Being talented isn't always easy. Now imagine being a supremely gifted freshman point guard tasked with leading a successful program such as Archbishop Carroll.
Thus is the case for AJ Hoggard, whose poised played helped the Patriots earn their ninth consecutive trip to the PIAA playoffs with a 54-38 Class 5A play-in victory Wednesday against Mastery North.
"When you're playing a freshman point guard as many minutes as we have," said coach Paul Romanczuk, "there's gonna be ups and downs and rough patches, and we've had quite a few. But (Hoggard) is thick-skinned. He takes a lot from me and he comes right back."
Midway through the Catholic League season, the Patriots (18-8) were inconsistent and their offense occasionally devolved into too many your-turn-my-turn possessions.
Led by Hoggard, Carroll found better balance early on Wednesday before he asserted himself late.
"If I get (my teammates) involved early," said Hoggard, who scored 10 of his team-high 16 points in the fourth quarter, "they'll want to play with me later in the game."
The 6-foot-2 freshman also blocked back-to-back shots in the third quarter while the Pumas (23-2) attempted a comeback.
While Carroll passed and cut its way to good shots, too many of the Pumas possessions entailed too few passes.
The ability to get shots doesn't always mean shots should be taken. It's a lesson Hoggard has come to understand well.
"The hardest part is sometimes you just don't want to take shots because you don't want to feel like you're doing too much or that you're just out for yourself," he said. "You just have to assert yourself at the right times and make the right plays."
Hoggard's put-back to end the half gave Carroll a slim, 22-14, edge with neither team shooting well from the perimeter.
The Pumas were just 3 of 22 from the field at the half and only managed a single assist. They finished 2 of 18 from the 3-point line and added four assists.
Eli Alvin led Mastery North with 12 points. Daeqwon Plowden added six points and eight rebounds.
Carroll's junior guard Justin Anderson scored seven of his 13 points in a third quarter that helped the Patriots take control.
The fourth quarter, though, belonged to Hoggard.
"I thought we were at a cross roads in the middle of the Catholic League where we struggled and couldn't get over the hump against some really good teams," Romanczuk said. "But ever since then I think there's been a focus from our whole team, but especially from (Hoggard). I think he did a great job at practice this week."
Carroll's 8-year streak of making the Catholic League semifinals at the Palestra was broken, but with Hoggard at the helm, the Patriots could be poised for a PIAA run.
"I just wanted to keep everything alive," Hoggard said. "I wanted to keep the Palestra (streak) alive, but I couldn't do that. Now I have a chip on my shoulder to get to the state tournament so we can see another day."
Arch. Carroll 11 11 18 14 - 54
Mastery North 6 8 11 13 - 38
AC: AJ Hoggard 16, Justin Anderson 13, Jesse McPherson 3, Colin Daly 2, Khari Williams 8, Keyon Butler 7, Devon Ferrero 5.
MN: Eli Alvin 12, Rahmir Moore 11, Daeqwon Plowden 6, Jamir Reed 5, Kareem Hicks 4.