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Holzshu offers high praise to Central Catholic

| Thursday, Dec. 27, 2001

Gateway coach Paul Holzshu nearly ran out of words when describing the Central Catholic boys basketball team.

"They're good, deep and strong," Holzshu said.

And those adjectives came 15 minutes after his team escaped Central Catholic's Alumni Hall with a hard-fought 51-47 overtime victory in a Section 4-AAAA game Dec. 18.

"They might have lost to us, but they're going to be a force to be reckon with the entire season," Holzshu said.

The loss dropped Central Catholic's record to 5-3 overall and 2-1 in the section before last Friday's game at Plum.

Coach Chuck Crummie called his team a unknown entity after the first three weeks of the regular season.

"Our record could go either way," he said.

At times, Central Catholic has looked like one of the best teams in Class AAAA. The Vikings started the season with a 76-53 victory over City League champion Peabody in the Farrell Tipoff Tournament. They've also defeated eastern Pennsylvania team Hatboro Horsham and stayed within striking distance of Philadelphia power Simon Gratz through three quarters before falling, 75-52, in the Latrobe Rotary Tournament.

"We were not overmatched, and (Simon Gratz) played an excellent game," Crummie said.

At other times, the Vikings have struggled. Central Catholic blew a 22-17 halftime lead against Gateway, and it needed to come from behind in the last four minutes to force an overtime. During the four-minute overtime, Central Catholic scored just two points.

In a way, Central Catholic is experiencing growing pains. The Vikings have a 10-player rotation, but most of the lineup has little varsity experience. Just four Vikings played significant minutes last season when Central Catholic compiled a 24-5 record and advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals.

Of the four players who played last season, senior forward Steve Buches and senior guard Drew Garcia are returning starters. Buches and Garcia, however, didn't return to the basketball squad until the second weekend of the season because they were key members of Central Catholic's WPIAL Class AAAA runner-up football team.

Crummie said Garcia and Buches entered the basketball season with some bumps and bruises from the 13-game football season. Buches had to leave the Gateway game with three minutes remaining because he injured his right ankle chasing a loose ball.

"They're winners," Crummie said. "They're two kids that love to play, and that know how to play. But I don't think they're quite ready to take the team on their shoulders because they're still worn out from football season."

Buches, a three-year starter, is a powerful inside presence who uses his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame to create space inside. He's the Vikings leading returning scorer after averaging 15 points per game. Garcia, a two-year starter, is a slashing guard who averaged 14 points per game in 2000-01.

"They're just getting back into basketball shape," Crummie said. "It's a double-edged sword. You want to use them as leaders, but they're not ready to go as hard as they're capable of.

"We're probably two weeks away. Once we get those two weeks, we'll be back to where we should be."

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