United put the final piece into place in the Heritage Conference boys’ basketball semifinals on Tuesday night.
The Lions used a big second half to beat Saltsburg and wrap up the second seed in the conference tournament, which begins Thursday. United (16-4, 13-3) plays host to Penns Manor (13-4, 12-4) as part of girls-boys doubleheader at 6 and 8 p.m.
In the other semifinal, unbeaten and top-seeded West Shamokin (18-0, 16-0) plays host to fourth-seeded Marion Center (9-8, 8-8).
The girls’ semifinals have yet to be set and depend on the outcome of this evening’s Homer-Center at Purchase Line game. If favored Homer-Center wins, the Wildcats (13-4, 12-3) take the top seed and play host to No. 4 Penns Manor (14-5, 10-5). That would pit No. 3 West Shamokin (15-3, 13-3) against No. 2 United (14-3, 12-3). If Homer-Center loses, United moves to No. 1 and plays Penns Manor at home, and Homer-Center visits West Shamokin, which would then host a doubleheader.
The Heritage Conference championship games are Saturday on the home court of the highest remaining seeds.
Meanwhile, the WPIAL set its open playoff tournament on Tuesday. Rather than qualifying for the playoffs, teams could opt out.
In Class 3A boys’ games Monday, Apollo-Ridge plays Beth Center at Charleroi, and Ligonier Valley visits Brownsville.
In girls’ games Monday, Indiana visits Moon in Class 5A, and Apollo-Ridge plays at Sacred Heart in Class 2A.
District 6, which encompasses all of the Heritage Conference schools, will release its playoff pairings Saturday. The opening rounds are Monday though Wednesday.
UNITED 65, SALTSBURG 48: United started slowly on its senior night, matched its first-half output in the third quarter and finished off the regular season by snapping its only two-game skid.
The Lions held a 23-18 lead at halftime and the outscored the Trojans 23-16 in third quarter to create some breathing room.
Brad Felix led the second-half charge, scoring 11 of his game-high 19 points. Jacob Boring buried three 3-point field goals during the third-quarter outburst and finished with four for 12 points. Joey Means hit three 3s for nine points. United registered 10 3s.
“Jake had 12 the night before, too,” Rodkey said, “and Brad is a sophomore who’s coming along pretty well. He’s kind of a taller guy, pretty long, and he’s coming into his own.”
Felix, at 6-foot-1, helped cover for the absence of Jon Henry, a 6-3 junior and key reserve who had missed the past handful of games with an injury. Rodkey said is expected to return for the postseason.
“We’re hoping he’ll be able to go a little bit Thursday,” Rodkey said.
Leading scorer Austin Kovalcik scored only six points against the Trojans’ box-and-one-defense.
“Austin has had a great year and scored 1,000 points,” United coach Matt Rodkey said, “and I’m just so proud of the way he’s played. He had a bunch of assists tonight. He’s scored a lot of points, but I don’t know that it matters to him so much as making sure we get the points on the board, and he doesn’t care where they come from.”
Rodkey also had praise for his two other seniors, defensive specialist Hunter Cameron, who is better known for his football prowess, and Means, a 3-point ace.
“Hunter is a great defensive player and a really good kid and a good athlete and just works hard every day and loves playing defense and fits right into the philosophy of how we want to play. And Joey is a nice 3-point shooter, and he hit three big ones tonight. I’m just proud of the seniors and proud that they could win their senior game.”
Saltsburg recognized its seniors the previous evening in a near-upset of Penns Manor. They are David Stuller, Logan Bonnoni, Tristan Roessler, Brady Yard and Gino Bartolini.
Roessler scored a team-high 10 points and 10 Trojans made it into the scorebook.
“They came out and played a box-and-one and did a nice job,” Rodkey said. “They slowed the tempo down quite a bit and hung with us. The third quarter we kind of came out on fire and were able to speed up the game a little bit. We were able to use some full-court pressure and get into a little bit of transition, and that helped us pull away.”
Now United turns its attention to Penns Manor. The Comets knocked off United, 73-63, on Friday at home. United won 76-69 in overtime on Jan. 27 on its home court.
“It’s a good matchup,” Rodkey said. “They’re a very good team, very well-coached, and they have a lot of athletes and like to go up tempo. They like to get the ball into the big guy (Grant Grimaldi), and he’s a tough player. Both Hill boys (Austin and Max) are good ball players. (Dimitri) Lieb had a nice game against us the other night. (Reese) Hays is solid inside and (Ashton) Courvina comes off the bench and is their Energizer Bunny. It’s a tough matchup for us.”
The Lions were exploited at the free throw line in the consecutive losses.
“I think West Shamokin shot 32 to our five, and Penns Manor was similar,” Rodkey said. “That’s a huge difference, and we have to do a better job defensively.”
SPRINGDALE 50, APOLLO-RIDGE 42: Valley caught Apollo-Ridge on an off night and scored an upset in a WPIAL Class 3A Section 3 game.
Valley took a 17-7 lead in the first quarter and made it stand up for its second win in 14 games. Apollo-Ridge, which scored only 16 points in the first half and had 27 going into the fourth quarter, fell to 8-4 overall and 6-4 in the section.
Apollo-Ridge hit eight 3-point field goals but made only 8 2s and went 2-for-3 at the free throw line.
Valley had 16 2s and three 3s and went 9-for-15 at the line.
Jake Fello hit four 3-pointers and scored 17 points Apollo-Ridge. Klay Fitzroy chalked up 12 and Gage Johnson had 10.
Dimitri Fritch scored 17 for Valley. Logan Dexter had 13.
Apollo-Ridge won the first meeting, 61-53, on Jan. 22.
The Vikings play host to Springdale on Wednesday in advance of Monday’s WPIAL playoff game against Beth Center (5-8).
BLAIRSVILLE 74, PURCHASE LINE 63: Blairsville, making a last-ditch effort to reach the District 6 playoffs, reached .500 after an 0-4 start.
Blairsville, on the outside of the eight-team playoff field, added games at Uniontown tonight, at Derry on Thursday, a second game Thursday at home against Marion Center and a regular-season finale at Northern Cambria on Friday.
Lexi Risinger and Julia Potts powered the Bobcats past Purchase Line. Risinger poured in 25 points and Potts fired in 23. They were a combined 15-for-18 at the free throw line. Isabel Pynos scored 16 points, and Hannah Artley added eight.
Blairsville was 18-for-27 at the line. Purchase Line was 5-for-6. The Bobcats went 14-for-19 during a 25-point fourth quarter.
“Overall, we played a good game tonight,” Purchase Line coach Kelley Goss said. “We have been struggling lately so I was happy we bounced back. Blairsville just played better. They had answers to all of our runs and capitalized off our turnovers. We sent them to the foul line way too many times, and that was basically the difference.”
Purchase Line’s Bethany Smith turned in a double-double with 22 and 14 rebounds. She also had four assists and a couple blocked shots.
Maddie Scalese scored 18 points to go with six rebounds and four steals. Carley Ward had 12 points and six assists, and Abby Goss chipped in nine points and eight boards.
Purchase Line (7-10, 5-10) gets the chance to play spoiler this evening when Homer-Center visits. A Purchase Line upset would prevent the Wildcats from claiming the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament and bounce them to third and a road game in the semifinals.
SALTSBURG 59, NORTHERN CAMBRIA 20: Saltsburg chalked up its first win of the season with a victory over Northern Cambria in a Heritage Conference game.
The Trojans (1-12) scored 21 points in the first quarter and cruised past the winless Colts from there.
Abbie Dickie scored 18 of her 21 points in the first half to pace Saltsburg, which tacked on another 20 points in the second quarter.
In all, eight players scored for the Trojans. Kaylee Best led a group of players who scored between five and eight points.
Emma Miller scored 10 points for Northern Cambria.
The teams go at it again this evening in Saltsburg, which is holding its senior night. The Trojans plays at Apollo-Ridge on Thursday.
MARS 51, INDIANA 38: Mars forwards Ava Black and Olivia Donnelly combined for 45 points against Indiana in a WPIAL Class 5A Section 2 game.
Black, a senior, hit four 3-point field goals and scored 24 points, all in the first three quarters.
Donnelly, a sophomore whose steal and two free throws with five seconds left provided the margin of victory in a 46-45 win over Indiana on Jan. 28, finished with 21 points. She was 7-for-9 at the free throw line.
Katie Kovalchick led Indiana with 16 points. Isabella Antonacci added eight. Leading scorer Hope Cook was held to five points and no 3-pointers.
Mars improved to 6-9 overall and 5-6 in the section.
Indiana, 7-8 overall and 4-6 in the section, plays host to Plum in its Senior Salute game on Thursday in advance of Monday’s WPIAL playoff game at Moon (6-11).
DERRY 56, LIGONIER VALLEY 29: Derry broke away from winless Ligonier Valley in the second quarter and breezed to a win in a WPIAL Class 4A non-section game.
Haley Boyd scored 16 points for Ligonier Valley. Abby Painter had eight points and seven rebounds, and Lizzy Crissman had four of her team’s eight blocked shots. Madison Marinchak handed out four assists.
Tiana Morocco, a 5-foot-9 junior guard, poured in 27 points for Derry. Emma Huber scored 15.
Both teams play this evening. Ligonier Valley (0-13) travels to Belle Vernon, and Derry (3-9) visits Apollo-Ridge.