Tyson Thomas and Liam Joyce played 80 games for the Allentown Central Catholic men’s basketball team over the past three years and both were 1,000-point scorers and mainstays on a team that won two championships 2020-21 PIAA Class 4A District and Crown.
After the graduation of former players from all leagues, regions and states, the question mark facing the 2022-23 Vikings squad was who would come forward as the leader and someone ready to shoot with the game on the line?
Perhaps that question was answered on Tuesday night at the Third Annual Lehigh Valley Varsity Fall Jamfest League Championship Game.
Nico Pulieri hit a right-side runner at the buzzer to give Central Catholic a 34-33 win over East Stroudsburg North in the 16-team league’s final game, which takes place every Tuesday night at the East Side Youth Center in Allentown.
It was the third year in a year that Central had won the fall league. The Vikings beat Allen to the crown in 2020 through Thomas and Joyce and last year was Thomas’s shot.
East Stroudsburg North, a much improved team from the one that finished 9-13 overall and 4-12 in Pennsylvania’s Eastern Conference last season, had a 30-21 lead with about six minutes left. play but couldn’t hold on as the Vikings applied the pressure.
Jahrel Vigo, The Morning Call’s Rookie of the Year last season as the region’s top freshman, scored 11 of 18 points in the second half to spark Central’s comeback. ACCHS had an 18-17 halftime lead but then scored just three points in the first 13 minutes of the second half as North’s speed and relentless play on the boards gave a cushion at the Timberwolves.
While Vigo’s jostling play which included back-to-back three-point plays gave Central a chance for victory, it was Pulieri who delivered the winning shot.
Pulieri made a similar shot at the buzzer to give ACCHS a 63-62 victory over Central York last December to win a tournament-leading Manheim Township.
“I just play basketball and work hard and it comes quite naturally,” Pulieri said. “North is a good team. They were undefeated in this league until we beat them last week.
What made him flip?
“We just played tough defense and got some rebounds and we were smart with the ball at the end,” he said. “I just had an open shot at the end. If I have an open shot, I’ll take it.
Vigo said it was all about digging deep.
“Our team was looking for a leader to motivate them and drive them forward and I happened to be the guy to do it,” Vigo said. “We had a very good summer. We won the Cedar Beach Bash, but then we missed the A-Town Throwdown, but it was still pretty good.
Central finished last season 21-6 but lost three of its last four games. The Vikings fell to Parkland 52-49 in overtime in the EPC Tournament semi-final, then lost to Bethlehem Catholic 46-41 in the District 11 4A semi-final. They bounced back to rout North Schuylkill 65-15 in the 4A consolation game, but then squandered a sizable lead and fell to West Philadelphia 59-58 in the States first round.
“It’s going to take hard work to get back to where we want to go,” Vigo said. “Whether it’s in the gym, weightlifting, working on shooting, we just have to work to get that team chemistry.”
The Vikings, who beat Freedom in the semi-finals, went 9-1 with their only loss to Exeter.
The Timberwolves went 8-2 with a pair of wins over Executive Education, including a 52-45 triumph in Thursday’s semifinals. Nate Wilder and Emmanuel Kenyi combined for 28 points in that one.
The latest local and national sports news, and what’s happening in sports this afternoon and tonight.
“We’ve worked hard since we played our last game last February,” second-year coach Denzal McKenzie said. “We took three or four weeks off and then got back together last March and the guys are starting to bond. I am very attached to culture. When I started here we were on a downward spiral, but we’re changing things up and it’s starting to show. Guys like Nate Wilder, Bryson Doby, Bryson Gilchrist and Emmanuel Kenyi are all playing well.
It’s a long drive from Pike County to Allentown, but McKenzie said it’s worth playing a good competition.
“It’s quite a journey,” McKenzie said. “We’ve been playing here since the summer and we love coming here. I want to expose these guys to this competition, hopefully it pays off. It’s been a great offseason. »
League manager Marlon Thomas called the season a success with a variety of teams involved including Reading, Collegium, Muhlenberg Township, Notre Dame-East Stroudsburg and Nativity BVM joining several EPC members.
“The number of teams keeps growing every year,” Thomas said. “They play eight regular season games and then the top four make the playoffs. We’re emulating what the high school programs are already doing and it plays out in shootouts every weekend where they play two games in one day. We allow you to play two games in one day, but you do it over eight weeks. It was our best year in terms of competition. It’s real basketball at the end of the day. And I look forward to it continuing to grow.
Practice for the PIAA season begins Nov. 18 with the first regular season game date set for Dec. 2.
We rely on the support of our subscribers to fund our journalism. If you haven’t already registered, we hope you do. consider subscribing. Already subscribed to print? If you haven’t done so already, please activate your digital access.