Fifty years ago, Carbondale St. Rose brought March Madness excitement to the city with a Pennsylvania Catholic Interscholastic Athletic Association (PCIAA) Class B state basketball championship.
The Roses, who had claimed a PCIAA state title in 1955, won the coveted title on St. Patrick's Day Sunday, March 17 with a heart-stopping 56-54 win over St. Joseph (Natrona) at the Scranton CYC before more than 3,000 fans.
State Championship Battle
St. Rose (27-3) came into the contest on a seven-game winning streak, a Scranton Diocesan crown and Catholic League Central Division championship in hand.
Since there was no interstate 80 at the time, St. Joe's made the 10-hour trek the night before the game. St. Joe's, which had 18 boys in its senior class had a distinct size advantage in the game.
"We knew in warm-ups when we saw their size that we would have a tough game ahead of us," said starter Ed Gramer, St. Rose's tallest player at 6-2.
The locals starting line-up boasted 5-11 senior Emmett Speicher, 6-2 senior Ed Gramer, 5-10 junior Marty Andrews, and twins 5-9 guards, Tom and Mike Cunningham. Seniors, Paul Clark (5-7) and Jim Baker (6-1) and junior, Pat Colgan (5-6) were the first subs.
Meanwhile, St. Joe's featured Ron Krasinski (6-4), Tom Antowiak (6-3), Dave Kurmenaker (6-2), Lou Demarter (6-0) and Joe Zalenski (5-11).
St. Rose had blistered their last five opponents by an average margin of 24 points per game en route to a special playoff for the league title, a diocesan crown and the first three state playoff wins. The Roses nailed more than 50% of their field goals in two post season games and never fell below 38% from the field in three others. They shot a cumulative 61% marksmanship from the free throw line in those same games.
But in the final, the local parochials struggled through a 22-68 field goal effort (32%) and 12-27 free throw performance (44%) including missing numerous front end of one-and-ones. Yet, they found a way to bring back a state crown to the Pioneer City.
This team, which had set a goal to win a state crown as far back as eighth grade, may have felt the early game pressure as St. Joe's managed an 11-9 lead after the first period.
Five lead changes occurred in the first half as St. Rose battled back from a 17-13 and 26-23 deficits to take a 29-26 lead. Speicher and the Cunninghams put together a 6-0 run to take the lead for good but not before some anxious fourth quarter moments.
Leading 31-30 at half, showcasing a smothering press and having three St. Joe's players in foul trouble, the Roses pushed the margin to 49-40 in the third but a St. Joe's 5-0 finish to the period sliced the gap to 49-45.
Page 2 of 3 - With more than 3,000 fans now living-and-dying with every dribble, the fourth period became nearly unbearable to watch for both teams' fans.
Mike Cunningham's one-hand set shot was sandwiched by a Delmarter and Bob Chiostri score to put the score at 51-49. Cunningham nailed a jumper and Gramer followed a miss with a rebound and score for breathing room at 55-49.
When Krasinski converted a foul shot 17 seconds after Zalenski scored, the Roses lead was sliced to 55-52 with 2:38 left.
Two missed free throws and a turnover preceded a Krasinski score with 1:19 left to close the spread to 55-54.
The tension was mounting!
St. Rose missed a shot but St. Joe's blew a fast break opportunity. A St. Rose turnover followed with :59 left but Speicher managed to force a jump ball (there was no alternate possession on jump balls, there was a jump ball like at the start of the game) with :46 left. St. Joe's got the tap but another tie-up occurred. Two more jump balls occurred before St. Rose got possession.
Andrews converted the front end of a one-and-one with :12 left for a 56-54 lead.
St. Joe's was forced to take a near half-court shot with :02 left. When the ball fell short of the rim, the St. Rose faithful exploded onto the court to celebrate the state title win.
Capping a Crown
Speicher led the way with 25 points while Mike Cunningham netted 10 points. Gramer and Andrews contributed eight points apiece while Tom Cunningham posted five points.
St. Rose averaged 67.5 ppg and yielded 49.2 ppg.
In the opening round against Marian Catholic, the locals vaulted to a 23-6 start on 10-14 shooting and coasted to an 86-63 win.
Speicher piled up 33 points while Gramer, Tom Cunningham and Baker added 12, 11 and 10 points.
Against St. Pius at Norristown, St. Rose turned a 16-13 lead into a 38-23 halftime cushion and eventually came away with a 70-49 win. Speicher tallied 28 points while Mike Cunningham and Andrews added 12 and 10 points.
St. Rose buried Holy Rosary 88-61 in front of 900 fans at South Scranton Jr. High School.
Nailing 57% of its 70 shots, St. Rose pulled away in the second period to produce a 46-31 halftime lead. The Roses went 22-35 from the field in the half.
In the title game vs. St. Mary's Williamsport, St. Rose jumped to a 17-9 start then put the game away with a 23-9 second period run. Speicher piled up 32 points while Gramer and Tom Cunningham, posted 15 and 13 points.
St. Mary's was minus a starter who was thrown off the team two days prior to the game because he was smoking in the locker room after practice!
Page 3 of 3 - Catholic League Playoff
St. Rose defeated Scranton Prep 67-53 in a special playoff for the Catholic League Central Division championship rallying from a 27-22 halftime deficit.
The Roses narrowed the gap to 39-38 at the end of three periods then went on a 29-14 spurt in the last quarter for the win. Speicher netted 23 points while Gramer added 12 points.