Balanced attack earns Bishop Canevin 1st PIAA boys basketball title

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Thursday, March 24, 2022 | 4:45 PM


HERSHEY — This state championship celebration was years in the making for Bishop Canevin, with some waiting longer than others to see the Crusaders finally win one.

Consider, their coach was once a team ballboy.

“Being an alum from our school, our program was never talked about for years,” said coach Gino Palmosina, a former player himself, as he gathered his current players in a Giant Center locker room. “Before I was there. After I was there. While I was there. You guys put us on the map.”

Crusaders senior Jaden Gales posted a double-double, and three teammates also scored in double figures as Bishop Canevin used a balanced attack to defeat St. John Newmann, 64-47, in the PIAA Class A final Thursday in Hershey.

The boys title was the first for Canevin (25-4), which was making its state championship debut.

A year ago, the Crusaders’ title hopes ended with a covid-related forfeit in the state quarterfinals. In 2020, the Crusaders were still alive in the bracket when the pandemic shut down the entire tournament.

This time, nothing could stop them.

“It was a very emotional win for us,” said senior Kai Spears, who scored a team-high 16 points. “This is something we’ve been working for since the start of the year. Two years ago. Three years ago. Four years ago for the seniors.”

Palmosina, a 2011 graduate, took over as head coach four years ago after four as an assistant. He said the past two shortened seasons were sources of motivation.

“We were finally able to play,” Palmosina said. “If our season was going to end, let’s have someone end it — not circumstances that we can’t control. … We got the job done.”

Senior Kevaughn Price scored 15 points, Gales had 14 points and 12 rebounds, and freshman Amari Evans added 10 points. The Crusaders grabbed the lead with an 11-2 run at the end of the second quarter, and then won the third, 20-9.

District 4 champion St. John Newman (26-4) was also seeking its first state title. But the Knights shot just 32% overall from the field, missed 38 of 56 attempts and couldn’t keep pace.

Balance was key for Canevin, which shot 55% (29 of 52).

St. John Neumann’s Davion Hill scored a game-high 30 points on a 10-for-27 shooting night, but the junior with a Maryland offer didn’t have much help. Teammate Hanief Clay added 14 points, yet the rest of the team’s roster went 1 for 11 from the field and combined for three points.

Credit a Canevin defense that forced 20 turnovers.

“Their supporting cast shot it really well in the films I’ve watched,” Palmsoina said. “We tried to take away Hill and Clay first, and if they got going we would adjust. We were fortunate enough to make more shots than they did.”

Trailing 6-4 in the first quarter, Canevin used an offensive rebound, two steals and a block to score seven consecutive points. The Crusaders led 11-6 after consecutive transition layups by Spears and Gales.

St. John Neumann pulled to within a point late in the first quarter on two free throws by Hill, and took a 17-16 lead three minutes into the second, again on Hill free throws. The 6-foot guard scored 15 of his team’s 21 first-half points.

Yet, Hill made only 4 of 12 attempts before half.

“We had to stay disciplined on defense,” Gales said. “They have a D1 player and we couldn’t let him do whatever he wanted, because if we did that, then we lost.”

The lead changed hands four times in a two-minute span midway through the second quarter. A runner by Evans was the final lead change, putting Bishop Canevin ahead 20-19 with about three minutes left before half.

Evans’ basket sparked an 11-2 run that gave Canevin an eight-point lead at half. The Crusaders led 29-21 behind Gales, who scored 12 first-half points.

The Crusaders then scored 10 of the first 14 points in the second quarter. A dunk by Gales gave Canevin a 39-25 lead with four minutes left in the third.

Canevin’s lead reached 20 points on a layup by Price late in the third.

“Since our first practice here, Gino came and told us he wants to win WPIAL and he wants to win states,” Price said. “Being that we got canceled two years in a row, we haven’t had the opportunity to do that. To come here, have the opportunity and win, is unreal.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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