EBENSBURG - Holding a five-point lead with Ligonier Valley star sophomore big man Alec Bloom in foul trouble early in the fourth quarter, Central appeared on the verge of moving into the District 6 Class AA high school boys basketball quarterfinals.
Anyone who's followed the Scarlet Dragons this year, though, knows that figuring them out is about as easy as picking all the right numbers for the lottery. By the time the clock ran out at Central Cambria High School, Central's number was up, and Ligonier felt like it had hit the jackpot.
Central went without a field goal for a span of more than nine minutes in the second half, and seventh-seeded Ligonier scored 20 of the game's last 27 points to oust the 10th-seeded Dragons from the playoffs, 53-45, on Tuesday night.
Central’s Brandon Myers drives the baseline against Ligonier Valley defender Zach Yeskey.
"We had a few troubles offensively. At times, we've played pretty well, and at times we haven't. We just got into a stretch there in the fourth quarter where we went cold,'' Central coach Bill Forshey said. "We kind of played into their hands.
"We've been kind of inconsistent offensively at times. Sometimes we make shots, and sometimes we don't. We don't have guys that can get to the rim and read off the defense very well.''
Sparked by Matt Ritchey's dead-eye shooting, the Dragons forged a lead of seven in the third quarter and held a 38-33 advantage with less than seven minutes to play after Austin Cunningham converted two free throws. Bloom, the only player who was consistently putting the ball into the hoop for the Rams, picked up his third foul with 2:02 left in the third quarter, too, leaving Dragon big man Brandon Myers free to dominate in the paint.
However, Myers got his third foul shortly after Bloom went to the bench, then was whistled for his fourth trying to draw a charge as Ligonier's Scott Fennell attacked the basket on the fast break with 6:38 left. Fennell had to leave the game when the trainer came on the floor to check on him, but Jordan Jones made both free throws in his place to start a 9-0 Ram run, punctuated by Bloom's 3-pointer from the top of the circle for a 40-38 lead at the 4:56 mark.
Central never led again.
"We looked like a team that hasn't been in the playoffs for a while with a rookie coach that were all nervous. Fortunately, before the time expired, we woke up,'' Ligonier coach John Berger said.
After missing the front end of three one-and-ones earlier in the fourth, the Rams (15-7) made 3-of-4 foul shots in the last 46.8 seconds. Ligonier also outrebounded Central, 11-5, in the final eight minutes, pulling down four boards on the offensive end.
"We played good defense toward the end and hit our shots. Our free throw shooting wasn't very good, but we made them at the end,'' said Bloom, a 6-foot-6 sophomore who finished with 19 points, 15 rebounds and two blocked shots. "You have to keep playing, stand tough, and that's what we did. We came through.''
Central only trailed twice - once by one and once by two - before Bloom put Ligonier up for good. The Dragons' biggest lead was 24-16 with 2:03 to play in the second quarter, when Ritchey made his fourth 3-pointer of the first half and third of the second quarter from several feet behind the arc. Ritchey had 17 points in the first half and finished with 19 to tie Bloom for game high.
"That kept us in the game,'' Forshey said. "We get in that situation where guys aren't scoring on a consistent basis, and you hope your defense can keep you in the game, but, down the stretch, it didn't.''
Cunningham added 13 points for the Dragons, but Central, lacking shot creators, was only 5-for-20 from the field in the second half, including 1-for-8 in the fourth quarter. The Dragons closed the season 13-10.
"I think for what we had this year, we did pretty well,'' Forshey said.
CENTRAL (45): Cunningham 3 7-7 13, Farkus 0 0-0 0, Ebersole 1 1-2 3, Ritchey 7 1-2 19, Myers 1 3-4 5, Slagenweit 1 2-2 5, Brumbaugh 0 0-0 0. Totals - 13 14-17 45.
LIGONIER VALLEY (53): An. Tutino 3 2-5 8, Ferlin 2 2-2 7, Cornell 0 0-0 0, Yeskey 2 0-2 4, Bloom 9 0-3 19, Jones 2 4-6 8, Liundquist 0 0-0 0, Fennell 3 0-1 7. Totals - 21 8-19 53.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Central10 14 12 9 -45
Ligonier Valley10 11 12 20-53
3-point goals: Central 5 (Ritchey 4, Slagenweit); Ligonier Valley 3 (Fennell, Ferlin, Bloom).
Team records: Central (13-10); Ligonier Valley (15-7).
Officials: Frank Garritano, Jim Harnish, Chris Garritano.