HIGH SCHOOL BOYS' BASKETBALL: Wildcats pull back into first place, avenge loss to Bobcats
BLAIRSVILLE — Seven miles.
A virtual tie in the Heritage Conference standings.
There isn’t much separating Homer-Center and Blairsville, and it showed in Monday night’s highly anticipated boys’ basketball showdown, with Homer-Center ekeing out a 60-59 victory to pull even with the Bobcats in the Heritage Conference and set up a potential shared title between the rivals.
The Wildcats’ offense improved as the game went on, and they locked down defensively at the end, with Darren Carr’s huge block and the man-to-man defense’s stifling Blairsville’s final inbounds play.
“You talk about one point, you could be talking to them over there celebrating a one-point victory,” Homer-Center coach Bob Rado said, “but this means the world to us.”
“A one-point game, somebody’s got to lose,” Blairsville coach Mark DeMarines said. “Unfortunately, tonight it was us.”
Homer-Center improved to 19-2 overall and 14-1 in the conference and avenged a lackluster 65-51 loss to Blairsville at home nine days before. Blairsville fell to 17-2 and 13-1 in the conference.
Homer-Center plays host to Northern Cambria to conclude its conference schedule Wednesday. Blairsville visits Ligonier Valley on Wednesday and welcomes Marion Center on Friday. If the Wildcats and Bobcats win out as expected, the two heavyweights will share the conference championship.
Homer-Center most recently won the Heritage Conference championship in 2011. Blairsville last did it in 2007.
“It’s really amazing,” Homer-Center senior Joe Capitosti said. “It’s what we’ve been playing for all year, to get the conference first. That was one of our main goals, and hopefully one of the two teams that Blairsville plays can knock them off so we can get it ourselves, but we’re glad to have a share.”
“This would be my first Heritage title ever,” Carr said, “and being my senior year, this is my last chance, so it means a lot to me to have the opportunity to take that.”
Homer-Center took its first lead a minute and a half into the fourth quarter. The Wildcats led, 59-56, before Ryan Horchar nailed a 3-pointer from the corner to knot the score at 59 with 40 seconds to play. The teams combined to go 2 of 13 from the free throw line in the final 2:09, but Capitosti made 1 of 2 with 15 seconds left to put Homer-Center ahead, 60-59.
The Bobcats set up for another 3-pointer, but Carr blocked Cameron Livingston’s shot out of bounds, leaving Blairsville to inbound the ball from the left corner of the baseline with 4.2 seconds left.
“Basically, I knew that we couldn’t let them get a shot, and he was wide open, so I knew I had to get to him,” Carr, the 6-foot-1 guard, said. “The jump was just all reaction. I don’t know how I got to that ball. He had it way released. I didn’t think there was any chance, and once I actually hit the ball, I looked down and he was below me, so I was doing everything I could to not foul him. Once I realized it was clean and I blocked the ball, it was just an unbelievable feeling that came over me.”
“Huge block,” Rado said. “Without fouling, out of bounds, and that put them in a position that wasn’t underneath the hoop, which would’ve been a different situation. It was out where it was blocked, which was toward the corner, which is a tough pass when you run an inbounds play. That’s why we put a guy on the ball. We wanted to take away the view of the middle, because we thought they were going to come back with (Troy) Williams and try to get him the ball low.”
That was Blairsville’s plan, but Capitosti, standing 6 feet, got in Livingston’s face on the inbound play, and he had to lob a pass back to the 6-foot-2 Williams, who missed a short jumper.
“The key to it was putting somebody with long arms on the ball, a lanky kid,” Rado said. “That’s why Joey Capitosti’s probably the most athletic kid I have. We put him on the ball to distract the view of what he had to look at. We played good defense. We locked up man-to-man. … That was the game. For four seconds, we played defense with our hearts. We knew what was at stake, and that was the bottom line.”
“We’ve scored easily on (the designed play) a couple times this season, and I knew it was something they hadn’t seen, so with four seconds, that’s our best option,” DeMarines said. “He didn’t catch it real clean, had to settle for a 12-, 14-foot fadeaway. You can’t pin that on anybody.”
Homer-Center shot just 29.4 percent (10 of 34) in the first half while Blairsville’s 14-for-20 free throw shooting gave the Bobcats the early edge. The Wildcats cut the deficit to five, 29-24, going into the half, though.
After the break, Homer-Center showed much improvement from the last time the teams played, attacking the Bobcats with drives to the hoop rather than settling for 3-pointers each time.
Joe Capitosti led the team with 21 points, 14 in the second half, and John Capitosti scored 15. John Ireland scored eight off the bench.
“I’m actually more comfortable taking it to the hole and shooting it inside the arc, right around the foul line, but I’m not afraid to shoot the 3,” Joe Capitosti said.
“I knew that I had to penetrate, definitely. Get inside, make a couple guys foul me, and really just start hitting my jump shots inside the arc instead of looking outside the whole game.”
“These seniors didn’t want to leave with that sour taste we had last game, because we knew we could play better than that,” Rado said. “Now we have one more game. Just to even share the Heritage crown is big for these guys.”
Williams scored a game-high 26 points for the Bobcats, going 12 of 15 from the free throw line. Colton McMillan scored 18.
It was almost lost, given that Blairsville had a strong shot at the outright title if it won Monday, that the Bobcats are still even with Homer-Center in the conference. They’ll move their goals to the final two games and the District 6 playoffs.
“What are you going to do? It’s a great game,” DeMarines said. “I told the guys, I’m proud of you. Everybody battled. Everybody in the stands saw a good basketball game.
“It’s a growing pain, that’s all. We’ll learn from it. I’m a lot happier that it happens now than happening in the district playoffs. So we’ll take it, we’ll learn from it.”