HAZLETON — Late in Friday’s PIAA Class 1A state quarterfinal game with Nativity B.V.M., the Red Raiders’ Thomas Schultz went to the foul line and heard chants of “overrated, overrated” coming from Nativity’s student section.
To that point, Schultz had not had a bad game but obviously he and his teammates had trouble against a Hilltoppers’ team which had a 6-6 player, two 6-5s, a 6-3 and two 6-2s.
For the rest of the game, Schultz was dominant. Schultz made both foul shots, later hustled to save a ball from going out of bounds, took a beautiful pass from Ty Sandri for an old-fashioned three-point play to give Lourdes the lead for good, fought for a huge rebound and blocked three shots in the final minute.
It was enough to give Lourdes a 45-39 win and send the Red Raiders (24-4) into the semifinals for the second straight year. Lourdes will play Sankofa Freedom Academy in the semifinals Monday at a site to be determined.
“I heard it,” Schultz said of the ‘overrated’ chant. “You can’t let it affect you. I took it as a compliment.”
However he took it, Lourdes’ all-time leading scorer absolutely took over the final minutes of a very tightly contested game, the way senior stars are supposed to.
“I thought all our guys played the best they can play,” said Lourdes coach James Sandri. “That’s all you can ask of anyone. They (Nativity) played a great game. They’re the most improved team in the Schuylkill league during the season, especially since they started playing the younger Ratcliff.”
That would be 6-3 freshman Marquis, who teamed with his brother Marcellus (6-6 senior), 6-5, 250-pound senior Quandre Latimer and 6-5 sophomore Kegan Hertz to make Schultz’s night in the paint frustrating.
“For years, Nativity always played us man to man, which we liked, and now they’ve switched to zone. We saw it on film but with their size and lankiness, it gave us problems.”
Nativity had a 27-25 halftime lead and seemed to have an edge running the floor but came out holding the ball for the perfect shot in the second half, and it seemed to take away the Hilltoppers’ momentum.
“There’s a fine line between holding and stalling and it surprised me a little,” Sandri said. “We usually like to run but we didn’t want to get in a running game with them at that point.”
Lourdes outscored Nativity 10-4 in the quarter to take a 35-31 lead but Nativity hit a couple key shots, including a three and a big putback, to forge a 38-38 tie with 2:24 remaining.
Klembara lofted a perfect pass to Schultz under the basket with 1:52 to play and Schultz was fouled and added the free throw, giving Lourdes a 41-38 lead.
Garrett Timco missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:23 left but the younger Ratcliff missed two 3-point shots. Schultz blocked two straight shots and Klembara grabbed a key rebound and was fouled. He sank both shots with 31.2 seconds left.
Schultz was called for a foul on a strong block with 9.9 seconds left and Walker made one of two foul shots but Adam Sandri rebounded the second and was fouled and made both shots with 7.5 seconds left for the final margin.
Schultz finished with 18 points (7-of-10 shooting), seven rebounds and three blocks and Klembara had 11 points, making 3-7 threes. Sandri had nine points and Gabe Klembara, though he only scored three points, had five assists.
Guard Raphael Muldrow had 14 points to lead Nativity, and Quandre Latimer had 11 points. The Hilltoppers, who finished the season 16-11 after a 6-7 start, had a 28-18 rebounding advantage but turned the ball over 18 times to just seven for Lourdes.