LORETTO - Sometimes the best plays are the ones that aren't run.
Just ask the Northern Cambria High School boys basketball team.
Trailing by one with 14.8 seconds left in its bid for the program's fourth district title and first since 2001, Colts coach Dan Weber wanted to get athletic junior big man Jeff Hogan the ball in the low post.
Mirror photo by Patrick?Waksmunski
Northern Cambria’s players celebrate their district title following Saturday’s victory over Bishop?Carroll.
When Bishop Carroll's tough defense blew up the play at the outset, though, NC point guard Derek Bearer penetrated and found Hogan rolling through the lane for a mid-range floater for a 57-56 win in a wild and entertaining District 6 Class A championship game at St. Francis University's DeGol Arena on Saturday afternoon.
The Colts and their fans had to hold their breath before celebrating though, as they watched Ryan Lauer's desperation 3-pointer just miss as time expired, giving them payback for a loss to the Huskies in last year's 6-A final.
"I'm very excited,'' Hogan said. "I'm pretty much speechless. Adrenaline's really pumping right now. I really thought that last shot [of Carroll's] was going in. We were all really nervous.
"It feels good to come out on top.''
It was fitting it came down to the end. The game pitting Northern Cambria's at-the-rim athletic ability and Carroll's dead-eye jump shooting featured 13 lead changes and nine ties. Carroll had the game's biggest lead of six points five times. The largest advantage Northern Cambria enjoyed was four.
After a frenetic exchange beginning with 32.1 seconds left in which the teams combined for three quick turnovers, Northern Cambria took the ball out on the sideline with just under 15 seconds to play. Bearer was supposed to set a screen for the ball to free up Adam Polites to feed Hogan on the low block. The Huskies' quick and aggressive guards, though, double-teamed, and Polites got the ball to Bearer with time winding down.
"I was jumping out and down,'' NC coach Dan Weber said. "I thought we just lost our chance of getting a decent shot.''
Bearer and Hogan, two returnees from the Colt team that finished as 6-A runner-up last year, improvised, though. Bearer drove hard at the basket from the left side. As Carroll tried to recover, Hogan was open, got the pass, knifed down the lane and put up a floater that rattled around the rim and fell through.
"It was huge,'' Bearer said. "We were here last year, and most of them weren't. They had one returning starter, and we had five guys coming back from last year's team, so we kind of had the experience factor.''
Lauer, Carroll's leading scorer this season but held in check all game by Northern Cambria's triangle-and-two defense, got the ball and the chance for the win with 1.1 seconds left. He pulled up from about 23 feet away, but the shot coaches said he'd been shooting pretty much his whole life, rimmed out after banking into the basket.
"Before we took the shot, I told Coach [Cosie Aliquo], 'Let me have it. I haven't been hitting, but I think this next one is going in,''' Lauer said. "When Mitch [Madonna] passed it to me and I shot it, I knew I had a decent look. When I saw it bank, I thought it was going to go in. It just rolled out. It just wasn't our night.''
It very nearly was, anyway. Although Lauer was well-guarded and 6-foot-4 Marcus Lee played less than half of the game because of foul difficulties, the Huskies (14-12) led most of the way. Junior Scott Ranck led Carroll with 17 points, while freshman Brandon Martinazzi came off the bench, made his first four jumpers and finished with 13 points. Fifteen of Carroll's 24 field goals were from outside the paint.
Lauer is the Huskies' only senior, and Ranck is the lone junior that saw the floor for BC.
"They guarded our scorers, and the other guys didn't shoot during the year, but they could. I hope they realize how good they can be when they're scoring and the other guys are playing,'' Aliquo said. "Our guys were so young, they probably didn't even know [to be nervous].''
Northern Cambria, meanwhile, made its points predominantly near the basket, beginning with an alley-oop fast-break dunk from Nick Lee to Hogan for the game's first points. Forwards Lee and Hogan led the Colts (20-5) with 17 and 16 points, respectively. Four Colts scored in double figures, as Weber played his five junior starters the whole way - Josh Bonatesta scored 11 and Polites had 10.
Just 5-10 but a spectacular leaper, Lee had a big second half, scoring nine points to go along with six rebounds and a blocked shot.
"I wanted to put a spark into our team,'' Lee said. "I love intense games. It gets me going. This feels amazing. We were close last year, and [not winning] was a big disappointment. This was our biggest goal, and we made it happen.''
Both teams now will advance to interdistrict play on Friday. Northern Cambria will stay close to home to face District 10 third-place finisher Vision Quest. Bishop Carroll will travel to District 9 to meet its runner-up Ridgway/Johnsonburg.
"This is as special as it gets,'' Weber said. "Last year, we were just happy to be here. This year's group wasn't just satisfied to get here. They knew it was business and wanted to get the job done, and they did.''
BISHOP CARROLL (56): Lauer 1 0-0 2, Maruca 4 0-0 9, Madonna 2 0-0 4, Ranck 6 4-6 17, Lee 4 1-2 9, Martinazzi 6 0-0 13, Suckinos 1 0-0 2. Totals - 24 5-8 56.
NORTHERN CAMBRIA (57): D. Bearer 1 0-0 3, Bonatesta 5 0-0 11, Polites 3 3-3 10, N. Lee 7 3-7 17, Hogan 7 2-2 16. Totals - 22 8-12 57.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Bishop Carroll16 19 13 8 -56
Northern Cambria12 20 12 13-57
3-point goals: Bishop Carroll 3 (Martinazzi, Maruca, Ranck); Northern Cambria 3 (Polites, Bonatesta, Bearer).
Team records: Bishop Carroll (14-12); Northern Cambria (20-5).
Officials: Bill Correll, Jeff Heider, Steve Searer.