CLARION — Homer-Center held a one-point halftime lead Friday night, but a few minutes into the third quarter it was apparent the Wildcats were headed for a season-ending loss.
While Homer-Center managed to stay close with a foul-weakened Ridgway lineup in the first half, the Elkers crushed the Wildcats in the second, rolling past Homer-Center, 63-39, in the first round of the PIAA Class A boys’ basketball playoffs at Clarion University.
Ridgway, the District 9 runner up, opened the third quarter on an 18-0 run, turning a small deficit into a snug, late-game lead. The Elkers outscored Homer-Center 41-16 in the second half.
“We just fell apart in the second half,” Homer-Center coach Bob Rado said. “The first half we didn’t play a great game, but we had the lead coming in at halftime. They picked up the pressure in the second half, and they beat us on the boards in the second half.”
The signs were there, even with the Wildcats’ 23-22 halftime advantage, that Ridgway (23-5) packed a much tougher punch than it offered in the first half. Leading scorer Jesse Reynolds played just five minutes in the first half, and starting forward Anthony Leithner played only three, both picking up two early fouls.
That Ridgway’s first-half misfortune only added up to a one-point Homer-Center lead at the half wasn’t the best indication for the Wildcats, and it showed as Homer-Center went through its own foul troubles in the second half, losing the turnover battle and getting badly outrebounded in the process.
“We didn’t want to be in foul trouble the rest of the game, so I thought, I’ll play this first half with my bench,” Ridgway coach Tony Allegretto said. “Overall, to get out of the half with a one-point deficit … we really felt that we were the better team and we could go at them in the second half, and we came out at them.”
Homer-Center (19-7) couldn’t handle Ridgway’s pressure, and the Wildcats turned the ball over 23 times. More importantly, the Elkers got 24 points off those turnovers, compared to Homer-Center’s 10 off of the Elkers’ 18 turnovers. Ridgway outrebounded the Wildcats 42-27 and enjoyed a comfortable night on the offensive glass, getting 19 second-chance points off 19 offensive rebounds.
“Going into the season my two concerns were fouling — we tend to foul, putting teams to the line — and rebounding,” Rado said.
It took Homer-Center less than four minutes to put Ridgway into the bonus in the second half. Joe Capitosti spent the half shuttling from the floor to the bench with four fouls, and several other Wildcats played with at least three.
“Taking (Capitosti) out of the game really hurts us, on the offensive end especially,” Rado said. “We just couldn’t generate anything on offense. It took us, it seemed like half a quarter to even score in the third quarter. We weren’t patient enough to set things up, and I hand it to their defense, which came out and swarmed us and would not let us get into our offensive sets.”
Homer-Center could not get the ball inside to forward Cody Miller, and the Wildcats’ drives to the hoop frequently resulted in easy layups — on the other end of the court.
“We knew their guys would go to the basket, but we thought our size advantage and the way we play defense would close off the gaps and they’d have some trouble,” Allegretto said. “I wanted them all moving, going to the basket, and I figured we’d get some charges on them, some turnovers, and that happened.”
Isiah Carr led Homer-Center with 12 points, but Capitosti, the team’s leading score, was held to eight. The Wildcats shot 31.8 percent (14 of 44) overall and just 21.7 percent (5 of 23) in the second half.
“We never really developed an inside game and we started relying on the perimeter shots, and then they started taking away the perimeter shot,” Rado said. “We had nowhere else to turn. … They came after us, and our guys just weren’t ready for them coming after us like they were. There are not a lot of teams that did that to us this year. That was sort of new to us.”
Homer-Center will lose two starters and a third key reserve in its graduating class, but Capitosti, Miller and several significant role players will be back after having their eyes opened in the District 6 and PIAA playoffs.
“I hate to lose the seniors, but I think we gained experience for the underclassmen, just being here,” Rado said. “Maybe next year they’ll be more hungry to come back at it.”