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Rams’ hot start dooms Heights

JOHNSTOWN — A difficult opening quarter resulted in a tough ending for the Cambria Heights boys basketball team.

Traveling to face No. 4 Richland in the District 6 Class 3A quarterfinals Thursday, the Highlanders allowed an early 7-0 lead and played catchup for much of the game.

Despite cutting the deficit to eight in the third, Richland took over in the final stanza to end the Highlanders’ season with a 56-37 defeat.

“(Richland) came out with some energy,” Heights coach Eric Nagel said. “We had a couple looks early, but we didn’t capitalize and turned it over a few times. That’s 7-0 right there, and in a playoff game. Seven points is a lot. Every possession counts.”

Cambria Heights (7-8) faced pressure in its own end off Richland’s full-court press, and numerous turnovers in the opening minutes allowed the Rams to take over.

A 3-pointer from Sam Penna capped off the 7-0 run, and Heights received just two buckets from Preston Lamb as it trailed 12-4 after one quarter.

“We knew coming in that they were kind of struggling on presses and handling the ball,” said Richland junior guard Trent Rozich, who posted a game-high 23 points. “We decided to do a little bit of a different press, and it turned out well.”

When it was able to evade the press, Heights couldn’t find the hot hand offensively. The Highlanders received several looks and got drives to the net, but numerous shots fell in and out of the hoop.

Meanwhile, Richland (9-7) was aided by a trey from Kellan Stahl and eight points from Rozich as it carried a 23-12 lead into halftime.

“We were aggressive and didn’t let (Heights) dictate our pace,” Richland coach Matt Shaffer said. “I think our guys opened up a bit, especially getting our jump shooters the shots they needed to make.”

Despite trailing by 12 midway through the third, Cambria Heights battled back to keep it a tight affair.

Led by the 6-foot-3 senior Lamb — who posted 12 points, eight rebounds and six blocks — the Highlanders cut the deficit to eight as they started to gain momentum.

“Preston does a great job. We’re going to miss him,” Nagel said. “I remember moving him up as a freshman and how far he’s come as a senior. He’s done a great job.”

Heights continued to battle in the fourth quarter, and a string of five successful free throws from Bernie Whiteford (team-high 16 points) kept the Highlanders clinging to life.

“Credit to (Heights’) coach. They’re a very fundamental team,” Shaffer said. “They’re sound, especially on defense.”

But as the game reached its climax, Richland took over.

Stahl nailed a 3-pointer with 3:36 left to make it a 12-point game, and late-game dominance from Rozich helped the Rams close it out.

Rozich scored 13 in the final stanza and shot 9-of-11 from the charity stripe.

Richland advances to Tuesday’s semifinal against Bishop Guilfoyle.

Cambria Heights’ season came to a close, and it graduates six seniors.

“We battled back, and that’s the resiliency of these kids,” Nagel said. “It was a good battle.”

RICHLAND (56): Rozich 7 9-11 23, Stahl 3 0-0 9, Stem 3 3-7 9, Levander 3 0-0 7, Batche 2 1-2 5, Penna 1 0-4 3. Totals 19 13-24 56.

CAMBRIA HEIGHTS (37): B. Whiteford 5 6-8 16, P. Lamb 6 0-0 12, L. Lamb 3 0-0 6, Bearer 1 0-0 3, Mazenko 0 0-0 0, C. Whiteford 0 0-0 0, McCombie 0 0-0 0, Fitzpatrick 0 0-0 0, Yeckley 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 6-8 37.

SCORE BY QUARTER

Cambria Heights 4 8 12 13 — 37

Richland 12 11 11 22 — 56

3-point goals: Richland 5 (Stahl 3, Penna, Batche); Cambria Heights 1 (McCombie 1).

Records: Richland (9-7); Cambria Heights (7-8).

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