 4 3-3 13. Totals 16 10-12 49.
MEYERS (58) — Lamont Twyman 6 1-4 13, Matt DeMarco 0 0-0 0, Shahee Aurelus 7 1-2 19, Ryan Wasley 0 0-0 0, Tyriek Steward 8 3-5 19, Tyon Thomas 0 0-0 0, Dominic Pittman 2 3-4 7, Curtis Blue 0 0-0 0. Totals 23 8-15 58.
Three-point goals — HC 7 (Torre 3, Traynor 2, Callejas, Nelson); MEY 4 (Aurelus 4).