EBENSBURG - Northern Cambria looked like a different team in the third quarter of Saturday night's PIAA Class AA playoff game against Apollo-Ridge.
The Colts were outscored 16-8 in opening quarter, and trailed 28-24 at the half.
However, the Colts came out of the locker room and took control of the game. They outscored the Vikings, 19-6, in the third quarter and kept Apollo-Ridge at bay in the final frame to advance with a 58-53 win at Central Cambria High School.
"We came out of the half and just said that we need to get back to doing what we do," Northern Cambria coach Dan Weber said. "In the third quarter we held them under 10 points, and a lot of that was our defensive pressure. I felt like we had to be able to be the superior team, and by playing solid defense we were able to do that."
The Colts opened the decisive quarter on a 4-0 run to tie the game, but was not able to grab the lead. Twice the Vikings scored to regain the lead, and twice Northern Cambria answered to tie the game.
The Colts finally grabbed their first lead since the midway point of the third quarter, 33-32, on a layup and free throw by Adam Polites. Josh Bonatesta scored to push the lead to three points, but a basket by Connor Billingsley trimmed the lead to 35-34 with 1:49 left in the frame. However, the Colts closed the third quarter on an 8-0 run to take a nine-point lead with eight minutes to play. Hogan scored five points during the run, with Polites chipping in the other three points as the Colts four-point halftime deficit turned into a 43-34 lead after the third quarter.
During that quarter, Apollo-Ridge had almost as many turnovers (five) as points (six), and were also called for a technical foul. The Colts, on the other hand, stayed composed and took control of the game.
"I think our experience helps us," Hogan said. "In the last four years we have been in the state playoffs, so we know what it's like to be here. I don't think any of us really got nervous at all during the game, and I think that helped us tremendously."
The Colts used a 7-0 run early in the final quarter to push the lead to 52-38 with 4:35 to play. From there they took the air out of the ball and used the clock to their advantage.
The Vikings took advantage of the change in tempo and made a run to cut the Northern Cambria lead to 53-48 with about two minutes left in the game. However, Bonatesta made two key baskets to secure the victory.
"They won their 80th game tonight," said Weber of his senior-laden squad. "Here is a group that is used to this. We were down three points going into the fourth quarter versus Richland in the first round of districts.
"We're not here in this game, or the last five games, if we don't have composure. I think it's been a mainstay. We're not perfect. We lost to a much better Penn Cambria team, but when we get in games when we are as competitive as we are against teams of our caliber we know how to play. It's a testament to these kids because they have played so many games together."
The Colts advanced to play Conemaugh Township (24-3), the District 5 champion, on Wednesday evening at a location to be determined. The Indians beat Brentwood, the No. 5 team from District 7, on Saturday.
Apollo-Ridge (53): Tipton 9 1-1 19, Burrell 1 1-2 4, Smith 0 4-4 4, Davis 1 0-0 3, Reynolds 3 2-6 8, Con. Billingsley 6 3-4 15, Schrecengost 0 0-0 0, Johnston 0 0-0 0, Cod. Billingsley 0 0-0 0, Wingard 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 11-17 53.
NORTHERN CAMBRIA (58): Polites 4 4-5 13, D. Bearer 0 5-8 5, Hogan 6 4-9 16, Bonatesta 7 0-0 16, N. Lee 1 4-4 6, Atkins 1 0-0 2. Totals 19 17-26 58.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Apollo-Ridge16 12 6 19 - 53
Northern Cambria8 16 19 15 - 58
3-point field goals: Apollo-Ridge 2 (Burrell, Davis); Northern Cambria 3 (Bonatesta 2, Polites).
Records: Apollo-Ridge (18-9); Northern Cambria (22-5).