With close to two weeks left in the regular season, Section 1 of the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference remains extremely tight and closely contested as of Monday night.
Unlike Section 2 - with Johnstown and Westmont-Hilltop the class of the section - Penn Cambria held a slim one-game lead over Cambria Heights and Bishop Carroll, who both in turn, lead Bishop Guilfoyle by a single game.
Things got even more interesting after the Marauders defeated Cambria Heights, 41-39, at the Pleasant Valley Gymnasium.
"We showed our character," Bishop Guilfoyle coach Josh Baker said. "We persevered tonight."
The Highlanders held a five-point lead after three quarters, but the Marauders defense, which had been strong all game, turned it up to an even higher level, and did not allow a single point until there was 2:38 remaining in the game.
The first three points came courtesy of 6-foot-4 junior Isaac Vescovi, tying it at 37-37 on a 3-point play. Bishop Guilfoyle regained its lead during its next possession, on Pat Irwin's hoop. With 50 seconds left, Vescovi's jumper in the paint squared the game at 39-39.
Pat Irwin scored a team-high 14 points, but none were as important as the one he scored after stealing the ball at that point. He took it all the way to the basket for the game-winning layup.
Highlander guard Dom Milanesi's long, long 3-point attempt at the buzzer failed.
"We figured they'd run a ball screen," Baker said. "We told them to play it and jump it hard. Our kids did a nice job of communicating and executing."
Vescovi was equally as strong in both halves, scoring 12 in the first half and 11 in the second, for a game-high 23 points. Both coaches praised Vescovi following the game.
"Isaac did a really nice job tonight," Heights coach Eric Nagel said. "We know how hard BG's defense plays, and they made him work for everything tonight."
"He's a very good all-around player," Baker said. "You don't stop guys like that but you have to make him work for everything and challenge his shots."
Winning has proved to be allusive to Baker's squad, dropping the past four times it's taken the court, losing to the Huskies, Panthers, Bishop McCort and the Trojans. The average of the losing deficit was 21.5 points. So this victory proved to be extremely satisfying for them.
"Coach Irwin told the team after the game that they had to persevere a lot in the last ten days," Baker said. "Things haven't gone our way."
Bishop Guilfoyle improved to 9-7 overall and 3-3 in the section. It will travel to Ebensburg Thursday for a matchup with a Central Cambria team that almost knocked off the Marauders at Pleasant Valley last meeting, but couldn't pull off the upset.
The Highlanders, now 8-9 overall and 3-3 in the section, host Penn Cambria Thursday.
CAMBRIA HEIGHTS (39): Vescovi 10 1-1 23, Milanesi 2 0-0 5, Bearer 2 0-0 6, Brawley 1 0-4 3, Kutruff 1 0-0 2, Lacue 0 0-0 0. Totals - 16 1-5 39.
BISHOP GUILFOYLE (41): P. Irwin 6 2-3 14, Sullivan 1 1-2 3, Nardelli 1 0-0 2, Drenning 2 0-0 5, Patterson 4 3-6 11, T. Irwin 3 0-2 6. Totals - 17 6-13 41.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Cambria Heights 10 14 10 5 - 39
Bishop Guilfoyle 12 12 5 12 - 41
3 point goals: Cambria Heights 6 (Vescovi 2, Bearer 2, Brawley, Milanesi);Bishop Guilfoyle 1 (Drenning).
Records: Cambria Heights (8-9); Bishop Guilfoyle (9-7).
JV: Bishop Guilfoyle, 54-32. High scorers - Strasser, CH, 16; Nardelli, BG, 13.