COLUMBUS - His career has spanned 49 years and his 831 wins are second all-time in Ohio high school basketball history.
Yet the end of the line for Kettering Alter's Joe Petrocelli came all too swiftly. The veteran coach watched his Knights fall short on the state's biggest stage as Columbus Bishop Watterson posted a 53-42 win in a Division II state semifinal at Value City Arena here Thursday night.
The Eagles, now 27-1, will square off with Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary for the championship Saturday at 1:30 p.m. The Irish advanced by whipping Vincent Warren 70-51.
"We did not execute very well for one reason or another," said Petrocelli, who finishes his remarkable career with record of 831-305. "I don't know if we were too tired or too loose or what it was, but that happens.
"I've been here before and done this before and a lot of times when you think this is the one you'll win, you don't and the games when you think you have no chance in, you end up winning. That's the way it goes."
Cody Calhoun's 3-pointer put Watterson ahead 17-14 with 4:43 to go in the first half and the Eagles were on top for good at that point.
And they did it with minimal production from their season leader, second-team All-Ohioan Bryan Jackson. Jackson, who averages 13 points and nine rebounds per game, played just 17 minutes due to foul trouble and was limited to three points and four boards.
"Our guys did an outstanding job of working the plan," Watterson coach Vince Lombardo said. "We had some occasional lapses here and there, but otherwise, our guys did a tremendous job."
The Eagles led by six at halftime and it was a 37-32 game heading into the fourth period. Three times Alter pulled to within three, the last time at 41-38 on Michael Schwieterman's layup with 4:56 to go.
Matt Lehman answered with a jumper for Watterson and Andy Grieser hit one as well. The Eagles worked an effective inside game with Lehman and Matt Hughes and kept their distance.
"We had some opportunities to spread them out and took advantage of that," Lombardo said. "We did not think they could guard us at all five positions and in that situation, we were able to get some mismatches.
"They had played some outstanding zone defense and they gave us some trouble until we figured some things out," he said. "Once they came at us in man-to-man, we didn't think they could guard us."
Hughes repeatedly worked the baseline successfully and finished with game highs of 21 points and 10 rebounds. Lehman added 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting and Calhoun finished with nine points.
Jaaron Simmons, who topped 1,600 points for his career Thursday, led the Knights (21-6) with 17 points but struggled through a 5-for-15 night to get them. Behind him were three players with six points.
"Jaaron's had a tremendous career and he has four, five, six scoring records at Alter," Petrocelli said. "I've got all the records together, all the scorebooks.
"I've been there so long, we've got a brothers scoring list from top-to-bottom and we have a father-son scoring list from top-to-bottom," he said. "I've had a ball and I'll miss it. I'll come to the games; we live right around the corner."
IRISH NEED NO LUCK - St. Vincent-St. Mary finished with a 9-1 rush over the final three minutes of the first half to lay the foundation and from the mid-point of the third period, the romp was on.
The Irish (20-9) did it first by turning first-team All-Ohio junior Evan French into a non-factor and then by dominating inside.
French came in averaging 19 points and five rebounds per game. Foul trouble limited his action to 11 minutes playing time in the first half and the Irish defense did the rest. At the break, he was scoreless after having taken just one shot with one rebound and a turnover.
He eventually fouled out and his stat line showed just five points and three rebounds.
Michael Hall and Reece Patton scored eight and six, respectively as the Warriors stayed within two of the Irish at 19-17 at the quarter break. Vincent Warren was 4-for-5 from 3-point range at that point.
Patton's 3-pointer pulled Warren to within 30-26 with 3:17 to go in the half.
But 5-foot-8 Fransohn Bickley soared to the rim for a tip-in and came down the floor and nailed a 3-pointer on the next possession to start the big finish toward a 39-27 SVSM halftime lead.
From there, the inside power of senior Nick Wells and freshman VJ King put the Irish in control. St. Vincent-St. Mary eased ahead 57-39 by quarter's end and the margin ballooned to 70-45 before Warren backups were able to narrow the gap.
"Honestly, I thought we executed the gameplan very well," SVSM coach Dru Joyce said. "Early in the game, we always talk about getting the ball to the front of the rim. In doing that, we got French in a little foul trouble.
"In the second half, I thought our guys did the right thing," he said. "We were real patient for the most part. But it's about defending and I thought we defended well.
"You're not going to keep a great player like French from scoring. He's going to get some," he said. "Our goal was to limit his (opportunities) and to make all of them hard. If he got one, it would be one that would be earned."
Meanwhile, the Irish had their way offensively, shooting 62 percent from the field (13-for-21) in the second half and 59 percent (25-for-42) for the game.
Wells was the leader in that regard. He missed just one of eight shots and was 4-for-4 from the line for 18 points with seven rebounds. King added 14 points with six boards and Jalen Hudson scored 12.
"They're long and good and fast and can shoot," Vincent Warren coach Blane Maddox said in pretty much describing the ultimate package of basketball skills. "We were hoping to go zone and they chopped it up pretty well. We're a full-court pressing team and half-court trapping team, but that wasn't a good matchup for us."
Patton led the Warriors with 21 points and Hall checked in with 15.
"They got into (French) pretty well and his foul trouble didn't help," Maddox said. "Reece and Michael did a nice job of picking things up for us, but we needed all three tonight."
The good news for Maddox and Warrior fans is they'll have all three next year. Patton, like French, is a junior while Hall is just a sophomore.