JOHNSTOWN - The Bishop Carroll High School boys basketball team had a chance to finish off a highly positive last week of the regular season with its first Laurel Highlands Conference championship on Saturday night.
The Huskies just couldn't seal the deal.
Leading by as many as nine in the first half and having Bishop McCort star Nemo Trexler in early foul trouble, Carroll couldn't capitalize, then went cold down the stretch in dropping a 53-44 decision to the Crimson Crushers at the Richland Sports Center.
The Huskies will go into the District 6 Class A playoffs next week as the top seed with a 19-4 record. They'd gone 3-0 in the four days leading up to the LHAC final, beating 6-AA second seed Penn Cambria to earn the championship game berth and then dropping Class AAAA Hollidaysburg on Friday.
"McCort's a great team and very well-coached, but we really wanted this one," said Husky senior Scott Ranck, who had 12 points and combined with sophomore guard Brandon Martinazzi for 33. "It was a tough stretch of four games. We just tried to take it one game at a time. This one just didn't turn out the way we wanted it to."
Carroll's undoing was the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth. Martinazzi took a halfcourt steal in for a layup to put the Huskies ahead by eight, 39-31, with 3:00 left in the third quarter.
Carroll didn't score again until Ranck converted a free throw with 3:25 left in the game. In between, McCort (15-7) went on a 15-0 run.
"In the first half, we had good ball movement. In the second half, it was [a combination] of their defense and we didn't work the ball and screen as much," Ranck said. "We [still] got good shots in the second half. They just weren't falling the way they were in the first. What can you do?"
The Huskies could have had a double-digit lead. A precursor of how cold BC would become, Martinazzi and David Maruca missed open fastbreak layups early in the third. Carroll also went just 5-of-13 from the foul line and committed nine turnovers after the intermission - they only had five in the first half.
"You can attribute that to their defense," Huskies coach Cosie Aliquo said. "I take the blame. [Friday] night, we expended a lot of energy playing Hollidaysburg. I'm sure it caught up to us. They just wore on us the third quarter. Their defense was phenomenal.
Carroll seemed well on its way to the conference championship and avenging a 67-64 defeat from late December at McCort. The Huskies jumped out to a 27-18 lead on a Marcus Lee three-point play at the 5:28 mark of the second quarter that also drew the third foul on Trexler, who was averaging 19.6 points and 9.0 rebounds entering the game. Martinazzi had 14 points and Ranck eight in the first half.
However, even without Trexler on the floor, McCort managed to get within two at the half on Adam Pastorek's 3-pointer.
"The whole factor in our game tonight was our senior leadership was so strong," said McCort coach Pat Hollern, whose team also overcame 23 turnovers. "Jordan Spangler and Gap Barbin led this basketball team and willed it to a win."
Spangler scored eight of his 10 points in the first half to keep the Crushers in it with Trexler on the bench and guard Billy Hipp being held to two over the first two quarters. Trexler ended up pacing McCort with 15 points and 14 rebounds, while Hipp finished with 11 points.
"Being within a two-point deficit at halftime really helped out. Nemo and Billy really helped us out [in the second half]," Spangler said. "I hadn't won a Laurel Highlands championship while I was at McCort yet. It's an amazing feeling."
After Hipp got a kind roll and bounce on a trey from the corner, Trexler nailed a desperation 3-pointer to end the third quarter and make it a one-point game.
"That was the shot where I just went, 'Ah,'" Aliquo said. "Then we came out in the fourth quarter, and we couldn't hit anything."
BISHOP CARROLL (44): Maruca 0 0-0 0, Martinazzi 8 3-4 21, Madonna 1 0-2 2, Ranck 5 1-4 12, Lee 3 1-3 7, Suckinos 1 0-0 2, Burk 0 0-0 0, Swatsworth 0 0-0 0. Totals - 18 5-13 44.
BISHOP MCCORT (53): Hipp 4 2-2 11, Neiderhiser 2 0-0 5, Spangler 2 4-4 10, Barbin 2 1-3 5, Trexler 5 4-7 15, Rugg 1 0-2 2, Pastorek 2 0-0 5, Ingram 0 0-0 0, Howard 0 0-0 0, Helsel 0 0-0 0. Totals - 18 11-18 53.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Bishop Carroll20 11 8 5 -44
Bishop McCort10 19 9 15-53
3-point goals: Bishop Carroll 3 (Martinazzi 2, Ranck); Bishop McCort 6 (Spangler 2, Neiderhiser, Pastorek, Hipp, Trexler).
Officials: Chris Rickens, Dave Heim, Sean Albright.
Records: Bishop Carroll (19-4); Bishop McCort (15-7).