HOLLIDAYSBURG - The Northern Cambria boys basketball team has become quite accustomed to ending its district playoff runs at St. Francis University's DeGol Arena.
This season won't be any different.
The fifth-seeded senior-laden Colts will play in their third straight district championship game after upending top-seeded Bald Eagle Area, 59-54, in the District 6 Class AA semifinals Wednesday night at the Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School.
"I knew coming in we were going to have our hands full, but I knew if we played a good, sound game we could prevail," Northern Cambria coach Dan Weber said. "We've got a group of seniors here who are 8- or 9-1 in the district playoffs."
Northern Cambria (21-4) will face Penn Cambria in Saturday's district title game at 7 p.m. Bald Eagle fell to 21-3 and will play Bishop McCort in the consolation game Friday at a site and time to be determined. Both teams will advance to the PIAA state playoffs.
"That's a well-coached team," Weber said of Bald Eagle. "They're in the District 6 semifinals for a reason. They were able to take us out of a lot of what we wanted to do."
Fortunately for Northern Cambria, that wasn't the case during a decisive 11-0 third-quarter surge that was just too much for the Eagles to overcome. The Colts led 38-36 midway through the period when Nick Lee started things off with a putback, followed by a 3-pointer from Adam Polites, a Josh Bonatesta layup, a short turnaround from Jeff Hogan and another basket by Bonatesta stretched the margin to 13 (49-36), its largest of the game. Four of the Colts' five senior starters scored during the rally.
"For the better part of that game, it could've gone either way," said Weber, whose team carried a 17-8 advantage on the scoreboard in the third quarter. "We hit that spurt in the third quarter and were able to get high percentage shots that helped us get a little bit of a cushion."
Bald Eagle tried to claw its way back into the game in the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to eight, 54-46, on a pair of free throws from Bryan Greene at 3:24. A layup from BEA senior Clayton Cingle trimmed the lead to seven, 58-51, with 1:10 left, but that's as close as the Eagles could get until the final buzzer.
"What a game," Bald Eagle Area coach Bill Butterworth said. "They're senior loaded and got to feel pretty good for those guys. Coach Weber does an excellent job. They played a heck of a game."
Bald Eagle 6-foot-7 senior Dennis Fisher surpassed the 1,000-point mark for his career on a layup at the 4:09 mark of the fourth quarter. Fisher, who scored a game-high 23 points and grabbed six rebounds, now has 1,004 points for his career.
"We knew from watching film on him that he was versatile," Weber said of Fisher. "He's a nice player."
Northern Cambria moved out to a 30-23 lead late in the second quarter, but watched BEA rattle off a 7-2 run to end the quarter. The Colts carried a slim 32-30 lead into halftime.
Hogan led four Northern Cambria players in double figures with 16 points. Polites, who hit four 3-pointers, added 14, Bonatesta had 13 and Lee scored eight of his 10 points in the third quarter. Lee pulled down eight rebounds and Polites grabbed seven for the Colts.
Bryan Greene and sophomore Brandon Gettig each scored 10 points for Bald Eagle.
NORTHERN CAMBRIA (59): D. Bearer 1 3-4 6, N. Lee 5 0-3 10, Polites 4 2-3 14, Bonatesta 6 0-0 13, Hogan 7 2-3 16, Atkins 0 0-0 0. Totals - 23 7-13 59.
BALD EAGLE AREA (54): Bryan Greene 4 2-2 10, Gettig 3 2-4 10, Bryce Greene 2 0-0 4, Dyke 1 0-0 2, Fisher 10 1-2 23, Bennett 0 0-0 0, Schall 0 0-0 0, Romine 0 0-0 0, Cingle 1 0-0 2, Riley 1 0-0 3. Totals - 22 5-8 54.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Northern Cambria15 17 17 10 - 59
Bald Eagle Area13 17 8 16 - 54
3-point goals: Northern Cambria 6 (Polites 4, D. Bearer, Bonatesta); Bald Eagle Area 5 (Getting 2, Fisher 2, Riley).
Records: Northern Cambria (21-4); Bald Eagle Area (21-3).
Officials: Ray Wotkowski, Denny Gramling, Bill Correll.