Nearly a year ago, the East Memorial boys basketball team walked out of Huntingdon’s Roland Arena empty-handed and emotionally crushed.
It was a complete reversal on Friday night.
Behind a collective effort, East Memorial captured its first state championship, defeating Eastwood 58-38 in the AISA Class AA title game.
“This is tribute to what our kids have done since November,” Wildcats head coach Scott Phillips said. “I am relived and just happy for our fans — the first state championship that we’ve had at the school. It’s nothing about me, it’s all about the kids.
“They played hard, they wanted it since last February and they showed that since the first day of practice.”
Last season, East Memorial (28-3) suffered a disappointing 15-point lose to eventual state champions Lee-Scott in the semifinals in Class AAA. That loss turned into the motivation that would fuel this year’s edition to return to finish the job.
“This is awesome, it’s a great feeling,” said Chandler Warren, who drained three first-half 3-pointers. “This is bigger than words. Last year, we lost to Lee-Scott and that just gave us a new hunger, and we came out hot and ready to win a state championship.”
Jaylen McCoy scored 16 points, Warren had 13 and Claude Guilder added in 11 for the Wildcats (28-3), who also got revenge against the same Eastwood team that upset them at the region tournament in front of their home crowd on Feb. 1.
For McCoy, realizing the mission was complete began to sink in when Phillips sent the third string into the game.
“It wasn’t until a minute left that I was like man it’s ours,” the relatively quiet sophomore guard said. “I really can’t explain it. I just want to thank God because without him giving us our abilities, none of this would be possible.”
East Memorial appeared to be playing on another level than its opponent. The Wildcats built a 10-point lead at halftime and extended it to 18 when McCoy and Matt Bair scored on consecutive possessions early in the fourth period.
“The big difference was their intensity level was just incredible,” Eastwood coach Chuck Jones said. “Their good players did what they were supposed to do. They knocked down so many shots early, and they got out ahead of us. They just played great tonight.”
A review of the road victory at Eastwood supplied the formula for Friday’s game.
“We went back and watched film of what we did Dec. 11, when we beat them at their place,” Phillips said. “We were intense, we were long and we were active. I can’t say we didn’t come to play against them in the regional, but I knew we were going to come to play tonight.”
Junior swingman Ben Bode led the Warriors with 10 points.
Eastwood (21-10) completes its second year in the AISA, going from a 12-win team to a championship appearance.
“I thought we could win tonight, but (EMCA) just best us,” said Jones, a second-year coach. “I am really proud of my team and what they were able to accomplish. Second year in the AISA, and I just think they have everything to be proud of.”