STROHECKER: York Catholic remains class of Division III
- York Catholic is off to a 7-1 start, including 4-0 in Division III action this season.
- The Fighting Irish went 14-0 in Division III play last year, but just 3-6 outside of division play.
- York Catholic travels to face Delone Catholic on Tuesday in a battle for outright first place in the division.
Long before the 2016-17 boys' basketball season began, York Catholic senior forward Melik Martin proclaimed that this year's Fighting Irish team was the Golden State Warriors of the York-Adams League.
In a way, it was the perfect analogy for Martin to give York Catholic. It was a testament to the team's depth, returning all five starters from a year ago, four key bench players from last season's team and the acquisition of a quality transfer, a la Kevin Durant going from Oklahoma City to Golden State.
Like the Warriors of last year, the only thing missing from the Fighting Irish's stellar 2015-16 campaign was a league or district championship. They easily worked their way through Division III, going 14-0, finishing three games ahead of second-place Hanover. In the postseason, however, York Catholic dropped its opener in both the Y-A League and District 3 2-A tournaments.
So, while Martin comparing this year's Fighting Irish team to Golden State was meant to serve as a compliment about the team's talent and depth, the similarities between the two teams also carry into not-so-positive aspects, as well. Golden State, after a 73-win season, couldn't bring home a postseason title, either.
As this season transitions into 2017, York Catholic looks every bit as dominant as it did a year ago, if not more so.
The downfall for the Fighting Irish in 2015-16 was, once it got outside of Division III competition, they struggled. They went 14-0 in division play, but 3-6 outside of it.
So, this year, there wasn't much question about what York Catholic could accomplish within Division III. The Irish entered the season as heavy favorites to repeat as champions. The big question, however, was what would the Irish do outside of division play. Thus far, the Fighting Irish are 7-1 overall and 3-1 in non-division games. Their lone defeat came in the season opener, a true road game against Trinity, a legitimate state-championship contender in Class 3-A. The Shamrocks now sit at 8-0, including that 55-41 win vs. the Irish.
Of course, one could argue that if York Catholic wanted to consider itself a true state, or even District 3, contender, a game of that magnitude would be the perfect measuring stick to see where it was at and where it would need to get.
Getting worked up over a season-opening loss to one of the top 3-A schools in the state isn't worth fretting over. What is impressive is the way head coach Blaine Claiborne's Fighting Irish have responded, going on a seven-game winning streak, winning by an average of 28.0 points per game in the process. The most impressive win during that streak may have been the last — a 60-54 triumph over Bethlehem Catholic in the Robert H. Griffith Holiday Tournament title game last week. Bethlehem Catholic entered that game at 6-1. York Catholic hadn't won the Griffith crown in more than a decade.
The duo of D'Andre Davis and Martin are also averaging more than 32 combined points per game, making them one of the best scoring tandems in the Y-A League. When you factor in Kyle Derowski's 11-plus points per game and Torey Thomas' nearly 10 per game, you start to get a sense of the depth of scoring that York Catholic possesses.
Can Delone challenge?: As it stands, the Fighting Irish are tied with fellow parochial school Delone Catholic for first place in Division III at 4-0. However, it's hard to see the Squires keeping pace with York Catholic over the course of the season. First off, there's a significant size advantage for the Fighting Irish. One glance at Delone and you'll see that it's an undersized team. To make matters worse for Delone, York Catholic has eight players at least 6 feet or taller, including three guys at 6-feet, 3-inches and Martin at 6-feet, 6-inches.
Then, there are the records. The Squires are 5-4 overall, which is a decent start for the team. However, they haven't been nearly as dominant in their wins. And York Catholic holds a decided advantage when it comes to the only common opponent between Delone and the Fighting Irish so far this season — Hanover. York Catholic routed the Nighthawks, 89-40, while the Squires won by 10 on the road.
I'm not discounting the rest of the teams in Division III, but right now, the next closest team to either of these two are Biglerville, Littlestown and York Tech, which are all 2-2 in division play, which essentially equates to a nearly insurmountable hole to overcome. It's unlikely the Fighting Irish lose one, let alone two, division games this season.
We'll get a true sign of what to make of the division when York Catholic and Delone square off for the first time on Tuesday night in McSherrystown. If there was ever a time for the Squires to show that they belong in the same sentence as the Fighting Irish, Tuesday will be the time.
Right now, however, it's York Catholic and then everybody else.
Martin said the Fighting Irish were the Golden State Warriors before the season began. And, so far, he's been right, at least when it comes to Division III.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com.