JOHNSTOWN - When the Penn Cambria boys basketball team opened up its District 6 Class AA quarterfinal game with Ligonier Valley on Saturday with a 13-2 run, there was little concern that the Panthers hadn't played for 10 days.
But that concern crept closer and closer to PC coach Jim Ronan when the Rams cut that lead to just two points later in the first quarter.
"This is the time of year where if you make that one mistake, it could be the last one of your season," Ronan said. "When they're making the run there, I'm not going to lie, I was nervous. But I just told the kids we have to keep wearing them down."
And that's exactly what the Panthers did, dominating the 10th-seeded Rams in the fourth quarter, 21-15, on their way to a 64-54 victory at Richland High School. At times trailing in the third quarter, the Panthers narrowly slid into the final frame with a four-point lead.
And that's when senior forward A.J. Leahey took over.
"In that fourth quarter, that's when the great players take over," said Ronan. "That's when [Leahey] got hot for us."
Leahey recorded two early 3-point field goals, a bucket in the paint and five free throws in the fourth quarter, adding to his game-high 25 points.
"We didn't handle the pressure," Ligonier Valley coach John Berger said. "We reverted back to maybe making some unforced some errors. But hey, I'm proud of my team. My hat's off to Penn Cambria. Man, are they a good team."
But second-seeded Penn Cambria may not have been in the position to regain the lead in the third and extend it in the fourth if not for the first-half play of Mack Behe, who led all scorers with 10 points at the intermission.
"That's been the recipe for our success all year long - when we have multiple guys scoring points," Ronan said. "We don't want to rely on A.J. to score 35 points, because we're not often successful with that. Mack hit some huge shots for us early."
"Our offense obviously runs through A.J. and he was having a hard time," Behe said. "It's important that other people step up and try to keep us in the game. I'm just fortunate I had a good first half. I was just glad to chip in."
Behe, who finished with 12 points, was the only other Panther in double figures, despite scoring only one bucket in the final 16 minutes.
Ligonier Valley (15-8) was led by Jordan Jones' 17-points, followed by Zach Yeskey with 14 points, and Alec Bloom with 12.
Penn Cambria (18-4) goes on to play the sixth-seeded Bishop McCort Crushers in the district semifinals Tuesday night at a location yet to be determined.
LIGONIER VALLEY (54): Bloom 4 2-2 12, Waugh 0 0-0 0, Fennell 2 0-0 4, Yeskey 5 2-4 14, Jones 6 5-6 17, Tennant 2 0-1 4, Tutino 1 0-0 3, Jablunovsky 0 0-0 0. Totals: 20 9-13 54.
PENN CAMBRIA (64): Behe 5 2-2 12, Keagy 4 0-1 8, Lawhead 3 1-2 7, Leahey 8 5-10 25, J. Mardula 1 2-2 4, Tsikalas 2 0-0 4, Schwaderer 1 0-0 2, Hite 0 0-0 0, M. Mardula 0 2-2 2. Totals: 23 12-19 64.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Ligonier Valley14 15 10 15 - 54
Penn Cambria20 11 12 21 - 64
3-point field goals: Ligonier Valley 5 (Bloom 2, Yeskey 2, Tutino); Penn Cambria 4 (Leahey 4).
Records: Ligonier Valley (15-8); Penn Cambria (18-4).