TJ boys hang on despite foul trouble
ERIE — When a key player picks up his third foul early in the second half, it usually means a trip to the bench or timid play.
But even though Thomas Jefferson's Charlie Scharbo picked up his third foul less than a minute into the third quarter, he remained aggressive, especially on the offensive end.
Scharbo scored 22 points, including 10 in the Jaguars' strong third quarter, to lead TJ past Erie East, 72-66, in a PIAA Class AAA first-round game at Mercyhurst.
It was the program's first PIAA victory since the 2006 opener when Thomas Jefferson defeated Peabody.
The Jaguars move on to second round action Tuesday against Central Valley at a time and site to be determined. East finished its season at 20-6.
Thomas Jefferson (23-3) outscored the Warriors, 27-17, in the third period.
“I think that third quarter definitely was the big difference,” said Jaguars coach Dom DeCicco. “We had gotten into some foul trouble, and we changed to a 1-3-1 defense and we got some turnovers and breakouts.”
Thomas Jefferson forced five key East turnovers, contributing to the third-period outburst.
With Thomas Jefferson leading 57-44 to start the fourth quarter, a pass from Chase Winovich to Eric Fairman resulted in a basket and a foul shot by Fairman to give the Jaguars their biggest lead at 60-44.
But the Warriors fought back, reducing the TJ lead to three points twice in the final minute.
“I told the guys after the game, ‘Character's going to take you to a higher level,' ” said East coach Matt Jones. “That's what I preach: fight hard and don't let up. I told these guys from the jump ball that it's going to be a hard-fought game.”
Nine points by junior Justus Davis in the fourth period kept the game close for the Warriors.
Thomas Jefferson was just 11 of 28 from the foul line but hit key free throws in the final minute to hold on for the victory. Winovich's two foul shots with 15.3 seconds to go gave the Jaguars a 71-66 lead to virtually decide the issue.
“We made the foul shots when they counted, so I'm proud of the kids,” DeCicco said. “Everyone's focusing on the ones we missed, but our kids made them during crunch time, and that's huge.”
Scharbo, Winovich, Zach Talley and Zach Good played with four fouls in the fourth period, but none fouled out.
“We always talk about guys learning how to play with three fouls, how to play with four,” DeCicco said.
Jason Horan scored 14 points for Thomas Jefferson, seven in the third period, and Winovich added 12.
Senior Tyquis Johnson led East with 23 points and was 11 of 12 on free throws. Senior Kyree Kirkland added 21 points and seven rebounds.
“It was a back-and-forth game,” Jones said. “That's how it should be in the state playoffs. It a great experience for myself as a coach. I told my players there's teams that wish they could be where you are even though we came up on the short end of the stick.”
George Guido is a freelance writer.