SALEM TWP. — As a driving force for Hazleton Area’s state semifinalist team last year, Da’Mir Faison played the part of a demon in the face of playoff pressure very well.
Well, it’s the postseason again.
And Faison is back to his old high-stakes, big-play ability.
The Hazleton Area senior scored the first seven points of overtime Wednesday, finished with a game-high 29 and almost single-handedly delivered the Cougars’ fourth straight Wyoming Valley Conference Division 1 boys basketball title with a 54-43 victory over Crestwood in a division championship game at Berwick Middle School.
“A lot of people doubted us,” said Faison, a 6-foot-5 senior who will play for Division 1 New Jersey Institute of Technology next season. “It motivated a lot of us, not being ranked.
“We couldn’t be happier as a team.”
The victory also put the Cougars, who lost three starters from a team that lost by two points in overtime in the PIAA Class 6A semifinals a year ago, into the inaugural playoffs for an overall WVC championship.
Division 1 champ Hazleton Area, now 19-3 overall, will face Division 2 champ Nanticoke Area in a league championship semifinal 6 p.m. Friday at Dallas High School.
Crestwood, which fell to 18-5 overall and matched Hazleton Area’s 14-2 league record at the end of the Division 1 regular season to force Wednesday’s playoff for the title, will go to the league playoffs also.
The Comets will be the wild card and face Division 3 champ Wyoming Seminary in another semifinal at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Dallas.
“This is the first year of the overall championship, I know he wanted to play in that,” Hazleton Area coach Mike Joseph said of Faison. “This is his fourth division championship. I’ve never had a player be part of that. He wasn’t happy with the way he played in the first half.
“He came out in the second half and took control of the game.”
Faison certainly took over the four-minute overtime period.
With the teams tied at 41-41 after regulation, the Cougars went straight to their guy who cashed in all night.
Faison drew a foul and made a free throw, burst inside for a rebound bucket, then connected on two more foul shots. All that before his thunderous dunk with 1:32 on the clock gave him the first seven points of overtime, and pretty much decided the game.
“A lot of great players get the ball (in the clutch),” said Faison, who completed a marvelous double-double with 14 rebounds. “You watch the NBA, if the ball’s not in LeBron’s hands in overtime, there’s something wrong. My teammates trusted me, my coaches trusted me and we came out with a win.”
Faison may not be headed to the NBA out of high school like LeBron James, but he’s certainly become Hazleton Area’s go-to guy.
And Crestwood was hard-pressed to stop him.
Faison scored seven of Hazleton Area’s 15 points in the first half to keep the Cougars within four entering the second half.
Then he roared out of halftime, scoring 10 points with four rebounds to get the Cougars charged up. Two of them came on a spectacular reverse layup that pulled Hazleton Area within a point, and two more came from the foul line to give the Cougars their first lead in nearly 11 minutes, 28-27.
Faison also tied the game at 30-30 with a pair of free throws early in the fourth quarter, then connected on three straight from the charity stripe to give Hazleton Area a 41-34 lead with 2:14 left in regulation.
“I just tried to do everything I could to get my team a win,” Faison said.
Still, Crestwood had other ideas.
The Comets used 10 big team-high points from Camden Boris to assume some control and stay close throughout the game. His spinning layup tied the score at 12-12 midway through the second quarter, his 3-pointer gave Crestwood a four-point lead midway through the third and he followed teammate Mike Palermo’s 3-pointer with a trey of his own to get the Comets within a point with 1:28 to play in regulation.
Ryan Petrosky completed Crestwood’s late-game rally of seven straight points with a free throw with five seconds remaining to send the teams to overtime.
“Our opponent gave everything they had,” Joseph said. “We got a second chance going into overtime. And we took control of the game from that first possession in overtime.
“Our guys did a great job winning this championship.”
Warren Seigendall added four points in the four overtime minutes and grabbed a rebound to run his total for the night to six boards and Scotty Campbell grabbed three important rebounds in overtime and sealed the deal with two free throws with 23 seconds on the clock to finish with nine points.
It only made the heroics of their main man more worthwhile.
“We need him to do a lot of things for us,” Joseph said of Faison. “He scores, he handles the ball, he rebounds. What gets overlooked is the job he did (defensively) on (Crestwood’s dangerous outside shooter) Sean Murphy in the last five minutes. Getting him the ball, he’s a very good foul shooter.
“Good things tend to happen when he has it.”
WVC Division 1 Championship
Hazleton Area 54, Crestwood 43, OT
CRESTWOOD (43) — Ryan Petrosky 2 3-4 8, Sean Murphy 2 0-0 4, Camden Boris 3 2-2 10, Jacob Zaleski 2 4-6 8, Mike Palmiero 2 3-6 8, Brad Papura 1 0-0 2, Frank Casarella 1 0-0 3, Marcus Vieney 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 12-18 43.
HAZLETON AREA (54) — Andrew Vayda 2 1-2 6, Sparky Wolk 0 0-0 0, Kyle Franek 2 0-0 4, Da’Mir Faison 9 11-12 29, Warren Seigendall 2 2-4 6, Scotty Campbell 3 2-2 9, Jecxander Moronta 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 16-20 54.
Crestwood`6`13`11`11`2 — 43
Hazleton Area`10`5`13`13`13 — 54
Three-point goals — CRE 5 (Boris 2, Casarella, Petrosky, Palmiero); HAZ 2 (Vayda, Campbell).
Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski