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St. Joseph boys closing in on playoff berth in Section 3-A

| Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, 11:33 p.m.

Things were clicking for St. Joseph boys basketball Tuesday night.

The Spartans never trailed, hit 10 3-pointers and all five starters scored in double figures in a big 74-51 victory over Winchester-Thurston at Walter Dlubak Center.

The victory broke a fourth-place tie with the Bears in the race for the final WPIAL playoff berth from Section 3-A.

Daniel Fábregas celebrated his 16th birthday with an 18-point performance, including seven points in the first two minutes of the third quarter to break open a close contest.

Grant Bendis also scored 18, and Mitchell Kuczynski grabbed nine rebounds.

St. Joseph is 4-4 in section play, 11-6 overall. Winchester-Thurston (8-8, 3-5) fell to fifth place despite a 29-point performance by Malik Potter and nine rebounds by Dorian Epps.

The Spartans played without injured senior guard Vincenzo Schiano di Cola.

“That was a difficult game,” St. Joseph coach Kelly Robinson said. “We were on the bubble for the playoffs. We beat Winchester at their place in overtime. Knowing that Vincenzo was out, it was a big concern for us.”

Senior Jack Farrell had a trio of 3-pointers.

“We had five guys in double figures; that's huge for a win,” Farrell said. “When we play a team like this, you need a solid team performance, and we showed that tonight.”

Farrell's 3-pointer less than four minutes into the game put the Spartans in front 10-0.

Potter, averaging 25 points, put the Bears on his back, scoring 21 points in the first half. A basket by Geoff Cohen tied the score at 26 with 3 minutes, 38 seconds left in the half.

“Trying to stop Malik is a pretty tall order,” Robinson said. “We did a pretty good job the last time we played them.”

Bendis' 3-pointer with 2:58 left in the second half gave St. Joseph the lead for good. The Spartans committed just three team fouls in the first half and led 36-31 at intermission.

Fábregas made a 3-pointer 18 seconds into the third quarter. He followed that with a basket off a steal, then took a long, downcourt pass for another basket to give St. Joseph a 46-33 advantage with 6:16 to go in the third quarter.

The Spartans continue to win, despite Kuczynski's presence as the only starter over 6 feet tall.

“It's a great experience as a team,” Farrell said. “The reason for our success is how we work together as a team and how much fun we have on the court with each other. It's nice for people to have your back, especially if someone's having a bad game.”

After missing the playoffs for the first time in 14 years last season, the Spartans can sew up a playoff spot with a victory at last-place Trinity Christian on Friday.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
St. Joseph's Christian Sauer (1) and Gabe Szep (24) sandwich Winchester Thurston's Geoff Cohen while going for a rebound during the WPIAL Boys Class A game at Walter Dlubak Athletic Center in Natrona Heights on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
St. Joseph's Grant Bendis is fouled as he drives to the basket by Winchester Thurston's Tyler Perry(35) while Dorian Epps comes from behind during the WPIAL Boys Class A game at Walter Dlubak Athletic Center in Natrona Heights on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
St. Joseph's Mitchell Kuczynski puts in a layup with Winchester Thurston's Dorian Epps on defense during the WPIAL Boys Class A game at Walter Dlubak Athletic Center in Natrona Heights on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
St. Joseph's Gabe Szep wrestles the ball from Winchester Thurston's Jacob Dubner during the WPIAL Boys Class A game at Walter Dlubak Athletic Center in Natrona Heights on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017. St. Joseph wins, 74-51.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
St. Joseph's keeps the ball away from Winchester Thurston's Eli Harrison during the WPIAL Boys Class A game at Walter Dlubak Athletic Center in Natrona Heights on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017.
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