HYDE — The Elk County Catholic boys basketball team has been a model of consistency, both at the local and state level, for decades.
Elk County has earned a berth to the PIAA playoffs every year but one (2013) since 1997, and in those other 19 state appearances has won at least one game 14 times — including this season.
However, the second round of states has proved to be a stumbling block for the Crusaders, who will eye a trip to the state quarterfinal for just the second time since 2005 when they hit the floor against Williamsburg Thursday night at Clearfield Area High School.
That 2005 season was crowning glory for ECC, as it went 5-0 in the postseason and captured the school’s lone boys basketball state title (Class A). Prior to that state crown, ECC had reached the state quarterfinals five times in a seven-year span from 1999-2005.
However, since bringing home state gold in 2005, ECC has reached the quarterfinal round of states just once in 2009. That season the Crusaders beat Union (D-7, 67-62 in OT), Homer-Center (59-56 in OT) and Serra Catholic (63-51) before losing to Kennedy Catholic in the west finals (58-44).
Ironically, a win Thursday against Williamsburg would set up a likely showdown with D-10 champ Kennedy Catholic.
But, before that matchup could occur, both teams must win Thursday, with the Crusaders (27-0) having to take care of business against Williamsburg, the District 6 runners-up.
The Blue Pirates, who play in the Inter County Conference (ICC), come in sporting a 16-10 record. Williamsburg lost to Saltsburg, 65-45, in the District 6 title game back on March 2. Saltsburg plays Johnsonburg (at 6 p.m.) in the first game of a doubleheader Thursday at Clearfield.
Williamsburg bounced back from that loss to edge District 5 runner-up Southern Fulton (19-6), 55-54, in the first round of states.
The Blue Pirates sport a trio of players who average double figures, led by junior point guard Rashadd Knorr (5-11). Knorr leads the team in points (332), scoring average (12.8 ppg), 3-pointers (47) and assists (88) and is second in steals (51),
Senior swingman Austin Fay (6-3) enters the game with an 11.7 scoring average (305 points). He leads the team in steals (61) and blocked shots (39), is second in rebounding (194) and third in assists (65).
Junior guard Nick Michelone (5-7) is third on the team in scoring with 291 points (11.2 ppg), while senior Silas Dishong (5-11) is fourth at 217 points (8.3 ppg). Michelone is second on the team with 40 3-pointers, while Dishong is third in rebounding (154). The team’s leading rebounder is 5-11 senior Aden McGonagle (194, 7.6 rpg).
As for the undefeated Crusaders, they ride a 27-game winning streak into the contest and are a combined 55-1 the past two seasons. The lone loss in that stretch came in last year’s PIAA quarterfinals to Farrell (61-38). The current group of ECC seniors are 81-4 since reaching the varsity level as sophomores.
And, it’s a pair of seniors — Nate DaCanal and Gabe Kraus — who lead the charge for ECC. DaCanal has been the Crusaders’ leading scorer each of the past three seasons, while Kraus has been right behind him each of the last two years.
DaCanal, one of the top players in District 9, is a do-everything type player for the Crusaders and led the team with a 15.3 point per game scoring average going into ECC’s first-round game against Eden Christian. The senior only had seven points in a 52-41 victory in that game.
Kraus, known to quickly change the momentum in games with his 3-point shooting, went into the Eden matchup with a 14.6 scoring average and dropped in 15 (including 4 3-pointers) in the victory.
The emergence of junior big man Ryan Newton in his first varsity season has added a third scoring threat to that duo. Newton also is averaging in double figures on the season and sat at 10.9 ppg. before scoring a team-high 17 in the first-round win over Eden Christian.
Newton’s inside play has proved vital after ECC lost Kyle Huff to graduation after last season.
While those three provide the main offensive production for ECC, the likes of seniors Brad Dippold, Dan Stauffer and Jared Braun all capable of providing solid scoring on a given night. Braun had eight points in the win over Eden in the first round.
Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Clearfield.