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B-A boys lose, but have states in sight

EBENSBURG — They took a loss Tuesday night in the District 6 Class 3A boys basketball semifinals round, but the Bellwood-Antis Blue Devils will play on — all the way into the PIAA playoffs.

“We’ve still got some games to play,” Bellwood-Antis coach Kevin Conlon said. “I told them that afterwards, we can still win some games.”

No. 5 seed Bellwood-Antis will face No. 3 Forest Hills in the District 6 consolation game on Thursday night at a site to be determined.

The Blue Devils weren’t close to winning their most recent outing, digging a deep hole early on against top-seeded, defending-champion Ligonier Valley in the semifinals, and they never threatened the Rams in a 65-45 loss at Central Cambria.

Marrek Paola scored 30 points and snared 19 rebounds to lead Ligonier Valley (22-2), which advanced to the championship game Friday night against No. 2 Richland at Mount Aloysius.

It’ll mark a rematch of the 2018 title game, won by Ligonier Valley, 58-54.

“It’s going to be a heck of a game,” Ligonier Valley coach John Berger said. “We’ll have our guys ready to go.”

Ironically, Ligonier Valley was ousted in the first round of the PIAA playoffs a year go by District 3 runner-up Lancaster Mennonite, while Richland lasted all the way to the championship game before losing to District 12 champion Neumann-Goretti.

By most accounts, it was anticipated that the top two seeded teams would end up in the title game again. Ligonier Valley raced to a 22-7 first-quarter lead against Bellwood-Antis (16-8) in the nightcap of a doubleheader at Central Cambria.

In the first game, Richland (19-6) advanced with a 50-35 victory over Forest Hills (15-9).

Paola, a 6-foot-8 senior, who is signed to play at Seton Hill next season, scored 13 first-quarter points to spark Ligonier Valley to its 15-point advantage. He ended the first half with 19 as the Rams took a 35-14 lead into the intermission.

“You can’t ever underestimate an opponent,” Paola said, “but to get a lead like that, we love it, and that’s all we can ask for.”

Bellwood-Antis, which didn’t reach double figures until the final minute of the second quarter, was led by Mason Yingling’s 12 points.

The senior guard was coming off a 30-point performance in a 62-48 quarterfinals-round victory at No. 4 West Shamokin, but didn’t score against Ligonier Valley until 16 seconds remained in the first half.

“Our team really does feed off him,” Conlon said. “They notice when he’s not hitting, and then, they say, ‘I’ve got to do something,’ and it just kind of snowballs from there.”

Conlon felt the score would’ve been a lot closer had his Blue Devils been able to come out and find the range off the bat.

“In the first half, if we even shoot 40 percent, this is a game,” he said. “Credit (Paola) for a lot of what we weren’t able to do. In most games, most of those shots Mason was taking would have fallen. But he couldn’t get it going. He seemed to lose a little bit of his confidence.”

Said Berger: “Yingling was trying to get his groove on and he couldn’t find it.”

Michael Marinchak also scored in double figures for Ligonier Valley with 14 points, but the Rams’ second-leading scorer was held to just four in the first half.

Nathan Wolfe, who gave up three inches to the 6-foot-8 Paola in the middle, added 10 points for Bellwood-Antis before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

“Nate went out and played him hard,” Conlon said. “There’s a reason he’s a Division II recruit, because he has those skills. You’re not going to stop him, but you do try to contain him. Some of our other kids stepped up with some plays, too.”

Paola is averaging 27 points and 13 rebounds per game and is flirting with 2,000 career points. He topped 1,000 career rebounds this season.

“We battled him as best they could,” Conlon said. “They battled him hard. But those 50-50 balls that were being tipped around, most times he was coming up with them. And he was hitting shots from everywhere — fadeaway jumpers, 3s. “At that point, what do you do? You just try to do your best.”

BELLWOOD-ANTIS (45): Yingling 4 2-2 12, Mallon 2 0-1 4, Wyland 3 0-0 6, Walker 2 0-0 6, Wolfe 4 2-2 10, Luensmann 1 0-0 2, Gibbons 1 0-0 3, Moss Jr. 1 0-0 2, Frederick 0 0-0 0, Miller 0 0-0 0, Pelligrino 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 5-6 45.

LIGONIER VALLEY (65): Ludwig 1 1-2 4, Niedbalson 3 0-0 6, Mi. Marinchak 4 5-6 14, Ma. Marinchak 3 0-0 7, Paola 13 2-4 30, Mills 1 0-1 2, Seftas 1 0-0 2, Tutino 0 0-0 0, Myers 0 0-0 0, Smykal 0 0-0 0, Hobaugh 0 0-0 0. Totals 26 8-13 65.

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Bellwood-Antis 7 7 15 16–45

Ligonier Valley 22 13 14 16–65

3-point goals: Bellwood-Antis 4 (Walker 2, Yingling, Gibbons); Ligonier Valley 5 (Paola 2, Ludwig, Mi. Marinchak, Ma. Marinchak).

Records: Bellwood-Antis (16-8); Ligonier Valley (22-2).

Officials: Dan Gales, Justin Frear, Ryan Ehrie.

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