EBENSBURG - Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic sophomore Sam McCloskey almost sounded like he'd been reminded enough about getting to the District 6 Class A championship game.
"Our seniors didn't stop talking about it. I never heard the end of it," a breathless McCloskey said.
So McCloskey shut them up the best way he could: He helped get them there.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Bishop Guilfoyle’s Zach Patterson puts up a shot behind Homer-Center’s Darren Carr.
McCloskey complemented big games by Marauder upperclassmen Brandon Drenning and Pat Irwin by scoring eight of his 10 points in the third quarter to give second-seeded Guilfoyle a little bit of breathing room in a tight game against third-seeded Homer-Center. BG pulled away in the fourth quarter to claim a spot in the 6-A boys basketball finals for the first time since 2008 with a 68-55 victory on Monday evening at Central Cambria High School.
Drenning's 21 points led the Marauders, who improved to 19-5 and will face Laurel Highlands Conference Section 1 rival Bishop Carroll on Friday at St. Francis University on Friday, while Irwin netted 13 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter. Joe Capitosti fronted Homer-Center (18-6) with 15 points.
"I think we did a better job of ball rotation and taking better shots [in the second half]," said Guilfoyle first-year coach Chris Drenning. "I think our depth helped. I'm a big believer in playing your bench and developing your depth, and I think that showed."
It showed most notably in the case of McCloskey. Guilfoyle only led by a point at the end of the first quarter and the half and had lost starter Tyler Koehle to a shoulder injury. McCloskey, though, came off the bench to open the second-half scoring by finishing on a fast break, and his 3-pointer from the corner three minutes later put the Marauders ahead by four.
He followed that up with another trey that started off a 6-0 run that pushed the difference to eight points.
It never was a one-possession game the rest of the way.
"My role is just to come in and play solid defense, but Coach looks to me to score a lot," McCloskey said. "Brandon Drenning's our main scorer, but, when the defense gets on him, he looks for me or Damon [Rickens] to score. I had a good quarter. We'd been trading baskets for a while."
"We've gotten that from him. He's done that all year," Coach Drenning said. "He's a quality basketball player. He does a lot of good things."
McCloskey's production helped the Marauders when the Wildcats began to watch Brandon Drenning a little more closely. The younger Drenning scored 11 in the first half with three 3-pointers. He finished up 4-for-9 from 3-point range and 6-for-12 from the field.
"Whenever we broke their trap, we just reversed the ball, and I just happened to be open," Drenning said. "We knew they liked high-scoring games, so we had to slow them down, be strong with the ball, rebound and beat their trap, and we knew we were going to be all right."
Homer-Center stayed in it largely because of a 36-31 rebounding margin and Cody Miller's 11 points inside in the first half. Miller and Darren Carr each finished with 13 points for the Wildcats, who'll play Juniata Valley on Thursday in the 6-A consolation game for a spot in the state tournament.
"I think we just started to press ourselves offensively. We came down and tried to rush our offense a bit in the second half," Wildcats coach Bob Rado said. "You can't give a good team opportunities like we gave them. They knocked down their 3s. They're a good basketball team. They made their 3s and they made their foul shots."
Guilfoyle was 29-for-35 from the foul line, helping expand the lead to as many as 17 points midway through the fourth quarter of a game that featured seven lead changes in the first half. Irwin was the prime beneficiary, canning 15 of 18 free throws, including 13 out of 14 in the final 6:10.
"All week I was really practicing free throws. With playoffs, I knew big free throws were coming, and I didn't want to miss those," Irwin said. "I started off the year pretty well, but I had a stretch there were I wasn't where I should be."
Guilfoyle split two regular-season meetings with Carroll, each winning on the other's home court. The Marauders will be looking for their first title since 2007.
"It feels pretty good," Brandon Drenning said. "It feels pretty good."
HOMER-CENTER (55): Jones 1 0-0 2, D. Carr 5 3-3 13, I. Carr 2 1-1 5, Joe Capitosti 5 3-6 15, Miller 5 3-4 13, Della Penna 0 1-2 1, Wilden 1 1-1 3, Berezansky 1 1-2 3, Gaydosh 0 0-0 0, Caruso 0 0-0 0. Totals - 20 13-19 55.
BISHOP GUILFOYLE (68): Irwin 1 15-18 18, Drenning 6 5-5 21, Fulare 1 3-4 5, Koehle 1 0-0 2, Patterson 3 1-2 7, McCloskey 3 2-2 10, Rickens 0 2-2 2, Chadbourn 1 0-0 2, Nardelli 0 0-0 0, Wolf 0 1-2 1, Fiore 0 0-0 0, Brumbaugh 0 0-0 0, Baldessaro 0 0-0 0. Totals - 16 29-35 68.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Homer-Center12 11 12 20-55
Bishop Guilfoyle13 11 16 28-68
3-point goals: Homer-Center 2 (Joe Capitosti 2); Bishop Guilfoyle 7 (Drenning 4, Irwin, McCloskey 2).
Officials: Cliff Kitner, Skip Dry, Jason Moschgat.
Team records: Homer-Center (18-6); Bishop Guilfoyle (19-5).