The Homer-Center Wildcats are all tuned up.
Homer-Center beat Derry, 61-55, in a non-conference boys’ basketball game Wednesday night. The Wildcats (15-6) play Ligonier Valley (10-2) at IUP’s KCAC on Friday in the Heritage Conference championship game. Ligonier Valley, the two-time defending conference champion, has won 17 straight games, including a pair of romps over Homer-Center, which has won nine of its past 11 games.
“We have to keep playing the way we’ve been playing,” Homer-Center assistant coach Paul Pohley said. “We’re playing good basketball right now. We know it’s a tough task, and we know Ligonier Valley is a great team, so we have to embrace the challenge.”
Ligonier Valley has played in the conference championship game all four years it has been contested at the KCAC. Homer-Center is making its first appearance under retiring coach Bob Rado, who chalked up his 500th coaching victory last month.
“They’ve been there before so they have that advantage going for them,” Pohley said. “We just have to take the challenge head on and embrace it.”
Ligonier Valley beat Homer-Center in both regular-season games, 82-53 on Dec. 19 and 81-60 on Jan. 23.
“What they did was sped us up,” Pohley said. “They’ll speed you up with their press. We just have to kind of slow it down and be a little smarter with the basketball and hit the first open guy we see and not make it difficult. Sometimes I think we make it difficult on ourselves in those situations where we get pressed.”
The Wildcats could use a repeat performance like Jon Gearhart gave them last night. The 5-foot-10 senior guard made three 3-point field goals and scored a career-high 20 points.
He and 6-5 junior Ryan Sardone picked up the slack created when Jaden Evanick ran into early foul trouble. Sardone finished with 18 points.
“Jon leads quietly and doesn’t say much,” Pohley said. “He hits big shots. He hit big 3s all year long. He did in the United game out there, which was close, and he hit a big 3 at Marion Center. And tonight he hit some big 3s at key times. He’s really poised when he’s shooting that trey and really confident from behind the arc. Obviously he’s our best 3-point shooter.”
Homer-Center took a 19-9 lead in the first quarter and maintained a comfortable lead throughout.
Sam Jones and Aidan Bushey combined for 25 points for Derry (7-14).
SALTSBURG 64, MARION CENTER 38: Saltsburg built a big lead over Marion Center and eased past the Stingers in a Heritage Conference crossover game.
Saltsburg made three 3-point field goals in the first quarter en route to a 17-6 lead. The Trojans led 31-13 at halftime.
Ten players broke into the scoring for Saltsburg (12-9). Brady Yard and Michael Shirley scored 12 points apiece, and John Calandrella had 11. Tyler Roman, Dylian Palmer and Josh Gibbons combined for 21 points.
Colin Fox led Marion Center (8-14) with 15 points.
Saltsburg plays at Purchase Line on Monday.
PURCHASE LINE 62, UNITED 60: Jacob Barnett and Austin Kovalcik engaged in a shootout, and Purchase Line held off United in a Heritage Conference crossover game that was tight from start to finish.
The teams were tied at 29 at halftime and 44 after three quarters.
Barnett scored 26 points, with 17 coming in the second half, including the final free throw that kept Purchase Line ahead by two.
Kovalcik fired in 28 points, with 12 coming in the first quarter and eight in the fourth.
Isaac Huey scored 11 points and Mello Sanchez had 10 for Purchase Line. Hunter Antisdel made three 3-pointers for nine points.
Aiden Ringler scored 12 points and Johnny Muchesko had 10 for United (10-12).
Purchase Line (11-9) plays host to Saltsburg on Monday.
APOLLO-RIDGE 58, FREEPORT 43: A night after scoring 28 points, Apollo-Ridge’s Klay Fitzroy went for a career-high 34 in a victory over Freeport in a WPIAL non-section game.
Fitzroy, a 6-foot-4 junior, scored 19 points in the second half — and 29 after the first quarter. He led the way in the second half when the Vikings outscored Freeport 35-19 after trailing 24-23 at halftime.
Jake Fello and Zander Garrone combined for 16 points for Apollo-Ridge (15-6).
The Vikings went 15-for-17 from the free throw line. Fitzroy was 9-for-11.
Apollo-Ridge plays host to Propel Braddock Hills on Friday.
SALTSBURG 58, MARION CENTER 43: Saltsburg jumped out to a big lead in the first quarter and cruised past Marion Center in a Heritage Conference crossover game.
The Trojans led 16-3 after the first quarter and 30-13 at halftime. Marion Center led the second half, 32-27.
“We were able to jump out to a big lead in the first quarter with a really good defensive effort,” Saltsburg coach Tiara Stossel said. “But credit to Marion Center: They battled and really made us work to maintain a lead the rest of the way, especially the second half.”
Eden Plowman and Abbie Dickie each scored 18 points for Saltsburg (9-10). Courtney Battestilli tossed in 11. Karly Cindric and Makenzie Simpson combined for the other 11.
“Eden Plowman stepped up big offensively,” Stossel said. “It was nice to see her find her shot again after a few slow games. And Abbie did a nice job taking advantage of the defensive effort in transition.”
Laney Monroe scored 13 points and Jocilyn Thompson and Jerzey Coble each had 10 for Marion Center (6-16).
Saltsburg plays at Purchase Line on Monday.
LIGONIER VALLEY 38, NORTHERN CAMBRIA 21: Ligonier Valley broke a halftime tie by holding Northern Cambria to five points in the second half of a Heritage Conference crossover game.
The teams were tied at 16 at halftime before Ligonier Valley outscored Northern Cambria 22-5 in the second half.
Haley Boyd led Ligonier Valley with 13 points, and Maddie Griffin chipped in nine. Katie Lawson led the rebounding with 16 boards, and Carol Woods had 11. Lizzy Crissman blocked four shots, and Kaelyn Adams had eight rebounds and four steals.
Bri Cernick and JohnnieMarie Olenchick combined for 13 points for Northern Cambria (1-18).
Ligonier Valley (3-16) plays at North Star this evening.