EBENSBURG - The clock in the Central Cambria High School gymnasium was running 7 1/2 hours behind.
It was eerily reflective of a Penn Cambria boys basketball team that just couldn't get into sync. Early in the second quarter of Monday night's District 6 Class AA first round game with heavy underdog Blairsville, the Panthers were shooting about 33 percent and had committed 10 turnovers.
Penn Cambria, though, turned to a full-court press in the second quarter to speed things up. The adjustment did the trick, and the Panthers finished the first half on a 10-1 run that spurred the No. 5 seeds to a 55-35 victory.
Penn Cambria will meet defending champion Bishop McCort, the fourth seed, later this week in an all-Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference quarterfinal at a site to be announced. McCort dispatched Cambria Heights, 69-49, on Monday.
"We had no energy sitting back in our zone, so we did that to try to spark us both offensively and defensively, just to give us energy. It turned out good,'' Panther guard Mack Behe said of the going to the press. "I feel our guards can run with anyone. I think we were confident about running it.''
Behe was the prime beneficiary of the defensive switch - he scored eight of his 13 points in the second quarter when Penn Cambria (18-6) broke the game open. A.J. Leahey led all scorers with 24 points, 11 of those coming in the fourth quarter as the Panthers put the game away.
The Penn Cambria press was directly responsible for five of Blairsville's seven second-quarter turnovers. Panther coach Jim Ronan wasn't quite as confident as Behe, though, when it came to employing the full-court defense against the Bobcats' quick guards like Andrew Iezzi.
"We just had to it. It was the last resort,'' Ronan said. "But I just didn't feel good about the way we were playing.''
The Panthers had just played on Saturday, losing by 25 to Johnstown in a fast-paced LHAC championship game. Ronan said his team might have had tired legs and a little bit of a hangover from that game.
"That might have been a reason we came out a little slow,'' said Leahey, who also had 14 rebounds, five blocked shots and three steals.
Blairsville (10-13) entered the contest at a huge size and experience disadvantage. The Bobcats managed to stay within four through one quarter, though, and got as close as seven in the second half.
"[The press] worked well for them. They got some easy transition baskets. They hurt us on the offensive boards, too. I thought we defended pretty well in the first half. We contained Leahey pretty well,'' Blairsville coach Todd McGee said. "We did a better job [of rebounded and cutting down turnovers] in the second half, and Leahey opened up a little bit.''
Tommy Harper fronted the Bobcats with 17 points.
Devin Lawhead chipped in with eight points for Penn Cambria. The Panthers will be trying to reverse a 65-51 road loss from Dec. 14 when they take on McCort in the next round.
"Going into this season, one of our goals was to beat the best teams. Nothing would be better than beating the defending double-A champ. They're a great team,'' Ronan said. "We've had our eye on this for a few weeks, because it seemed like this matchup would be there. We're looking forward to playing McCort, but we know, from start to finish, we have to bring a stronger effort, a better effort to beat them.''
BLAIRSVILLE (35): Iezzi 1 2-2 4, Halmes 0 0-0 0, Harper 6 5-6 17, Ta. Ferguson 1 0-0 2, Ty. Ferguson 2 0-0 4, Helm 1 4-4 6, Williams 0 0-0 0, Sisitki 0 0-0 0, R. Horcher 0 0-0 0, Ratkus 1 0-0 2, Tamplin 0 0-0 0, A. Horcher 0 0-0 0. Totals - 12 11-12 35.
PENN CAMBRIA (55): Mardula 2 0-2 5, Behe 6 1-4 13, Leahey 8 7-7 24, Keagy 1 1-2 3, Lawhead 4 0-5 8, Jo. Myers 1 0-0 2, Tsikalas 0 0-0 0, Ju. Myers 0 0-0 0, Conrad 0 0-0 0, George 0 0-0 0, Hite 0 0-0 0. Totals - 22 9-20 55.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Blairsville 8 7 14 6 -35
Penn Cambria12 18 8 17-55
3-point goals: Penn Cambria 2 (Leahey, Mardula).
Team records: Blairsville (10-13); Penn Cambria (18-6).
Officials: Todd Parker, Mike Brown, Keith Redfoot.