EBENSBURG - Northern Cambria had its District 6 Class A high school boys basketball semifinal game well in hand by the middle of the second quarter, but Colts coach Dan Weber felt very good about his team's chances when he saw his players' demeanors coming out of the locker room.
Truth be told, the verdict might have been decided long before even that.
"I told the kids before the game as a motivator that this is where you truly have to be able to utilize your ability to [have played] on the big stage before,'' Weber said. "The last three years, even as freshmen, these kids got to go places a lot of kids don't get to witness. Last year, they got to be a part of it and actually get playing time. They've probably played 15 playoff games to Glendale's two or three.
"There was something I saw as they left the locker room that, if they were as confident as they appeared, we were in for a special night.''
Weber's read on his team was spot on.
The top-seeded, playoff-tested Colts forged a 25-point lead in the first half and got 16 points or more from four different players as it punched its ticket back into the PIAA tournament for the third straight season by blitzing Glendale - a team it had lost to in the regular season - 74-51 at Bishop Carroll Catholic High School on Tuesday night.
Northern Cambria (19-5) will try to erase another bad memory in Saturday afternoon's 6-A finals when it faces Bishop Carroll, the team that defeated it there a year ago.
"We all get a little nervous when it gets to playoffs no matter who we play, no matter what game it is. But, once the game gets going, the butterflies seem to go away,'' said Colts center Jeff Hogan, a returning starter from last season whose 18 points tied teammate Adam Polites for game high. "It feels great [to be going back to the finals]. One of the goals we set at the beginning of the regular season was to get back to the championship game, and hopefully we'll win that game.''
Northern Cambria scored the first four points, then started to create a gap between itself and the Vikings as Polites and Josh Bonatesta - despite wearing a wrist brace for a torn ligament on his shooting hand - each made a pair of 3-pointers. Bonatesta scored 10 of his 16 points in the first quarter, as the end of which the Colts led by 18.
Nick Lee, a 5-foot-10 forward, also finished with 16 points, including a dunk near the end of the game. Northern Cambria's biggest lead of 25 was first achieved at the 2:47 mark of the second quarter.
"Everyone's been playing pretty well, but, as a team, our team chemistry is great. We know where everybody's at,'' Bonatesta said. "We were glad to get to play them again to really show we were the better team, and we came out strong.''
Glendale had defeated the Colts, 56-47, on Dec. 27, getting 26 points from Michael Wigfield, forcing NC into 21 turnovers and holding their opponents to 33.9 percent shooting.
This time, Northern Cambria was 31-for-58 from the floor, outrebounded the Vikings, 41-28, and held the 6-4 Wigfield to 10 field goal attempts courtesy of Derek Bearer's tough defense, although Wigfield still managed 16 points.
"It was a different game last time,'' first-year Glendale coach Mark Yeckley said. "We came out and didn't hit our shots early. They hit about every shot early. They got on the boards better than we did.''
Glendale (15-9) now will have to beat Bishop Guilfoyle in Friday's consolation to join Northern Cambria in the PIAA tourney and make its first appearance in interdistricts since the early 1970s.
"I told the guys this one's going to hurt tonight. Brain-dump it and come back to work tomorrow,'' Yeckley said.
Northern Cambria, meanwhile, might still be celebrating. After the final horn, the Colts players went into a huge student-section mob that supported them loudly from start to finish.
"You have to give it to our fans. They definitely got our intensity up for us and get us into our game, too,'' Bonatesta said. "We're ready to go back to the championship, and, hopefully, the distance.''
GLENDALE (51): Wright 3 0-0 6, Braniff 4 0-0 9, Sinclair 1 0-0 2, Sanders 4 0-0 8, Wigfield 6 2-4 16, Evanskey 3 2-2 8, Wilson 1 0-0 2, C. Kimberly 0 0-0 0, M. Kimberly 0 0-0 0, Schultz 0 0-0 0, Ivory 0 0-0 0. Totals - 22 4-6 51.
NORTHERN CAMBRIA (74): Bearer 1 2-4 4, Polites 7 0-0 18, Bonatesta 7 0-0 16, N. Lee 8 0-0 16, Hogan 8 2-2 18, Hartman 1 0-0 2, Z. Lee 0 0-2 0, Olish 0 0-0 0, Bowman 0 0-0 0, Eckenrode 0 0-0 0. Totals - 32 4-8 74.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Glendale 8 12 14 17-51
Northern Cambria26 13 17 18-74
3-point goals: Glendale 3 (Wigfield 2, Braniff); Northern Cambria 6 (Polites 4, Bonatesta 2).
Team records: Glendale (15-9); Northern Cambria (19-5).
Officials: Gary Zimmerman, Dick Wagner, Tim Hite.