By Tom Robinson, NEPABasketball.com
The chase is a familiar one.
Since Lackawanna League realigned its basketball division in time for the 2012-13 seasons, the rest of Division 1 has found itself in pursuit of Abington Heights and Scranton Prep. To mix things up, some seasons the others are chasing Scranton Prep and Abington Heights.
In six seasons of the current four-division format, Abington Heights and Scranton Prep each have three titles. The Comets and Cavaliers have each gone unbeaten twice and they have usually given each other their toughest battles.
Not only has one won the title, the other has finished second.
Each of the last five seasons has featured a 1-2 finish by the rivals. In the first season under the current format, Abington Heights ran away from the division with a 13-0 record and Scranton Prep was still second, but in a tie with Scranton, four games back.
In all, the Comets and Cavaliers have gone 108-2 against everyone else in the last five seasons of Lackawanna League play while being responsible for the other 10 losses on each other’s resumes. Even with that more difficult first season for Scranton Prep, the combined record against others stands at 128-4.
With everyone back from a District 2 Class 4A finalist team and a league win over Scranton Prep last season, Valley View has hopes of making it a three-way race. The Cougars, however, have been hurt by losing Dylan Howanitz for the season with a knee injury.
Valley View’s second-leading scorer a year ago, Howanitz was an honorable mention choice by NEPABasketball.com on its Lackawanna Division 1 all-star team.
Injuries and returning talent will have a lot to do with this season’s race.
Defending champion Abington Heights, also the defending state and District 2 champion in Class 5A, is favored to repeat.
The Comets return first-team, all-stater and NEPABasketball.com District 2 Player of the Year George Tinsley and have gotten back Trey Koehler, one of the division’s top players who missed most of last season with stress fractures in his foot.
Scranton Prep’s Leo O’Boyle, the only District 2 player with credentials similar to Tinsley’s, sat out more than half the time in December with a foot injury, but the Cavaliers expect to have him back.
O’Boyle is the only returning first-team, all-District 2 player other than Tinsley. He also received all-state recognition and, like Binghamton commit Tinsley, is headed to an NCAA Division I program after signing with Lafayette College.
Abington Heights, Scranton Prep and Valley View, which brings back Marc Kudrich, each have one returning NEPABasketball.com Lackawanna Division 1 all-star.
Corey Perkins from Abington Heights is the only active player back from last season’s honorable mention list with Howanitz sidelined.
Abington Heights and Scranton Prep both enter Wednesday’s start of league play as state-ranked teams after navigating difficult schedules against some of the top teams around the state.
The Comets split with state-ranked Class 6A opponents Emmaus and Coatesville, are 5-2 and are ranked sixth in Class 5A by the Sunbury Daily Item.
Scranton Prep is 7-1 and ranked fifth in Class 4A, where it is also the defending District 2 champion.
Valley View is 6-3, but entirely against smaller schools within District 2.
While the top three teams can put five experienced players on the floor together, Scranton and West Scranton each have significant changes following graduation losses.
Scranton forward Marcus Bauman and West Scranton guard Cayden Merrifield return and are each quickly rising up among the most dynamic players at their positions.
The 2018 Abington Heights championship ended a three-year run as Division 1 champion by Scranton Prep. The Comets had won the division in its first two years, 2013 and 2014.
For a closer look at the division, see overviews.
ABINGTON HEIGHTS: http://www.nepabasketball.com/2018-19/articles/season-previews/PreviewAHBoys.