Twenty minutes before state playoff game, Pa. team forfeits because of COVID-19 case

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)

It was about 20 minutes before Friday night's state quarterfinal game, and Bishop Canevin still was not on its home court for warm-ups.

Maybe Bishop Canevin was simply trying to psyche out Berlin Brothersvalley, the opponent who had traveled from Somerset County. Or maybe Bishop Canevin forgot to push the clocks ahead last week.

Or maybe something was wrong.

Then the PA announcer grabbed the microphone and made a somber, three-sentence announcement to the small crowd. And just like that, the game was off. Berlin Brothersvalley would be moving on to the state semifinals. Bishop Canevin's season was over.

A COVID-19 case had done in Bishop Canevin.

A Bishop Canevin player tested positive for the virus Friday night. Coach Gino Palmosina learned of the news just before 6:10. He informed his team, walked onto the court, informed Berlin Brothersvalley's coaches, and then walked back to the locker room, where tears were flowing from players — and even coaches.

Bishop Canevin (16-5) had rolled to its first WPIAL title in school history a week earlier and was looking forward to playing the Class 1A quarterfinal against Berlin Brothersvalley (24-1), a team that had lost only two games the past two seasons and was one of the favorites to win the PIAA this year.

"Everyone is extremely emotional in there. Some are shocked," Palmosina said of his team's locker room. "They don't know what to say or think. A lot of guys are upset. We're a tight-knit group and we've come a long way since these seniors were freshmen and were getting their heads kicked in. To end like this is terrible, just terrible."

Palmosina said one of his team's players was not feeling well Friday and Palmosina received a call from the player's parents about 5:05 and was told the player received a rapid COVID-19 test. The family was waiting for the results.

"It was a tricky situation," Palmosina said. "After I got the phone call, I thought it was in the best interest to pass the information on to our athletic director [ Dale Checketts] and he then had a conversation with our principal [ Mike Joyce]. I don't know what the decision would've been if the test results didn't come back before the game. ... When we got the news, our administration thought it was in everyone's best interest to not play the game."

The PIAA had made a rule earlier this year that any team that can't play a state playoff game because of a COVID-19 situation would forfeit the game.

Bishop Canevin's players were supposed to arrive at the gym at 5:15 for the 6:30 game. When they arrived, they received the news and were told not to take the court for warm-ups until Palmosina learned more.

And what a coincidence. A year ago, Bishop Canevin won two PIAA playoff games and was supposed to play in the quarterfinals — against Berlin Brothersvalley. But the PIAA suspended the tournament after the second round and then canceled the playoffs a month later.

"I do think safety comes first in this," Palmosina said. "But we got bounced last year and the same thing this year. It's terrible, but it's the world we live in. Other teams have gotten shut down. NBA teams are shut down from this stuff. Safety comes first."

Nevan Crossey, a Bishop Canevin senior and a starter, had tears in his eyes when he came out of the locker room for the last time. Here was a teenager whose final season ended horribly, but he put things in perspective.

"It was devastating for sure," Crossey said. "You find out that after four years of so much hard work, this is how it ends. But COVID has been devastating to hundreds of thousands of Americans. Basketball is a big part of our lives, but there's a lot more than basketball in life. You've got to keep it in perspective. Losing out on a basketball season is bad, but a lot of people have lost family members and lives because of COVID."

Palmosina said, "We worked so hard and focused in so hard over the summer and spring through this pandemic. We had only been to a WPIAL final once before. To finally get it done, win one and put one of those trophies in the trophy case, as an alum of this school, it's a cool feeling. They'll never be able to take that away from us."