Red Devils’ late-season run reaches its end

CW North Catholic too much to overcome

NORTH HUNTINGDON — Central Cambria spent months compiling a historic high school boys basketball season — the best in the history of the program.

It took just five minutes for it to come to a screeching halt.

The Red Devils trailed by just three in the second quarter after a pair of Evan Bopp free throws, but Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic took over shortly after, going on a 23-5 run that sealed Central Cambria’s fate in the PIAA Class 3A quarterfinals Saturday at Norwin High School.

The final score of 63-40 was disappointing to the Red Devils, but nothing could take away from what they had already accomplished.

“I couldn’t be more happy,” Bopp said. “I’m so proud of my teammates. We battled so much adversity, and for us to go out and do what we did this year is great. We were so close. We were more than just a team. We were like brothers together, and I couldn’t ask for anything more.

“We won the second D6 title (in school history) and got further than any other Central Cambria team in the playoffs, and we’ve had some great players here.”

Bopp led Central Cambria with 15 points. The senior guard played his last game for the Red Devils along with Nate Gillen, Billy Davis and Marcus Magley.

“I told those guys in there to be extremely proud of their work and what they achieved this year,” Central Cambria coach Adam Stephan said. “I’ve coached 17 years, and I’ve never been more proud of a group of kids. These four seniors have set a precedent, and hopefully the younger kids pick up on that and continue it.”

Kenny Fukon led North Catholic with 16 points, including a layup merely seconds into the second half off the inbounds play that left Central Cambria staring at each other. Following the miscommunication, it took some time before the Red Devils went over to pick up the ball and start up the second half.

“We came out not playing like ourselves,” Bopp said. “They came out really strong, and they’re a great team. They didn’t leave anything out there. They went hard the whole time.”

The Trojans stretched their lead to 30 in the fourth quarter before Justin Bezek drilled a pair of late 3-pointers to bring Central Cambria closer.

“We just didn’t execute on the offensive side of the ball,” Stephan said. “We couldn’t knock down any shots, and we made some mistakes on the defensive side that allowed them to get some separation.”

Central Cambria’s Matt Holsinger finished with 10 points and seven rebounds, much less than he’s been averaging this postseason. The 6-foot-7 forward had Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic coach Dave Long concerned after he watched him in person Thursday against Riverside.

“Actually I was a little intimidated by their big,” Long said. “I saw him in a previous game, and he altered six or seven shots. He blocked like 12 shots it seemed, and I was concerned that our players would back away a little bit. My players have surprised me all year, and this afternoon was no different.

“They were successful getting to the basket and finishing all game.”

Holsinger picked up a pair of fouls in the first half and was forced out of the paint by the Trojans’ offensive strategy.

“We brought him away from the basket,” Long said. “We ran the weave. The idea is to get him far away from the basket and make him work hard covering whoever he’s covering. We told our kids if they got the ball, and (Holsinger) was watching them, go to midcourt. We made the big guy go way out there. If you do that consistently, I don’t care how good of shape you are, it’s going to wear on you and it gets him away from the basket.”

North Catholic will play Lincoln Park, a 70-58 winner over Washington, in the semifinals Monday — a rematch of the WPIAL championship game won by the Trojans. North Catholic’s big lead meant some rest for their starters down the stretch as the Trojans played 12 players.

“It’s always nice at this time of the year to get up on someone like that,” Long said. “They realize the significance of the game and that if they lose they go home, and that adds pressure to the shooters and everyone on the floor.”

Holsinger and fellow starter Luke Bennett will return next year as Central Cambria tries to build on its success.

“Everything we tried didn’t seem to work out,” Stephan said. “We fell behind early, and we’ve been really good at getting off to good starts. Today we just couldn’t knock anything down, and that’s a credit to their defense.”

CARDINAL WUERL NORTH CATHOLIC (63): Wilson 4 3-4 11, DiNicola 6 1-2 14, J. Fukon 3 0-1 6, K. Fukon 7 2-3 16, Offi 2 2-3 7, Carmody 2 1-1 5, Nyman 0 0-0 0, D. Serventi 0 0-0 0, Drambel 1 0-0 2, Wright 0 0-0 0, Feszko 0 2-2 2, Koscinski 0 0-0 0. Totals — 25 11-16 63.

CENTRAL CAMBRIA (40): Gillen 1 0-0 3, Bennett 1 0-0 3, Davis 0 0-0 0, Bopp 4 6-10 15, Holsinger 4 2-2 10, Persio 1 0-0 3, Magley 0 0-0 0, Melnyk 0 0-0 0, Seymour 0 0-0 0, Bezek 2 0-0 6, Knopp 0 0-0 0, Pellegrino 0 0-0 0. Totals — 13 8-12 40.

SCORE BY QUARTERS

North Catholic 10 27 19 7 — 63

Central Cambria 5 12 5 18 — 40

3-point goals: North Catholic 2 (DiNicola, Offi); Central Cambria 5 (Bezek 2, Gillen, Bennett, Persio).

Records: North Catholic (24-5); Central Cambria (22-7).

Officials: Sam Zambanini, Justin Fischer, Craig Stahl.

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