After 49 seasons of coaching Alter High School basketball, no one can fault Joe Petrocelli for ending his long and distinguished career.
But that won’t happen this week. An unlikely 62-58 defeat of Thurgood Marshall, the state’s top-ranked Division II team, in a sectional final Thursday night at UD Arena saw to that.
“And they are the No. 1 team,” Petro conceded. “There’s no doubt about that. We just got a few rolls and Jaaron (Simmons) turned it on.”
It was a stunning conclusion to a top-shelf doubleheader at UD that drew about 8,000 spectators. Dunbar rallied in the second half to overcome Franklin 66-63 in the opener. Alter (18-5) and Dunbar (19-6), the defending D-II state champ, advance to next week’s district finals also at UD against opponents to be determined.
Simmons, the high-scoring senior guard who has yet to sign with a college, put a game-high 29 points on the Cougars (23-2). None were more crucial than a step-back 3-pointer from the wing over defender Mark Alstork with 1:10 left that put Alter up for good.
“That was a move that I’ve been working on all summer,” Simmons said. “I really never get to put it in play because you can only do it at a certain time and that was the perfect time.”
Alstork, bound for Drake, led Thurgood with 18 points. Thurgood never seemed to recover after guard Edmond Early Jr. suffered a first-quarter ankle sprain. Its only other loss was to Findlay (Nev.) Prep, the nation’s No. 1 team in the USA Today Super 25.
Petro said Alter’s only other defeat of a No. 1 team was in 1975 when the Knights took down unbeaten Middletown in a regional final.
“I wish it was coaching,” he mused.
Dunbar seemed ripe for a season-ending setback when Franklin’s Luke Kennard tallied 11 of his game-high 21 points in the first quarter. But the Wolverines recovered with a 15-3 third-quarter run to draw even.
Emerging junior William Green saw to it that Dunbar extended its postseason, scoring 23 points, including eight in the fourth quarter. “AJ” Harris added 18 points for the Wolverines. Franklin ends 19-4.
“We were the underdogs coming in,” Green said. “Everybody wanted us to lose. We showed them that we’re still Dunbar.”