Homer-Center loses in semifinals again
EBENSBURG — For an extended stretch of Tuesday night’s game, the Homer-Center Wildcats lost faith in each other.
They regained their confidence in time to make a game of it, but the early period of self-doubting was enough to dash the Wildcats’ district title hopes.
Homer-Center fell behind by double digits in a disastrous second quarter and never fully recovered in a 58-53 loss to Bishop Guilfoyle in the District 6 Class A semifinals at Central Cambria High School.
The Wildcats mustered just two points during an offensively challenged second quarter — when they were outscored 15-2 — and fell behind 27-14 by halftime.
“We tried to do too much by ourselves in the second quarter,” Homer-Center coach Bob Rado said. “We didn’t trust in one another on the offensive end. Defensively, we played pretty well the first half, but getting down by 14 is a tough road. But we did come back. Hats off to the guys the second half. I thought we played a much better game the second half than we did the first half.”
Senior Robert Della Penna echoed his coach’s sentiment.
“We tried to do it all ourselves,” he said. “If we wouldn’t have tried to do it all ourselves, we could have had a chance at getting closer. But I love our team for doing everything right in the second half. We’ve just got to try to put it all together for a whole game.”
Now would be as good a time as any to do that.
The Wildcats (21-3) will face Juniata Valley in the consolation game at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Central Cambria High School, and only the winner earns the right to continue its season in the PIAA tournament.
“We’ll still be kicking if we can beat Juniata on Thursday,” Rado said.
After taking a 12-9 lead in the final minute of the first quarter Tuesday — and having every reason to feel good about their play to that point — the Wildcats watched helplessly as all those good feelings went by the wayside. Homer-Center shot 1-for-8 from the field in the second quarter while committing eight turnovers.
Bishop Guilfoyle took advantage, scoring in transition off misses and turnovers to put the Wildcats in the rare position of trailing by double digits at halftime. The Marauders outscored Homer-Center 18-2 over the final 8? minutes of the opening half.
“I thought defensively in the first half, we really bothered them,” Bishop Guilfoyle coach Chris Drenning said. “We turned them over and got some layups. I’m pretty sure coach Rado would tell you they’re not used to 14 points in a half. I knew they would make some adjustments, play better.”
“I didn’t think we trapped aggressively in the first half,” Rado said. “And when you don’t trap aggressively, that gives them vision, and when they have vision, they can find the open guys. We did a better job in the second half of coming out aggressively on those traps and taking away some vision for them and pressuring them a little bit more, and that’s what we needed to do the whole game.
“I mean, that’s us. We’re a trapping team, we’re an aggressive team, and we got some turnovers, especially at the end. I just can’t complain about the effort these guys gave. One or two shots here or there meant the game.”
In a reversal of roles, the Wildcats outscored Bishop Guilfoyle 14-2 over the first six minutes of the third quarter to nearly erase the 13-point halftime deficit and inch within 29-28.
Then, the Wildcats’ comeback hopes were dashed by a couple of backups.
First, Ben Kasun completed a three-point play after being fouled on a layup with 30 seconds to play, and Nick Fiore drilled a 3-pointer from the corner with 5 seconds in the quarter to stretch Bishop Guilfoyle’s lead to 35-28 entering the fourth.
Sam McCloskey had 25 points to lead the way for the Marauders, but he was held scoreless in the third quarter while Homer-Center made its charge.
“They came out and really outplayed us the first six minutes of the third quarter,” Drenning said. “All year, I’ve used my guys on my bench. I play 10, 11 guys. I had two guys come in off the bench, Benny Kasun hit a shot, and Nick Fiore hit a 3. All of a sudden, it’s seven (points) again. After all the work they did, it’s back up to seven.”
“I don’t know about disheartening, but it was tough to come back from,” sophomore John Ireland said. “We got up, then we got pushed back down, and we had to build ourselves back up. It took a lot out of us, and we were a little gassed at the end.”
It didn’t stop the Wildcats from fighting to the bitter end.
They fell behind by 11 points a minute into the fourth quarter, but fought back to make it 43-39 with 3:23 to play after Joe Capitosti banked in a 3-pointer.
Again, the Marauders pushed the lead back to 10 points, 52-42, with 1:43 remaining, and again, Homer-Center clawed back within 54-51 with 28 seconds to play.
“I found out there is no quit in these guys,” Rado said. “That’s what I found out tonight.”
With Bishop Guilfoyle focusing heavily on Homer-Center’s leading scorer, Joe Capitosti, the Wildcats relied on contributions from others to get back into the game.
Della Penna scored nine of his 11 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Wildcats’ late charge, and Ireland, who also finished with 11 points, had six points in the quarter with aggressive play around the basket.
Darren Carr had team highs of 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Della Penna’s 3-pointer with 1:25 to play brought Homer-Center within 52-45, and after a pair of missed free throws by the Marauders, Della Penna scored again on a layup in transition to make it 52-47 with about 55 seconds to play.
Seconds later, the Wildcats got a steal on the Marauders’ inbounds pass, and Ireland hit a long jumper from near the top of the 3-point arc to make it 52-49.
Homer-Center got within three points on two other occasions after that, at 54-51 and 56-53, but couldn’t avoid losing to the Marauders in the district semifinals for the second straight year.
“We didn’t say anything in the locker room after coach left,” Ireland said of the halftime atmosphere. “We just knew we had to come out and play our basketball. We just had trust in each other like we have all season, and it just came all together, but we just couldn’t get it done at the end.”
“I’m going to point to the second quarter,” Rado said. “The second quarter, we watched one guy with the ball trying to do it all himself, instead of passing it around and seeing what they gave us. And they were converging on Joe Capitosti, they were trying to take him away from us, but we didn’t do a very good job of finding the other guys.”