By Shawn Wood
For The Daily Item
COAL TWP. -- There may be no crying in baseball but it's OK to get choked up after guiding your team to your alma mater's 1,000th win.
That's what happened to Lourdes coach Pete Long, the fifth head coach in the program's history, on Thursday night as the Red Raiders beat rival Schuylkill Haven 48-22 at Lee E. Korbich Memorial gym.
"This is my dream job. I grew up here on the court beginning as a water boy and then a player and now a coach," Long said, fighting back tears. "To be a part of this is great. It means a lot to this school and the student-athletes that went through this building."
The question that was raised at the beginning of the season was how many wins Long's young team would get, and if the milestone was within reach.
"We didn't talk about it too much at the beginning of the year, but the kids were aware of it," Long said. "Not too many people thought we would reach the mark with such a young team."
The Red Raiders were 18-7 last year.
Long's starting lineup Thursday had one senior in Mike Gilger, three freshmen and a junior. They accounted for 34 of the 48 points, led by freshman Larry Czeponis' game-high 12. Ken Paweluizyk added 10 off the bench.
The school opened in 1959 and since then has averaged nearly 18 wins a season with the most (30) coming in the 1979-80 season.
"The kids who believed that we could get to 1,000 wins (the 900th win came on Dec. 2, 2005) are the kids in the locker room and they showed it," Long said. "Our match-up zone was relentless and we shot the ball with confidence and played with a lot of intensity."
Thursday's win was a far cry from earlier in the season when Lourdes won 41-40 at Schuylkill Haven.
Zavier Webb knocked down a 3-point basket 15 seconds into the game to give the Hurricanes a 3-0 lead. It was their only lead of the night.
Lourdes went on a 10-0 run to close a first quarter that saw Haven go scoreless for nearly 3 1/2 minutes.
Haven slowed the tempo in the second quarter, holding the ball without a shot for a 2-minute stretch at one point, as the teams combined for six points with Lourdes leading 19-11 at the break.
The third quarter belonged to Lourdes as an 11-0 run kept the winless Hurricanes off the board until there was 2:15 left in the quarter. The lead would balloon to 33-16 after three periods.
Czeponis made his presence felt down low as 10 of his came from the low post.
Lourdes recorded its first varsity win, 66-34 over Kulpmont, on Dec. 3, 1959.
Tom Ryan, now a broadcaster with Black Diamond Sports Network, was the first player through the doors on opening night.
"What I remember most about the first game was the crowd and the enthusiasm," Ryan said. "We had moved out from Shamokin Catholic where the gym was about 60-feet long and this (Lourdes) was the big court. It was a memorable occasion as a game to play in. The year we won the state title (1990) the team's only loss was to Schuylkill Haven."
That team went 20-8 on it way to the Class A state crown.
Matt Reiprish was the co-captain on that championship team and was at the game Thursday to witness history.
"One of the main things about the championship team was that were we pretty smart guys," he said. "All of us were in the Honor Society, and when we played we knew we could rely on one another.
"In the state championship game, I fouled out with three minutes left and when I huddled up with everyone on the floor, I looked into their eyes and I knew that we were still going to win the game," Reiprish added.
Lourdes won the game with a pair of late free throws.
The other living coach for the Red Raiders is John McKay, who compiled a 260-97 record from 1975-87 which included six District 4 Class AA championships from 1977 through 1986.
"I don't know if the play of the game had changed so much, but I think the kids in today's society have so many other things to do that they don't spend as much time on the court in the offseason," he said. "They can go to all of the camps and clinics they want, but if they are not willing to go out and work on the playgrounds or get in the gym in order to get better, then that's kind of defeating the purpose."
McKay noted that a lot of the success of Lourdes program over the years was not only thanks to a good Catholic Youth Organization feeder system, but talented men such as Leo Muhall who set the coaching standard at the school, according to McKay.
"We had to travel to coaching clinics back in the days like they ones they had in Cherry Hill, N.J," he said. "They were run by Al McGuire, and Bobby Knight was usually there and Dick Motta from the pros. They would say you put your 6-10 forward here and your 7-foot center here and we were dealing with 6-1 forwards and 6-2 centers and we had to adapt and run stuff that was good for our kids".
McKay is second on the all-time win list (which was complied by Ryan) to Korbich, who had 304 from 1987-2002.