BERWICK — Even 0n a bad ankle, Hazleton Area’s Sal Biasi showed Saturday afternoon he’s better than most high school players in the state.
The two-time Wyoming Valley Conference Division I MVP scored 16 second-half points — all after injuring his left ankle — as Hazleton Area finally pulled away from Stroudsburg 63-53 in a PIAA Class 4A boys basketball first-round game.
The District 2 champion Cougars (22-4) will play D1 champion Chester (23-5) on Wednesday in the second round. D11 third seed Stroudsburg finished its season at 16-12.
Hazleton Area gave up three consecutive three-pointers — two to end the second quarter and another to start the third — to allow Stroudsburg to take a 30-29 lead. The situation took an even dire turn when Biasi collapsed on the sideline by midcourt, got back to his feet and then sat down on the center circle.
“Number 14 shot and I just came down on his ankle,” said Biasi, who peeled off his sock to show a couple teammates where he was hurting. “It popped a few times. I couldn’t really moved much, but I had to make do with it.”
Biasi sure did despite showing a hitch in his step at times. He led a comeback to tie the score 34-34 after the Mountaineers took a five-point lead. His three-pointer with 3:11 left in the fourth pushed Hazleton Area’s advantage to 55-51. From there, free-throw shooting propelled the Cougars to Wednesday’s game against last season’s state runner-up.
“I never want to short change what (Biasi) does for us,” Hazleton Area coach Mike Joseph said. “I truly think now that we’re down to 16 teams he is one of the best guards in the state of Pennsylvania. The way he played in the third and fourth quarter on a bum ankle, that three he hit on the right side, going to the basket and scoring, playing great defense on (Evan) Choy.
“He is, without question, I think one of the best players in the state of Pennsylvania.”
Biasi, who has accepted a scholarship to play baseball at Penn State, finished with a game-high 28 points. Joseph, though, also cited the defense of Biasi, Jon Fogarty and reserve Will Hierro down the stretch. The Cougars turned up the wick defensively in the fourth quarter. Stroudsburg shot 12-of-23 in the middle quarters, but was just 3-of-12 in the fourth. The Mountaineers went without a field goal over the final 3:43.
“Hats off to the entire team,” said Stroudsburg coach Shawn Thornton, a Bishop Hoban graduate. “They did a great job picking up the defensive pressure in the fourth quarter and disrupting what we were trying to do.”
Fogarty’s steal with 59 seconds to play led to two free throws and a 59-53 lead.
“It was awesome because our defense is starting to get better now,” Fogarty said. “Before it wasn’t that good, but it’s getting good now.”
Stroudsburg was shorthanded to start, with 6-foot-6 junior and leading scorer Danny Cuevas in street clothes due to a knee injury. As expected, Hazleton Area tried to attack inside, and while the Cougars didn’t get many points in the paint they accomplished something else.
“Some of those plays they got offensive rebounds on,” Thornton said. “Some of the ones the big guys didn’t finish on, they got second chances on. It’s not whether those guys score, it’s whether you score on the possession.”
Hazleton Area 63, Stroudsburg 53
STROUDSBURG (53) — Chris Bermudez 1 0-1 2, Evan Choy 3 0-0 8, Edwin Lopez 5 5-5 19, Jacob Battle 5 4-4 15, Terrance Odhiambo 2 1-1 5, Brian Thornton 0 0-0 0, John Cromartie 1 0-0 2, Ryan Brandt 0 0-0 0, Lamar Gordon 1 0-0 2. Totals 18 10-11 53.
HAZLETON AREA (63) — Sal Biasi 9 6-8 28, Brett Barron 4 2-2 12, Jon Fogarty 3 5-6 11, Reynal Santana 0 0-0 0, Kyle Karmonick 1 0-2 2, Will Hierro 1 4-5 6, Chris Woodring 1 0-0 2, Hunter Samec 1 0-0 2. Totals 20 17-23 63.
Three-point goals — STR 7 (Choy 2, Lopez 4, Battle 1); HA 5 (Biasi 3, Barron 2).