S. ABINGTON TWP. — It is a rare occasion that a loss on the court turns into a victory on paper.
That’s what happened two days following Abington Heights’ 36-34 defeat at the hands of Berks Catholic on Saturday in a high school basketball matchup of state powerhouse programs.
The Comets were awarded the victory by forfeit Monday after it was learned that suspended Berks Catholic coach Snip Esterly violated PIAA rules by attending the game as a spectator.
On Friday, Esterly had two technical fouls in Berks Catholic’s win over Wyomissing. By rule, two technical fouls results in an ejection and a one-game suspension for the next game. It also prohibits having contact with players and being in the facility.
Berks Catholic athletic director Bill Hess was contacted by the PIAA on Monday and confirmed coach Esterly attended the game in South Abington Township and congratulated his players after the victory — a game in which the Saints were led by assistant coach Matt Ashcroft as acting as head coach.
“The rule is the rule,” Hess said. “It is cut and dry. We aren’t trying to hide anything. As soon as I found out, we reported back to the PIAA that he had attended the game, but had no contact with the team until after the game. Him being there is against the rules. We accept the consequences.”
As a reigning state champion, Abington Heights, too, was willing to accept the consequences of a potential defeat in the regular-season by upgrading its nonleague schedule, taking on challenges from highly respected programs such as Berks Catholic of Reading, the sixth-ranked Class 4A team in the state.
It’s a test of the Comets’ resolve they hope will pay dividends down the road.
Although they ultimately got the win by forfeit, the Comets -- the sixth-ranked team in Class 5A -- came up a little short on the scoreboard against the Saints.
“We need to realize that they are a really good team, like all of the other teams we have been playing,” said Abington Heights senior George Tinsley, who scored 17 points, had 12 rebounds and blocked four shots.
“We had a really off day shooting, but we showed some good things and we have to build on those.”
Berks Catholic (7-2) showed no wear and tear after defeating Constitution, the top-ranked Class 2A team in the state, Friday night.
Luis Garcia, who had a team-high 17 points, scored his team’s first nine points and Casey Jack added four as the Saints jumped out to a 13-6 lead in the first quarter.
Abington Heights (8-2) made just 2 of 11 shots in the quarter and misfired on all four attempts from beyond the 3-point line. That became a recurring theme — if not a nightmare — for the Comets, who finished 0 for 12 on 3-pointers. They also struggled at the free-throw line, making 10 of 18, including 3 of 7 in the fourth quarter.
Harry Johnson came off the bench to provide a lift for Abington Heights. He scored six points in the second quarter and Tinsley also had six to tie the game at 18.
However, the Saints closed the first half on a 6-0 run with Kyran Mitchell starting the surge with a 3-pointer.
“We came out in the first quarter with no energy and they had a lot,” Tinsley said. “They smacked us right in the face. We have to be prepared for that and come out giving 100 percent from the beginning of every game.”
Corey Perkins got Abington Heights going in the third quarter. He scored four points during an 8-0 run that tied the game at 26-26. Trey Koehler hit one of two free throws to give the Comets the lead and the defense held Berks Catholic scoreless more than seven minutes.
At the start of the fourth, Perkins made a steal and layup that pushed the advantage to 29-26.
“We came out so slow and weren’t ready to play at all,” Perkins said. “In the second half, coach (Ken Bianchi) told us to work harder and push ourselves. We came out and played together a lot better.”
Berks Catholic answered right back. Garcia scored three to tie it back up.
From there the teams traded baskets and leads, but the Comets couldn’t pull away because of their struggles from the line.
With the game tied at 33, Garcia made a driving layup with 18 seconds remaining for the Saints.
He added a free throw after Tinsley hit one of two to make it 36-34, and the Comets missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.