On Dec. 15 the Central Catholic football team played its final game of the season, a devastating 35-10 loss to St. Joseph Prep in the Class AAAA state championship game.
Not only will that game have a lasting effect on the football team but it also had an impact on the Vikings basketball team.
Six members of the team that made a run to Hershey are also a part of the school’s basketball program.
The Vikings held their own in the tough Class AAAA Section 2 without their football stars, jumping out to a 5-1 overall record in their absence.
“We were able to get to 3-0 in the section without the football players,” Central coach Chuck Crummie said. “We play a lot of people. We press and we run. When someone isn’t playing well, there is someone waiting to step in and do the job. The guys who were there before the football players did a great job and it gives us some alternatives with our substitutions.”
Following Tuesday’s loss at Fox Chapel, a win the Foxes desperately needed, the Vikings currently sit at 8-6 overall, 5-2 in section play, a game behind co-leaders Gateway (10-4, 6-1) and Plum (12-1, 6-1). Central knocked off Gateway last Friday.
The Vikings suffered their first roadblock of the section season on Jan. 3 when they lost a home game to Plum, 71-64.
“Us losing to Plum at home put a damper on things,” said Crummie, who is in his 34th season as head coach of the Vikings and is just three wins away from his 600th career victory. “Usually in section games you try to win them all at home and steal a few on the road.”
Crummie’s crew bounced back from that demoralizing loss, winning their next two section games, including arguably their most impressive win of the season, an 84-60 win at home against Gateway.
“We think we can be a pretty good team,” Crummie said. “We hadn’t up to that point put together a full game. It is only natural that with the football players coming back things would fall together. We were really happy with our performance.”
In a section when every night any given game can serve as a challenge, Central Catholic knows in order to defend its section title, it needs to take care of business on its home court.
“I think everybody felt it was going to be a competitive section this year,” Crummie said. “A lot of teams graduated very little or nobody at all. We graduated seven players but we knew we had younger players who would be able to step in. From top to bottom we knew it was going to be a very good section.”
The football players returning to the hardwood has played an instrumental part in the Vikings success, but it was the players on the team from the start of the season who have kept them afloat, especially 6-foot-2 junior Alex Schoppen.
“It has been different every night,” Crummie said. “Schoppen has been the mainstay from the beginning of the season to now. He is the most consistent guy on both ends of the court.”
Also contributing for the Vikings has been 6-4 junior forward Sean Whalen and 6-5 junior forward Kevin Wharton-Price, who has been a fixture in the starting five for a majority of the season.
The Vikings had a setback when starting point guard Pat Sproule, a senior, was diagnosed with mononucleosis and is still currently sidelined by the illness.
Taking over the point is one of the football players, Bricen Garner. Also earning minutes at the position is 6-1 freshman Paris Ford.
Helping out down low and using their physical demeanor from their time on the gridiron are 6-2 junior guard John Petrishen, 6-4 sophomore forward Rashad Wheeler and 6-2 freshman forward Ronald George.
With the new additions, the Vikings have the luxury to go deep into their bench, which has resulted in a balanced scoring attack.
“In all actuality it has been a team effort with everybody,” Crummie said. “We don’t have that guy who is a high scorer. We have a bunch of guys who [average] around 10 or 11. That is typically what we get from our guys.”
With the football players starting to get back into basketball shape and bringing their winning attitude, Crummie expects to see more consistent play out of his team.
“You can see them start turning back into basketball players,” Crummie said. “It is a slow process and that is the way we are approaching it. You always assume that is going to happen with players coming over from winning a lot. You can expect it and I think that is the case.
“But what put a damper on it for our guys was losing it that last [football] game. But with that being said they understand what it takes to win.”
The Vikings are expecting to defend their section title and make a run in the WPIAL playoffs this year after being ousted in the first round last year by Seneca Valley.
“Our first goal is always to win the section [title] and then WPIAL,” Crummie said. “It is the same this year. We get better as the season goes on. We can see it now. The chemistry is starting to find its way.
“We will keep the same goals we have every year.”