Colts outlast Golden Eagles in quarterfinals
EBENSBURG – The gym was packed. The fans were loud. The intensity on the floor was high. Long-distance shots were falling left and right.
And it was only the quarterfinals.
In a classic “anything you can do, I can do better” setting, the Northern Cambria boys basketball team won the last round and knocked off Tyrone, 64-54, in the District 6 Class AA playoffs Saturday night at Central Cambria High School.
“It was definitely great intensity from both sides,” Northern Cambria senior Josh Bonatesta said. “The shots we falling. Everyone was chucking up 3s. We knew this was a big game.”
“Tyrone likes to shoot the 3-ball, so we knew if we were gong to have any chance, we had to match them,” Northern Cambria’s Adam Polites said. “These whole playoffs have been a 3-point contest for us. In the playoffs, you’ve got to make the big shot when you need it. Tonight we made a lot of them.”
Bonatesta and Polites combined for seven 3-pointers and each scored 17 points for the Colts (20-4), who are guaranteed to make their fourth straight state playoff appearance after advancing to the district semifinals.
But their goal is much higher, despite their move up from Class A.
“Moving up to double-A, we knew we wanted to make a statement,” Bonatesta said. “Our goal is to get back to the District 6 championship game.”
It wasn’t a traditional back-and-forth game by any standards.
The Golden Eagles (18-5) led, 17-10, after one quarter and increased the lead to nine to open the second, but Northern Cambria responded.
The Colts ended the half on a 10-3 run to take a two-point advantage into the locker room.
Northern Cambria maintained its momentum and built a seven-point lead with 5:11 remaining in the third quarter, but Tyrone battled all the way back, leaving the score tied at 46 heading to the fourth.
And even though the ball was flying from everywhere on the floor, the Colts ultimately won the game in the fourth quarter from the free-throw line, hitting 9-of-10 attempts in the final 3:02.
“We knew we had to win the fourth quarter,” Weber said. “I thought our ability to execute on both ends of the floor in the fourth quarter when it mattered – we rose up. We were there when it counted and it’s just a testament to these kids.
“I think what was most important tonight is that you saw five guys that have been here and done this. The senior leadership tonight – the last two games – has been like no other. Especially tonight.”
Northern Cambria worked its inside-out game fairly well, too.
Jeff Hogan muscled around in the paint for his 14 points, while Nick Lee managed to tally 10.
And when they couldn’t get to the rim, they found Polites or Bonatesta hanging out in a corner.
“We kept pounding the ball inside, which opened up our outside shooting,” Bonatesta said. “Jeff Hogan and Nick Lee were beasts for us underneath. The inside-outside game definitely worked out for us tonight.”
“We lost some of their shooters at key times,” Tyrone coach George Gripp said. “We’d make a run, we’d lose a guy in the corner, they’d make a 3 – just momentum killers. We had some defensive lapses tonight at bad times and they capitalized on them.”
Tyrone tallied eight 3-pointers – four each in the first and third quarters – but the team shot a combined 3-for-29 (10 percent) from the floor in the second and fourth quarters.
“I believe in our shooters,” Gripp said. “We’ve got lots of nice sets to get these guys open. It was just a matter of time, setting some screens and getting the floor spaced the right way. These guys stepped up and made some key 3s for us. That said, we missed some 3s that we normally knock down.”
Gripp’s son Brandon scored a game-high 24 points for the Golden Eagles. He had three 3-pointers. Each of Jordan Miller’s 12 points came from long range.
“We knew coming in that Tyrone had dynamic guards and Gripp is as good as anyone we’ve seen all season,” Weber said. “He’s a heck of a ball player. He plays the right way, he plays under control.”
The Colts have been successful thus far in their move to Class AA, but Weber knows it’s a long way to the finish line.
Northern Cambria will continue its run on Tuesday with its biggest test to date – top-seeded Bald Eagle Area, which eliminated Marion Center on Saturday.
“[Being successful has] been the case to this point, but it hasn’t been easy,” Weber said. “I try to tell these kids that playoff basketball is playoff basketball. Playing Tyrone and Richland, yes they are double-A schools, but if we’re going to pride ourselves in being a good basketball program, we’ve got to beat these teams.
“We’re taking one game at a time. Bald Eagle is the No. 1 seed and [21-2] for a reason.”
NORTHERN CAMBRIA (64): Bearer 1-2 4-4 6, Lee 4-9 2-2 10, Polites 5-14 3-4 17, Bonatesta 5-9 4-4 17, Hogan 6-12 2-6 14, Atkins 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-46 15-20 64.
TYRONE (54): Ingle 0-5 1-2 1, Wagner 4-9 2-4 10, Gripp 6-18 9-9 24, Politza 1-4 0-0 2, Miller 4-15 0-0 12, McKeehan 0-1 0-0 0, Mitchell 0-1 0-0 0, Lingafelt 0-1 0-0 0, Belinda 2-2 0-0 5. Totals 17-56 12-15 54.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Northern Cambria10 17 19 18 – 64
Tyrone17 8 21 8 – 54
3-point goals: Northern Cambria 7-22 (Polites 4, Bonatesta 3), Tyrone 8-24 (Miller 4, Gripp 3, Belinda).
Records: Northern Cambria (20-4), Tyrone (18-5).