The Last Crusade: Coughlin Entering The Final Few Games In Program History
WILKES-BARRE — The final season of Coughlin boys basketball will not go down as one of the program’s greatest seasons.
However, there have been just enough moments of shock and thrill to make the glory days seem not too distant.
There was opening night back in December, when senior Aaron Bennett beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer for a 42-41 win against Lake-Lehman.
Six weeks later, freshman Prince Allen put in a buzzer-beating layup to win 65-63 at Valley West.
“The buzzer-beaters have been great. Literally, they were walk-offs,” said head coach Mike Day. “Just to see the kids be really excited, to be jumping around and celebrating. The Lake-Lehman game was a home game, so to see the fans on the court celebrating — it was reminiscent of Coughlin in past years.”
Day is a Crusader through and through, having played under the great John Quinn.
Day played three seasons at Coughlin from 1989 to 1992, highlighted by PIAA Class 4A playoff appearances in 1990 and 1991.
In 1990, Day, then a 6-foot-6 sophomore, teamed with some even taller players — 6-7 Phil Marko, 6-7 Jason Mills and 6-8 Burke Massey — to advance to the District 2 championship, where they lost 70-54 to Hazleton Area.
It was one of many losses Coughlin suffered at the hands of Hazleton Area.
“We always played Division 1. We played the biggest teams around,” Day said. “When I was near the end and even after I left, nobody could beat Hazleton, unfortunately. If Hazleton wasn’t around when I was there, maybe we would have won a championship or two.”
So, when Coughlin brings fewer championships to the table than Meyers and GAR when Wilkes-Barre Area combines the three programs into one next season, it is with good reason.
Longtime head coach Quinn finally got over the hump in 1998, when he led the Crusaders to a 57-48 win in the league title game at Hazleton Area in front of a giant crowd estimated at 3,000 fans.
“When we cut the nets down in their gym, the people went nuts; older people were going nuts,” Quinn said. “People had problems with that, but nothing we couldn’t handle.”
Quinn, who was head coach from 1974 to 2005, and his successor, Joe Caffrey, used the same phrase when asked to describe the essence of Coughlin basketball: blue collar.
“We always worked, we gave everybody — whether we were favored or underdogs — their money’s worth,” Quinn said. “And when we had talent, we whacked some people pretty good. You always knew you had a fight on your hands, but nothing dirty. I never let my kids talk to referees … I wouldn’t permit that. I’d be a son of a gun to the refs, but not the kids.”
Quinn was known as an honest and tough coach, and he built Coughlin up to a new level.
“Getting a chance to play for coach Quinn, at the time, he was Coughlin basketball,” Day said. “He was a very highly respected figure, a larger-than-life person.”
In the early 1980s and actually through the decade, according to Quinn, the Crusaders played at sold-out gyms, including King’s, Wilkes and the Scranton CYC.
It was a far cry from where Coughlin was when Quinn — who had previously coached at Wilkes-Barre Twp. and GAR — assumed the top job.
The 1998 title was reportedly Coughlin’s first league title since 1935.
“It was not a good situation,” Quinn recalled of the early years. “I didn’t have keys to the building. We had a wall up; we couldn’t even practice full-court. This took a couple years to figure out. We didn’t even have our own locker room.”
Quinn recalls Coughlin being a “football school,” so he was grateful for the support he received in the administration, including from principals Bill Schwab and Charles Hensley, and athletic directors Joe Moran, John Joseph and Bob Corba.
After Quinn stepped away in 2005, Caffrey became head coach.
Having coached at Coughlin and Meyers, Caffrey had perhaps his greatest coaching memory while at Coughlin in 2009.
That’s when his son, Joey Caffrey, scored a game-high 27 points and led Coughlin to a double-overtime win, 68-58, against Holy Redeemer for the WVC Division 2 championship.
“I was very, very blessed to coach a team and win a championship that my son was part of,” said the elder Caffrey. “Not a lot of people are fortunate enough to have that kind of experience.”
The championship season is just one of Caffrey’s positive memories from coaching at Coughlin.
“The kids were tough, hard-nosed, blue-collar kids who always played hard for me,” Caffrey said. “They were willing to do what it took to get better. Looking back, we really went through a period where we got better every year. I think there was a period of four years where we won one more game every year than the previous year. We qualified for the state tournament twice.”
Day, who played at Bloomsburg after graduating from Coughlin, replaced Caffrey as head coach in 2011.
Day’s successes include the Crusaders’ most recent winning season, in 2015-16, when they went 12-11.
Barring a surge from the No. 9 to No. 8 seed in the District 2 Class 5A playoff standings, Coughlin is down to its final three games.
The Crusaders play Thursday at Dallas, Saturday at home against Crestwood, and Monday at home against Dallas.
March 7, 1989
Scott Answini and Jim Mikolaichik each scored 23 points and led Coughlin in a 90-58 rout of West Scranton in the District 2 Class 4A playoffs.
The win was Coughlin’s 23rd of the season, setting a school record.
March 17, 1990
Coughlin finished its season 19-8, losing in the first round of the PIAA Class 4A playoffs to Reading, 78-56.
Future NBA first-round draft pick Donyell Marshall scored 20 points and dashed the Crusaders’ upset hopes after Coughlin led, 17-10, entering the second quarter.
Jan. 7, 1995
Junior Kevin Perluke topped the 1,000-point milestone for his career, scoring 15 points in a 55-53 Coughlin win at Berwick.
Dec. 22, 2000
Prior to a home game against Dallas, Coughlin honored its first 1,000-point scorer ever, Joe Hurley, a member of the 1960 graduating class.
March 1, 2010
Facing the reigning champion and three-seed Crestwood Comets, No. 6 Coughlin scored an upset win, 47-40, in the District 2 Class 3A quarterfinals.
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