Red Devils enjoying historic part of winning
By William Whalen
For the Mirror
KITTANING — The Red Devils are finally elite. Elite eight that is.
History has proven that advancing past the second round in the PIAA boys basketball playoffs for the first time ever hasn’t been an easy task for the District 6 Class 3A champion Red Devils.
Riverside made sure things were interesting down the stretch as Central Cambria managed to hold off a late Riverside rally and earn the elusive second-round win, 67-63, over the Panthers in the PIAA Class 3A playoffs Thursday at Armstrong High School.
“We’ve been talking all year about this being a ‘forever’ team,” Central Cambria coach Adam Stephan said. “We won the district title, we got the banner on the wall, and now they’ve gone the farthest of any team in the history of Central Cambria basketball.”
Central Cambria (22-6) will move on to face Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic on Saturday with the site and time to be determined.
The Red Devils led the entire game and held a 53-45 lead going into the fourth quarter with a streaky Panthers squad gaining momentum. Riverside (17-6) started the final quarter on 5-0 run to draw the score to 53-52, still in favor of Central Cambria with 6 minutes, 3 seconds remaining. Junior guard Luke Bennett added a basket to give the Red Devils some breathing room, but the Panthers still had plenty left in them.
Riverside junior forward Elijah DeMarco scored to bring the Panthers’ deficit back to one point at 55-54. Then things got interesting and seemed to set up well for the Panthers down the stretch. With 4:09 showing on the clock, 6-foot-6 junior forward Matt Holsinger was called for his fifth foul and had to leave the game. Holsinger gave the Panthers fits in the paint all game before fouling out.
“(Holsinger) has been our all-everything all year, and he goes out with 4 minutes left in the game and (Riverside) is feeling pretty good about it,” Stephan said. “We said, ‘Stay calm,’ in the huddle and we got together, stuck together, and we grinded through it.”
Holsinger bowed out with 15 points, scoring 13 in the second quarter.
Junior guard Dylan Speicher gave the Panthers their first lead of the game with 3:51 to go. The Panthers’ lead didn’t last long. Senior guard Nate Gillen’s basket reclaimed the lead with 2:15 on the clock, and senior Evan Bopp added some cushion with a jumper to make the score 59-56. The Red Devils were a perfect 6-of-6 from the foul line in the final minute of play.
“I’m just so proud of my team,” Bopp said. “We stick together and get it done.”
Bopp finished with a game-high 27 points and also eclipsed the 1,000 career points mark with a foul shot early in the second quarter.
Central Cambria got it done early, too. The Red Devils came out on fire from the outset. Bopp scored nine of Central Cambria’s 15 first-quarter points to give his team the early momentum.
It was obvious early on that Riverside was playing tight as many shots either fell short or hit the front of the rim. Holsinger easily picked up the rebound and pushed the ball down the floor for the easy score.
“It ended up being a great game, it wasn’t very good from the start,” Riverside coach John Rorick said. “It’s tough to go 0-for-9 (shooting) and dig yourself a 10-0 hole from the start in a game like that. But, our kids battled, and we finally got it going a little bit.”
Riverside’s shooting struggles didn’t end until the 3-minute mark of the first quarter when Austin Dambach nailed a short jumper to kick-start an 8-2 run and eventually draw the score to 15-8 to end the first quarter. Dambach led all Riverside scorers with a team-high 22.
Central Cambria and Riverside both ran the floor in the second quarter, scoring 20 and 19 points, respectively, as both teams settled in for a second-half battle. Junior guard Luke Bennett finished with 12 points for the Red Devils.
“I couldn’t be prouder of a group of guys than these guys,” Stephan said. “They stuck together, and they weathered the storm.”
CENTRAL CAMBRIA (67): Bopp 10 7-9 27, Holsinger 7 1-1 15, Bennett 3 4-5 12, Gillen 3 1-1 9, Davis 0 4-6 4. Totals — 23 17-22 67.
RIVERSIDE (63): Dambach 8 3-3 19, Speicher 6 2-2 15, Thellman 5 0-0 11, Baust 5 0-0 10, Fornataro 2 0-0 5, DeMarco 1 2-2 4. Totals — 27 7-7 63.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Riverside 8 19 18 18 — 63
Central Cambria 15 20 18 14– 67
3-point goals: Central Cambria 4 (Gillen 2, Bennett 2); Riverside 3 (Thellman, Fornataro, Boehm).
Records: Central Cambria (22-6); Riverside (17-9).