EBENSBURG - Entering Tuesday night's District 6 Class A semifinal at Central Cambria High School, the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference was assured it would have a representative battling for district gold.
And after splitting regular season contests, no one knew what to expect.
Marcus Lee was the biggest factor this time around, as seventh-seeded Bishop Carroll Catholic outlasted No. 3 Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic, 49-42.
Mirror photos by Gary M. Baranec
Bishop?Carroll’s Marcus Lee gets ready to shoot over Bishop Guilfoyle defender Zach Patterson on Tuesday night.
"I knew we were going to be in for a dogfight all night," Bishop Carroll coach Cosie Aliquo said. "Any time we play Bishop Guilfoyle, as well-coached as they are, you know you're in for a dogfight. We were in for it all night. From beginning to the end, it was never over."
With the win, the Huskies (14-11) will have a chance to defend their title against top-seeded Northern Cambria, the team they knocked off in last season's championship game.
And even Aliquo is taken aback by his team's success.
"If you would have told me last year after winning that we would be back, I'm not sure I would [have believed it]," he said. "But you know what? I never doubt my players. As hard as they play, I never doubt them. They give me everything they've got. They leave it on the court."
Lee had a quiet first half but his presence on both ends of the floor in the second half had a major impact on the Huskies' success.
He finished with 15 points after going 4-for-4 from the floor and 5-for-9 from the free-throw line over the final two quarters.
But his 10 rebounds and five blocks on the night threw off the Marauders' offense down the stretch.
"I got on him a little bit at halftime and I told him he's got to make his peeps," Aliquo said of Lee, who was 1-for-6 in the first half. "He started making some layups, but then his defensive play on [Bishop Guilfoyle's] Tai [Irwin] down low was big."
"I think we played him pretty well in the first half," Bishop Guilfoyle coach Josh Baker said. "We adjusted from the first few times we played them. We wanted to play a little more behind him, kind of make him work to score. I think he got loose in the second half. We started to play a little more over top of him, and they threw the ball over top of us. He just made more plays down the stretch than we did."
Bishop Carroll forced 15 turnovers with its suffocating press defense, but Bishop Guilfoyle (13-11) was able to find Brandon Drenning for five 3-pointers, four of which were in the second half.
Irwin finished with 10 points, while Patrick Irwin had 11.
The Marauders were 16-for-43 from the field for the game, but only managed five shot attempts in the second quarter. They were 30 percent or less the rest of the way.
"I just think in the middle two quarters we didn't play well enough," Baker said. "Give them a lot of credit. We valued the basketball, we made good decisions and we were still working extremely hard just to get a quality shot offensively. Coming down, I think we just had too many breakdowns defensively."
Bishop Carroll, meanwhile, was 9-for-15 in the second half and finished 19-for-42.
Ryan Lauer scored his game-high 16th point when he gave the Huskies their largest lead - a 15-point advantage - early in the fourth quarter.
"I thought offensively we moved the ball better," Aliquo said. "Ryan hit some shots, Scotty [Ranck] got going. It just kept going."
The back-and-forth battle Tuesday night was a fitting end to the season series. The Huskies and Marauders each won on their respective home courts.
Bishop Carroll won, 54-40, on Jan. 18, while Bishop Guilfoyle won, 53-50, on Feb. 9.
"There were no secrets," Baker said of the matchup. "I don't think either one of us did anything different than the other expected."
BISHOP GUILFOYLE (42): P. Irwin 4 3-3 11, Sullivan 0 0-0 0, T. Irwin 4 1-4 10, Drenning 5 0-0 14, Patterson 2 0-0 4, Snyder 1 1-2 3, Nardelli 0 0-0 0, Rickens 0 0-0 0. Totals 16-43 5-9 42.
BISHOP CARROLL (49): Lauer 6 0-1 16, Maruca 2 0-0 4, Lee 5 5-9 15, Ranck 3 1-3 7, Madonna 2 1-1 5, Suckinos 0 0-0 0, Martinazzi 1 0-0 2. Totals 19-42 7-14 49.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Bishop Guilfoyle13 8 8 13 - 42
Bishop Carroll11 11 14 13 - 49
3-point goals: Bishop Guilfoyle 5-13 (T. Irwin, Drenning 4), Bishop Carroll 4-9 (Lauer 4).
Records: Bishop Guileful (13-11), Bishop Carroll (14-11).