EBENSBURG - Northern Cambria entered the District 6 Class A playoffs as the No. 1 seed but had looked very beatable while losing its last two games of the regular season.
The air of vulnerability carried over into the first half of the Colts' quarterfinal game against Penn Manor at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School Thursday night. As the teams entered their respective locker rooms, Northern Cambria led by just one.
The Colts team that came out for the third quarter, however, looked like one ready to claim a district title. Northern Cambria used a 21-4 run to start the quarter to vanquish the ninth-seeded Comets, 71-58, and advance to the semifinals. The Colts will take on the winner of tonight's Glendale-Williamsburg game.
"I told the kids at halftime that they looked nervous," Northern Cambria coach Dan Weber said. "In the third quarter, we had a nice run. I felt like we needed to put our foot on the gas and go a little bit."
Josh Bonatesta scored 10 of his game-high 25 points during the pivotal run, many of which came in transition.
"We really wanted to get the momentum going our way after halftime," Bonatesta said. "Coach has been getting on us about putting runs together, and we did that in the third."
Northern Cambria also had a 12-0 run in the first quarter after falling behind, 6-1, but that run did not land a knock-out punch. The Comets fought back to tie the game on a Danny Ferens jump shot with 6:10 to play in the first half. Shawn Stewart's 14 first-half points kept Penns Manor within a point at the break. A 3-pointer by Stewart in the first quarter gave the senior 1,000 career points.
"I wish I had an answer [about the third quarter]," Penns Manor coach Rusty Hays said. "If I had an answer, maybe we wouldn't have had a quarter like that. We were cold from the floor, Northern Cambria shot very well from the floor and you just can't have a run against you like that."
Northern Cambria led by as many as 17 in the third quarter before the Comets cut it to 11 early in the fourth. Bonatesta came through again for NC just seconds later with a pair of quick baskets that moved Northern Cambria into the semifinals.
The Colts nearly had double-digit scoring from each one of their starters. Adam Polites had 19 points and nine rebounds, Nick Lee had nine points and 10 rebounds and Jeff Hogan had 10 points and 11 rebounds. Northern Cambria's lone substitute, Tyler Hartman, played for less than 10 seconds.
"We're well-conditioned," Weber said. "It wasn't easy in the beginning. Those first four or five games of the year, our starters were getting substituted for, because they couldn't maintain the flow.
"They worked a little bit harder in practice, got used to playing at this speed and they're doing it pretty well."
PENNS MANOR (58): Bytner 0 0-0 0, Horwat 2 1-5 5, Ferens 6 4-4 18, Vodopivec 5 0-0 11, Stewart 8 0-0 19, Kowalski 1 0-0 2, Hamilton 1 1-4 3, Coy 0 0-0 0, Alter 0 0-0 0. Totals - 23 6-13 58.
NORTHERN CAMBRIA (71): Bearer 0 8-10 8, Lee 3 3-5 9, Polites 6 5-7 19, Bonatesta 11 1-2 25, Hogan 4 2-7 10, Hartman 0 0-0 0. Totals - 24 19-31 71.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Penns Manor18 12 9 19 - 58
Northern Cambria21 10 21 19 - 71
3-point goals: Penns Manor 6 (Ferens 2, Vodopivec, Stewart 3); Northern Cambria 4 (Polites 2, Bonatesta 2).
Records: Penns Manor (12-12); Northern Cambria (18-5).
Officials: Colin McGinnis, Jason Moschgat, Dan Middleton.