PC boys knock off McCort in semis
JOHNSTOWN – Two streaks ended Wednesday night at the Richland High School Sports Center.
The better-feeling one belonged to the Penn Cambria boys basketball team.
The Panthers punched their first ticket to the district championship in a decade after holding off two-time defending champ Bishop McCort, 44-40, in the District 6 Class AA semifinals.
“We’ve talked about this for four years with this group of seniors because most of them have been with me since they were freshmen,” Penn Cambria coach Jim Ronan said. “The offseasons we’ve put in have just been tremendous. We’ve been a family.
“To reach this [point] with this group is something special because it’s been 10 years since Penn Cambria has been in the district finals.”
The win was especially rewarding since Penn Cambria (19-4) got the best of Bishop McCort twice this season after several years of being on the other side of the result.
The Panthers defeated the Crushers (18-7), 59-48, in Cresson on Jan. 23.
“It’s crazy. I’m speechless,” Penn Cambria senior A.J. Leahey said. “It feels good to finally beat them in the playoffs. They knocked us out the past two years. We had their number this year. We beat them in the regular season, we knew we could beat them again.”
“We said from the beginning that we wanted what McCort had – back-to-back double-A champs,” Ronan said. “They won that for a reason. They’re a really good team, and they never quit. They always seem to have that magical run in them in the playoffs. To beat them twice, it just means the world to us because they’ve taken us out of the playoffs the last two years.”
It certainly wasn’t easy for the second-seeded Panthers.
Penn Cambria built a 32-22 lead with 1:58 left in the third quarter, but Bishop McCort’s Nemo Trexler took over.
The junior single-handedly put the sixth-seeded Crushers on a 7-0 run to get them within three with 5:28 left in the fourth.
But Leahey stopped the bleeding with a deep 3-pointer from out front.
“I was trying to stay confident,” Leahey said. “Coach was looking for a play to run out of bounds. We went out and ran it, I got the shot and it went in.”
For the next three-and-a-half minutes, though, nothing went in the basket for either team.
Not even free-throws.
Penn Cambria was 0-for-6 from the line – Leahey missed 4 – and Bishop McCort was 0-for-1. The teams combined for six misses from the field during the stretch.
Devin Lawhead finally got the scoreboard moving again with a pair of free throws at the 1:30 mark, but 10 seconds later Adam Pastorek hit from deep for the Crushers.
Trexler got McCort within three again moments later with two free throws and a three-point play.
But despite Tyler Rugg’s 3 from the corner for the Crushers with 18.1 seconds to go, Leahey sealed the game with four free throws.
“It was unbelievable. I haven’t experienced that yet as a coach. I can’t even really say how many different emotions I had during that fourth quarter,” said Ronan, whose team committed eight turnovers in the final quarter. “It was the biggest, fastest rollercoaster I’ve ever been on, and it was hard for me to wrap my head around the things that were going on.”
Leahey finished with 18 points. He was 6-for-17 from the field and 4-for-8 from the line – an off night by his standards.
“The great players have all been there,” Ronan said of Leahey. “They don’t make them all, but I’ll tell you what, the great players step up at the biggest times. He wasn’t afraid to take the ball there when he was struggling a little bit, especially at the line. He did what he needed to do, put us on his back and got us a ‘W.'”
“The free-throws at the end – I was trying to stay confident,” Leahey said. “I went back up and knocked down the four to put the game away.”
Trexler had a game-high 20 points on an 8-for-19 night. He was 4-for-7 from the line.
“They played like a champion tonight,” Bishop McCort coach Pat Hollern said of Penn Cambria. “When they needed to make some shots, they did. They made a lot of good things happen. They flat-out beat us.
“Emotions were high, the crowd was loud, there was screaming and yelling and those emotions can get the best of you on both sides.”
The Panthers will play No. 4 Northern Cambria – who defeated top-seeded Bald Eagle Area on Wednesday – in Saturday’s district championship game at St. Francis University.
“It feels great to go to the championship game,” Leahey said. “Now we have to take care of business there.”
BISHOP McCORT (40): Trexler 8-19 4-7 20, Hipp 3-13 0-1 6, Neiderhiser 0-3 2-2 2, Spangler 2-7 0-2 4, Barbin 1-2 0-0 2, Pastorek 1-6 0-0 3, Rugg 1-5 0-0 3, Ingram 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-55 6-12 40.
PENN CAMBRIA (44): Behe 3-4 0-0 6, J. Mardula 3-5 1-5 7, Leahey 6-17 4-8 18, Keagy 2-4 0-0 4, Lawhead 2-6 3-6 7, Schwaderer 0-2 0-0 0, Tsikalas 1-5 0-0 2, M. Mardula 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 17-44 8-19 44.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Bishop McCort8 10 7 15 – 40
Penn Cambria12 12 8 12 – 44
3-point goals: Bishop McCort 2-13 (Pastorek, Rugg), Penn Cambria 2-12 (Leahey 2).
Records: Bishop McCort (17-8), Penn Cambria (19-4).