York Catholic back to winning ways

Patrick Strohecker
  • York Catholic clinched at least a share of a league division title for the first time since 2011-12
  • The Fighting Irish are currently third in the District 3-AA power ratings
  • York Catholic is the third-highest scoring offense in the Y-A League, averaging 68.5 points per game
York Catholic head coach Blaine Claiborne was part of the 199x Fighting Irish state championship team and is now trying to help the program get back to that level. (John A. Pavoncello - The York Dispatch)

When Blaine Claiborne played basketball at York Catholic, the Fighting Irish struck fear into the minds of the opposition.

He was part of the last state championship boys' team at York Catholic, all the way back in the 1989-90 season.

From that season on, the Irish boys' program had good years and bad years, but never another state crown. The last three years, in particular, were a struggle. Despite having winning records in division competition, once the team ventured outside of the division, it found wins hard to come by, never finishing with a winning overall record.

So, when Claiborne was hired back in the spring to coach his alma mater, he told the Irish, in his very first team meeting, that the thought of losing was no longer going to be part of the team's mindset.

"When (my teams) showed up wearing the green and white or green and gold, the other teams took notice. The other fans took notice," Claiborne said. "We showed up to kick whoever's butt. Or when they came here, it just wasn't a thought that we would lose, so that's the attitude and that's what we want to get back."

So far this season, the Irish are a team that's starting to more resemble the teams from the glory years, as opposed to recent seasons.

Deep team: Coming into the job, Claiborne knew the type of talent York Catholic possessed.

As the junior varsity coach and assistant varsity coach at York Suburban last season, he faced the Irish players and knew that their time to shine wasn't far away. So, when he was hired to help guide the team back to winning basketball, he had a sense that it wouldn't be the most difficult task to turn around the program.

That job got even easier when Claiborne landed two key transfers from York High in junior Melik Martin and sophomore D'Andre Davis. The two are the team's leading scorers, with Martin averaging 14.2 points per game and Davis sitting at 13.3. Still, they're hardly the only reasons why York Catholic sits atop the Y-A Division III standings at 12-0 (14-4 overall).

Claiborne era starts at York Catholic

"The reason for the team's success is the team," Claiborne said. "That's been the most important thing. We play nine deep and are all interchangeable. Obviously, we have guys who are better than other guys, in a way that they put up better stats, let's say that, but those nine guys, they play hard and play together."

Claiborne said part of that has been the willingness to learn from a very reliable senior class.

The seniors on the Irish are now on their third coach in four years, hardly an easy task. Yet, the players bought into Claiborne's up-tempo style of basketball, with some players even accepting smaller roles with the addition of new guys and changing rotations.

"It's been really tough," senior Eddie Smith said about all the change he and the rest of his class have endured. "But, (Coach Claiborne) is making the transition a lot easier. He's a really good coach. Right from the start, he preached about the banners and how he wants to start getting them up there like he did back in his time."

As for the new guys, Martin and Davis, the transition into a new team was made easier by their accepting teammates who are accustomed to change.

Melik Martin scored 19 points Thursday for York Catholic.

"I didn't know anybody," Martin said. "But, everyone here is very friendly and very welcoming. I love being here. All the people are just a joy to be around."

Potential for a special night: When York Catholic takes the court on Friday night against Hanover, it has the potential to be something special.

Not only will it be Senior Night for the graduating class, but the Fighting Irish can clinch the outright Division III title with a victory over the Nighthawks. It would be the program's first division title since the 2011-12 season and just the second division crown in the last seven seasons. It was also the first goal that Claiborne set for his team back before the season even began.

York Catholic already knocked off Hanover earlier in the season on the road, winning comfortably, 69-58. That win was just one in a series of surprising results that have started to get the attention of people outside of the program.

"I just want to open my guys' eyes to know that they're good," Claiborne said. "Then obviously, the students and then the alumni, so we can have that support. I'm not really concerned about what's going on outside of this gym because, if we believe in ourselves and play together, whenever those other people see us, they're eyes are going to be open because we're going to be playing."

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at pstrohecker@yorkdispatch.com