HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL: Bobcats take first round of battle for Heritage Conference title
HOMER CITY — Round one: Blairsville.
In an overdue battle of undefeated teams in the Heritage Conference, Blairsville won a clear decision in its first of two games in five days with rival Homer-Center, going into a raucous HomerDome and rolling over the host Wildcats, 65-51, on Saturday evening to clear a path to the conference championship.
The first battle between Blairsville (15-1, 12-0 conference) and Homer-Center (17-2, 12-1) was postponed twice by inclement weather. The teams meet again in a regularly-scheduled game Wednesday night in Blairsville.
“All this week, all last week, I had people coming up to me asking, ‘When’s the game rescheduled for?’” Blairsville coach Mark DeMarines said. “Then they said, ‘Shoot me straight, what are your chances against Homer?’ I got really tired of hearing that.
“I said, we haven’t been beaten either. Why are we under the bus? Why are we the underdogs? So, to come to their place in a hostile environment, a great basketball environment, and to come up with a double-digit win feels great.”
The Bobcats can put themselves in position to claim the conference title outright with a win at home on Wednesday, provided they take care of business in their other remaining games. A win for Homer-Center on Wednesday could set up a shared championship.
Blairsville was head-and-shoulders above Homer-Center on Saturday, riding its advantage in forwards to victory.
Troy Williams, a 6-foot-2 junior, poured in a game-high 28 points to carry the Bobcats. Meanwhile, Homer-Center was lost on offense, going 5 of 29 (17.2 percent) from 3-point range and 18 of 63 (28.6 percent) overall.
“We knew coming in that on paper the obvious advantage we had was going to be in the paint, so we attacked that a little bit,” DeMarines said.
“That’s what we were trying to do, get the ball inside,” Williams said.
Blairsville committed 21 turnovers in a rough-and-tumble game, but Homer-Center’s fixation on the 3-point shot proved its undoing.
“We just shot awful,” Homer-Center coach Bob Rado said. “Sometimes it seemed like (a 3-pointer) was all we were looking for. We were afraid to take it inside because of their size. We can’t play that way. … They took away any kind of flow on offense, and we were forced to take perimeter shots. We didn’t attack them.”
That played right into Blairsville’s hands.
“I’m not sure if we were forcing it, but that was playing into our benefit when they were shooting outside and missing those, because that was just one opportunity, then we’d get the ball and be out on our possession,” Williams said.
“Our strategy was to go with the 3-2 zone tonight,” DeMarines said. “We were going to protect the perimeter, because we knew they had shooters. Once we started protecting that perimeter, they attacked the middle a little bit with Joe Capitosti and started making some shots, so we shut down the middle and gave the perimeter up then. I said, if they’re going to beat us, we’re going to make them beat us at 22 feet, and it worked out for us.”
Capitosti scored 16 points and Robert Della Penna had 15, but the shooting wasn’t sustainable, and the output wasn’t enough to keep up with the Bobcats, who had a 52-29 edge in rebounding and got to the foul line frequently, making 26 of 32 free throws.
“They were the better team tonight,” Rado said. “They beat us, they outrebounded us, they were great from the foul line, they took advantage of rebounding. The inside game just killed us.”
Rahdezz Henderson, a 6-foot-3 junior, scored nine points for Blairsville. He and Williams formed a two-headed monster in the early going, but when Henderson got in foul trouble, Williams turned it up, scoring 17 points in the second and third quarters, a lot of which his counterpart had to sit out.
“Rahdezz was in foul trouble, so I was doing my thing,” Williams said. “Jared Uncapher came into the game and he filled in for Dez. He did a good job, too.”
Colton McMillan nailed all eight of his free throws in the fourth quarter and finished with 17 points for Blairsville.
“I was trying to (put the game away),” McMillan said. “Foul shots are definitely a key part of the game.”
Blairsville controls its own destiny in the Heritage Conference. It has four conference games remaining, including one more big one with Homer-Center. The Wildcats must hope for Blairsville to take an upset loss in order for Homer-Center to be able to win the title outright.
“It’s huge,” McMillan said. “We’re leading in the conference now, but we’ve got to go into Wednesday and get that win. That’s even bigger now, to seal it off.”
“We’re at home next time, so they’ve got to come down and deal with our atmosphere,” DeMarines said.
Rado is already taking a larger-picture view.
“When you win, everything’s great, and sometimes you overlook the little things, but this is bringing us down to earth, and we really have to critique the film and see what went wrong,” he said.
“I hand it to the kids in a way. They know they didn’t play well. I don’t have to yell and scream and hit my head against the lockers in there. They know they didn’t deserve to win this game.”
The game was physical throughout, but got even more heated in the fourth quarter, with players taunting each other and a couple hard fouls at the end. They’ll hash it all out in a few days.
“That’s just basketball,” Williams said. “When you get into the game, that’s just emotion, and it happens.”