LORETTO - After Central upset Richland for the District 6 Class AA football championship in the fall, the schools met again Saturday night at St. Francis University to determine supremacy in the 6-AA boys basketball ranks.
Anyone for baseball?
With Matt Shaffer doing the damage inside and Aaron Miller and Jacob Lushko combining for seven 3-pointers, Richland evened the series at a game apiece with a 59-43 victory at DeGol Arena.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Central’s Zach?Slagenweit blocks a shot by Richland’s Kyle Flick.
Both teams will play again in the PIAA tournament starting next Saturday.
"It was their size and strength. They really kind of beat us up on the boards and controlled the inside," Central coach Reggie Nevins, whose team was giving up height and length at every position, said. "There wasn't much we could do about it. We played hard, but they played well. They shot well. We couldn't get them to turn the ball over much.
"Obviously, they were the better team tonight."
Zach Slagenweit fronted Nevins' Scarlet Dragons with 13 points. Austin Cunningham chipped in with 12.
"It just wasn't our night tonight," Slagenweit said. "They played well, but we didn't make shots. We left a couple of their shooters open for 3s. That was pretty much the ball game."
Richland actually doubled-up the smaller Dragons on the boards, 38-19, while also connecting on four more shots from deep, 8-4. Shaffer led the way for the Rams, now 20-5, with 24 points, 12 rebounds and a blocked shot. Miller scored 14 and Lushko nine.
It was the Rams' first district championship since 1975.
"We wanted to get the ball down low first and wanted to kick out for our guards," Richland coach Greg Burke said. "When you get the ball to people like Matt Shaffer and Ryan Ball, and they have to collapse in the lane, and you have people like Aaron Miller and Jacob Lushko who can just stand on the outside and shoot with anybody in our area, it's pretty hard to defend. That's what got us that separation."
The Dragons matched Richland through early in the second quarter when the Rams began to slowly pull away. Miller made three straight 3-pointers that changed a 12-10 game to 18-12, then Richland closed the first half on an 8-0 run that pushed the difference to 11.
Shaffer took over in the second half with 17 points as the Rams expanded the advantage to as many as 22 points.
Central pulled as close as 11 in the final minutes, but the Rams put it away at the foul line.
"We thought we could pressure them a little bit. We really thought it would be a high-scoring game," Nevins said. "We thought we would do better offensively against them, get more penetration. They moved their feet well and played well defensively. We thought they're bigger guys, we're quicker and faster but, for the most part, they were able to contain us pretty well."
Central only turned the ball over eight times, but Richland held the Dragons to 14-of-48 shooting. The Dragons went a span of almost 9 minutes in the second half without a field goal.
"We really haven't shot well lately. It's hard to believe we got to the district finals but we haven't shot well the last six or seven games," said Nevins, who has about five players in his rotation that are capable of hitting consistently from beyond the arc. "We just haven't been on. We just haven't been clicking on offense."
Burke said his players that also are on the football team asked him when they brackets came out when they'd play Central, and he told them they'd have to get to the championship game to have another shot at the Scarlet Dragons. Richland was knocked from the undefeated ranks in football by the Dragons in what was considered a big upset back in November.
"Obviously, we had redemption on our minds. We didn't let the fans down this time," Shaffer said.
Although Richland was a much higher seed this time around, Shaffer said he's learned to respect and not to underestimate the Dragons.
"That's a great team over there. I credit every single player. They play hard," Shaffer said. "But we played together, we moved the ball well, we had great coaching and eventually we came up with the win."
The Dragons next will draw a tough opponent when play WPIAL third place team Aliquippa at a District 6 venue in the first round of the PIAA tournament. It won't be anything new for the Dragons, at least in one sense.
"We've been underdogs the whole way. No one expected us to be here, and we proved them everybody wrong. That feels good, although we wanted this [game]," Slagenweit said. "At states, we'll be underdogs. No one probably will even scout us because they don't think we have anything, but we'll be ready."
Central will make its first trip to interdistricts since 2008. This was the Dragons' first time in the district finals since they won Class AAA in 1995.
"This is a great bunch of guys. They're really competitive," Nevins said. "We still have goals. They have a lot of confidence that they can do well. I'm really proud of them.
"We're going to play. Our goal at the beginning of the year was to see how far we could go. It wasn't to win a league or win our Christmas tournament or a district title. It was to see how far we could go with the elite teams. We're still there with them."
CENTRAL (43): Cunningham 5 1-3 12, Slagenweit 4 5-6 13, Lafferty 1 4-6 7, Brumbaugh 0 0-0 0, Patterson 1 0-2 2, Mills 1 0-0 2, Forshey 1 1-2 4, Vollkommer 1 0-0 3, Gahagan 0 0-0 0, Kensinger 0 0-0 0. Totals - 14 11-19 43.
RICHLAND (59): Flick 1 1-4 3, Lushko 3 0-0 9, Miller 5 1-3 14, Ball 1 0-0 2, Shaffer 8 8-12 24, Solarczyk 0 2-2 2, Joy 0 0-0 0, Kutchman 1 1-2 4. Totals - 19 13-23 59.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Central 7 8 10 18-43
Richland12 14 12 21-59
3-point goals: Central 4 (Cunningham, Lafferty, Forshey, Vollkommer); Richland 8 (Lushko 3, Miller 4, Kutchman).
Records: Central (17-8); Richland (20-5).
Officials: Ted Beam, Dave Baronner, Mike Andrews.