Special to the Mirror
PORTAGE - The Northern Cambria boys basketball team got back on the winning track Monday night with an out-of-conference pounding over Portage at the Mustangs' Len Chappell Gymnasium.
The 68-28 victory came two nights after the defending District 6 Class A champion Colts, playing in Class AA this season, lost by only two points to Blacklick Valley in the Bill Lamp Memorial Tournament championship at Rockwood.
"We had to show who we are tonight," Northern Cambria coach Dan Weber said. "Anytime you suffer a loss that you maybe don't expect to lose going into the game, you have to be able to dig deep and find your true colors. I delivered a pretty powerful message before the game. You can't hold on to last season's memories. In some cases, we all were."
After a slow start in the first quarter, the Colts found themselves trailing Portage, 6-5. But Jeff Hogan and Adam Polites put a stop to that. The two seniors combined for 13 points in the first frame.
When the Portage defense began double-teaming Hogan, Polites and senior guard Josh Bonatesta took over.
"They held us to five points in the first three minutes," Polites said. "After that, I think we scored 10 points in two minutes. We just got the transition game going and everything started going down for us. We started going inside-out when they started doubling Jeff [Hogan], so Josh [Bonatesta] and I started hitting perimeter shots."
Polites finished with a game-high 25 points, 11 of which came in the second quarter alone. Bonatesta's 22 points were second-best for Northern Cambria. Hogan would finish with 14 points, only recording three points in the second half.
Mike Bryja led the Mustangs with 11 points, scoring three of his four field goals from beyond the arc. But the rest of the Portage offense had difficulty getting started, being held to single digits in all four quarters.
"We knew going in that we were going to struggle offensively," said Mustangs coach Travis Kargo, whose club was playing its first game of the season. "We're still searching for an offensive identity. We're very young, class-wise and experience-wise in the game of basketball."
But Weber believes that, in order to get back near the top of the district, especially after suffering the loss to Blacklick Valley, his defense needed to keep Portage's numbers low on the scoreboard.
"The biggest challenge was to play four quarters," Weber said. "I told the guys that in order to get back to being an elite team, we've got to get back to holding teams to under 50 points. To keep [Portage] under 30 tonight, they did their job."
NORTHERN CAMBRIA (68): D. Bearer 0 0-0 0, Polites 11 0-0 25, Hogan 6 2-4 14, Bonatesta 9 1-4 22, S. Bearer 1 1-2 2, Atkins 0 0-0 0, Eckenrode 0 0-0 0, Hartman 1 0-0 2, T. Olish 1 0-0 2, Z. Lee 0 0-0 0, Jennings 0 0-0 0. Totals 29 4-10 68.
PORTAGE (28): Brown 1 1-2 3, Randall 1 0-0 3, Bryja 4 0-0 11, Madigan 1 0-0 2, Onder 0 0-1 0, Kerch 1 0-0 2, Dividock 1 0-0 2, Noland 1 0-0 2, Gruss 0 0-0 0, Herman 0 0-0 0, Bobolsky 0 3-3 3, Rosemas 0 0-0 0. Totals 10 4-6 28.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Northern Cambria19 21 19 9 - 68
Portage 8 7 8 5 - 28
3-point goals: Northern Cambria 6 (Polites 3, Bonatesta 3); Portage 4 (Bryja 3, Randall)
Records: Northern Cambria (2-1), Portage (0-1)