There’s more at stake in the coming days than Heritage Conference playoff berths.
High school basketball teams are tuning up for the District 6 playoffs, too.
The Heritage Conference is staging its semifinals Thursday — boys and girls — in what is shaping up as a doubleheader at West Shamokin. The championship games follow Saturday at the home of the highest remaining seed.
District 6 set its playoff calendar on Friday, slating March 1-3 for the opening rounds in Class 1A, 2A and 3A.
The top eight teams in each of those classes advance to the single-elimination tournament. Only the district champion advances to the state tournament.
So while the top teams continue to slug it out for conference positioning, there are district playoff berths at stake, and home games go to the higher seeds until it’s time to play for a championship.
There was plenty at stake Friday night, and the there’s more coming this weekend with several important games on the schedule.
In the boys’ ranks, West Shamokin (17-0, 15-0) wrapped up the top spot last night, and United (15-3, 12-2) and Penns Manor (11-4, 10-4) are all but entrench at 2 and 3, respectively. The fourth spot remains up for grabs between Saltsburg, Homer-Center and Marion Center.
In the girls’ ranks, the final four is set: West Shamokin (15-1, 13-1), Homer-Center (13-2, 12-2), United (12-3, 10-3) and Penns Manor (12-5, 9-5), but not necessarily in that order. West Shamokin and United play today and again Monday, and the Wolves need to win once to clinch the No. 1 seed.
“That’s the important thing, to secure the home court,” West Shamokin coach Frank Nagy said. “If we lose both, we actually finish with the 3-seed because we would each have three losses and they’d have the head-to-head over us. That’s quite a difference.”
The teams are playing back-to-back games because their first scheduled meeting was postponed due to inclement weather. It’s likely they could square off again in the conference semifinals and district tournament.
“It’s the first time we’ve seen United all year,” Nagy said, “and they look to be playing their best basketball. We know it will be a dogfight at their place.”
“We went the whole year and now we have to play them back-to-back,” United coach Paul Hall said. “(Saturday) is a big game. We have to get this one because we’re on our home court, and we’ll worry about what happens Monday when Monday comes.”
PENNS MANOR 73, UNITED 63: Penns Manor’s switch on defense fueled a second-half surge in a victory over United for its fifth win in six games.
The Comets play man-to-man defense most of the time, possibly even more so with the limited preparation prior to the season and few practice days during the season.
The switched to zone in the second and threw off the Lions just enough to grab control of the game. Penns Manor led 35-24 at halftime and gave up the first six points of the second half before going on a 22-10 run for a 57-51 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Comets stretched the lead to 10 with 4:41 let and finished off their fifth win in six games.
“I’m a very man-to-man coach,” Penns Manor’s Andy Lansberry said, “but we couldn’t guard them so we threw a couple zones at them that we never even practiced before, and they looked good tonight … and we’re probably going to use them moving forward.”
Grant Grimaldi fueled the offense with 10 points in each of the middle quarters and finished with a game-high 26.
“He’s been rock-solid for us all year long,” Lansberry said. “He’s our go-to scorer. Him and Dimitri (Lieb) are on such a good wave length.”
Lieb, the Comets’ floor leader not know for his scoring, went for 14 points, with six coming at the free throw line.
“Dimitri probably played the best game he’s played in a Penns Manor uniform,” Lansberry said of the senior guard. “He had 14 points and probably had 10 or 11 assists. We started slow … but Dimitri has a way of passing the ball and energizing us. Some of his passes are incredible. And he went 6-for-7 at the free throw line.”
The Comets came up big at line. Both teams had 28 field goals, but Penns Manor went 15-for-21 from the line while United went only 4-for-5. Austin Kovalcik, United’s leading scorer, fouled out early in the fourth quarter, and starter Hunter Cameron followed a short time later.
Max Hill hit four free throws and scored 12 points. Austin Hill had eight points.
“I told the guys I’ve been a part of some really good wins, but this is probably the best team win I’ve been a part of,” Lansberry said. “Playing against a good opponent in a game like this with some many players contributing, I can’t stress enough how much this was a team win and how everybody played tonight.”
Kovalcik finished with 20 points despite sitting out the last six minutes. Ben Tomb (12), Jonny Muchesko (11) and Brad Felix (10) also scored in double figures for United.
Penns Manor was back at it Saturday in a noon tipoff at Northern Cambria.
United plays host to West Shamokin on Monday. West Shamokin won the first meeting, 68-50, on Feb. 3.
WEST SHAMOKIN 78, PURCHASE LINE 41: A night after hitting a season-high 11 3-point field goals, West Shamokin went one better against Purchase Line in its seventh mercy-rule game of the season.
The Wolves nailed 12 3s spread among five players, all of whom scored in double figures. Ezeck Olinger made a 3 and scored a team-high 22 points. Jack McCullough hit fours 3s and scored 14. Trevor Smulik hit three and scored 14. Bo Swartz and Justin Smulik each hit two and scored 13 and 10, respectively.
West Shamokin had 22 assists on 28 field goals, with McCullough and Swartz leading the way with six apiece and Eric Spencer handing out four. Swartz also had five steals.
The Wolves led the rebounding, 36-18. Olinger had six, and Trevor Smulik had six to go with four blocked shots and three steals. Justin Smulik had five boards and four steals.
This was far from a walk early, however. The game was tied at 20 after the first quarter before West Shamokin went on a 25-12 binge in the second period. The Wolves yielded no field goals in the third quarter and only nine points in the second half.
Mello Sanchez scored 22 points for Purchase Line. Josh Syster and Isaac Huey combined for 15.
Purchase Line closes the season Monday at Homer-Center.
MARION CENTER 77, BLAIRSVILLE 36: Justin Peterson drained five 3-point field goals and finished with 27 points to power the Stingers past Blairsville in a Heritage Conference game.
Peterson scored 20 points and made four of his five 3s in a dominant second quarter as Marion Center blew open a close game and raced to a 48-22 halftime lead.
Conner Fairman added 18 points for the Stingers, who held a slim 20-15 lead after the opening quarter before outscoring the Bobcats 28-7 in the second to pull away.
Marion Center’s Preston Fox nearly recorded a triple-double, finishing with six points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.
The Stingers finished with eight 3-pointers, one fewer than the total number of field goals for the winless Bobcats (0-14). Ashton Perfetti and Logan Platt scored eight points apiece for Blairsville.
Marion Center (9-8, 8-7 conference) welcomes Saltsburg on Saturday.
HOMER-CENTER 40, NORTHERN CAMBRIA 29: Despite being held to 40 points by Northern Cambria for the second time this season, Homer-Center mustered enough offense to come away with the win and complete the season sweep of the Colts on Friday night.
Senior Ryan Sardone scored a game-high 19 points to account for nearly half of Homer-Center’s offensive output.
In the teams’ first meeting on Feb. 4, Homer-Center eked out a 40-38 win at the HomerDome. It wasn’t quite as close this time, but it wasn’t a runaway either.
“They pressured us a little bit in the third quarter and we turned the ball over some,” Homer-Center coach Paul Pohley said. “And when we had chances, we missed some layups and things didn’t go our way. You’ve got to give (Northern Cambria) credit, they sped us up.”
Homer-Center scored 13 second-half points — including just three in the third quarter — after building a 27-10 halftime lead. Nonetheless, it proved to be enough to give Homer-Center its second straight win and keep the Wildcats alive in the hunt for the Heritage Conference playoffs, which begin Thursday.
Mike Hoover scored 10 points to lead Northern Cambria, and Matt Sedlock added nine points for the Colts.
Homer-Center (7-9, 7-7 conference) visits Blairsville on Saturday. Northern Cambria visits Blairsville on Monday.
SHADY SIDE ACADEMY 51, APOLLO-RIDGE 42: It happened again.
Just like the first time the teams met this season, first-place Shady Side Academy got hot in the fourth quarter and pulled away from the Vikings in a WPIAL Class 3A Section 3 game.
With the game tied at 32 entering the fourth quarter, Shady Side enjoyed its finest quarter of the night and outscored Apollo-Ridge 19-10 to win its fifth consecutive game. Thompson Lau had a game-high 22 points for the Indians.
When the teams met on Jan. 29, Shady Side took a four-point lead into the final quarter before winning by 11.
The Vikings’ trio of Klay Fitzroy, Keighton Reese and Jake Fello accounted for all but three of Apollo-Ridge’s points Friday night.
Fitzroy led the way with 15, Reese had 14 on the strength of four 3-point field goals, and Fello added 10 points.
Shady Side Academy (11-1, 9-1) remained in first place in the section.
Apollo-Ridge (6-3, 4-3) remains in third place with four regular-season games remaining. The Vikings visit Ligonier Valley on Saturday.
HIGHLANDS 70, INDIANA 33: Highlands nearly made more 3-point field goals than the Indians had total field goals, and the Golden Rams ran away from Indiana in a WPIAL Class 5A Section 4 game Friday night.
The hosts finished with 13 3-pointers and Indiana totaled 14 field goals.
The Indians were within striking distance after the first quarter, trailing 15-8, but Highlands outscored them 24-4 in the second quarter.
Highlands (11-3, 7-1) sits in second place in the section.
Evan Brocious and Marjuan Ellis scored six points apiece for Indiana, which matched its second-highest scoring game of the season. The Indians (0-12, 0-8) average 28.8 points per game, the lowest scoring average among the 26 Class 5A boys’ teams in the WPIAL.
Indiana visits Mars on Tuesday.
UNITED 53, PENNS MANOR 34: United turned in a second straight strong defensive performance and pulled away from Penns Manor in the second half.
United used Jordyn Travis, a 5-foot-9 junior, on defense at the point, and she helped slow down and disrupt the Comets.
“Travis was out front on their point and she harassed her pretty much all night,” United coach Paul Hall said. “We took them out of their offense outside and made them go more inside. It was a total team effort. Everybody knew when to switch and when to help.”
United scored the first seven points of the game but led only 10-9 after the first quarter. The Lions’ lead was five points, 24-19, at halftime.
In the third quarter, United outscored the Comets 18-11 and held a 12-point lead at 42-30. The Lions surrendered only four points in the fourth quarter.
Maizee Fry scored a team-high 16 points, Lauren Donelson had 13 to continue a recent scoring surge and Lauren Duplin finished with 11. Brook Murlin chipped in eight.
Kassidy Smith scored a game-high 19 points for Purchase Line, but she was the only Comets player in double figures. In fact, only four players scored for Penns Manor.
“The third quarter we came out and put more pressure on and started getting the ball into Fry more,” Hall said. “You can’t ask for much than what they gave tonight. That’s what we need right is all-around good defense and a good team effort. Now we have to get ready for West Shamokin. If the effort is like it was today, we’ll be fine.”
Penns Manor plays at Northern Cambria on Saturday.
WEST SHAMOKIN 59, PURCHASE LINE 44: West Shamokin opened its final push for the top seed in the Heritage Conference tournament by steadily pulling away from Purchase Line behind Sophie Fusaro, who followed up her milestone game with 27 more points.
The Wolves led 10-5 after the first quarter and 32-21 at halftime. They stretched the lead to 17 going into the fourth quarter.
Fusaro, who reached 1,000 career points in Thursday’s win over Marion Center, made 11 field goals, including four 3s. The senior guard also dished out seven assists, giving her a hand in 18 of her team’s 22 field goals.
“Sophie had one of her best offensive nights of the year,” West Shamokin coach Frank Nagy said. “She really seemed tuned in tonight, and that’s huge for us going down the stretch.”
Lily Jordan finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and four steals, and Abby Oesterling had nine points, five rebounds, six assists and four steals. Lydia McIlwain chipped in nine points and six steals, and Brittany Coleman took two charges.
Bethany Smith scored 12 points for Purchase Line. Tara Leamer and Carly Ward had seven apiece.
Purchase Line (7-8, 5-8) plays host to Marion Center on Saturday.
HOMER-CENTER 58, NORTHERN CAMBRIA 21: Inserted into the starting lineup Friday night, freshman Alaina Fabin made the most of the opportunity.
Fabin scored a career-high 23 points to go along with seven rebounds and seven steals, and Homer-Center breezed past the Colts for its second straight victory.
Macy Sardone added 10 points for the Wildcats, who played without three regular starters in the first game of a back-to-back.
With two games scheduled in a span of less than 24 hours, Homer-Center coach Tom Lasher chose to rest some of his starters Friday. The Wildcats hardly skipped a beat with Fabin having a career night.
“She’s a very capable freshman,” Lasher said of Fabin. “She had a good all-around game. She’s going to have more of those games.”
Homer-Center built a 34-12 halftime lead and held the Colts to eight points or fewer in each quarter.
Makenzie Formeck led Northern Cambria with 10 points.
Homer-Center (13-3, 12-2 conference) visits Blairsville on Saturday.