ST. MARYS — Elk County Catholic trailed for only 24 seconds early in the first quarter as it pulled away for a 61-38 victory over Austin in the District 9 Class A quarterfinals at St. Marys Thursday.
With the win ECC advances to the semifinal round and guarantees itself a spot in the PIAA playoffs.
“Good win, we are happy to advance to the state playoffs and happy that our team worked real hard to get the number one seed,” ECC head coach Aaron Straub said.
The head coach noted that Austin was a tough opponent and felt they were a much better team than its 12-10 record entering the game indicated.
Despite the win, Straub noted that he was disappointed with his team’s effort, approach and team synergy and said his team has a lot to work on moving forward.
The eighth-seeded Panthers got the scoring started with a bucket from Dempsy Glover at the 7:12 mark of the opening quarter to give Austin (12-11) an early lead.
Carter Lindemuth responded with a three-pointer on the other end for the top-seeded Crusaders to put them in front, which proved to be the only lead change of the night as ECC (24-1) led the remainder of the game.
Alec Wehler followed with a three of his own for ECC as the back-to-back treys sparked an 13-2 run by the Crusaders, which was capped off by a three from Alex Breindel to stretch the lead to 13-4.
Austin fought back with a 6-2 run of its own on a three-pointer from Blake Burgett and a three-point play by Jackson Glover to trim the Crusaders’ lead to 15-10 heading into the second quarter.
Elk County Catholic opened the second on an 11-2 run to push its lead to double digits for the first time in the game at 26-12.
The Crusaders held Austin without a field goal over the first six minutes and change of the quarter, as the Panthers went 2 of 4 from the line before getting their first bucket from Glover with 1:39 left in the half.
Breindel hit his second three-pointer of the night in the closing seconds of the half to send ECC into the break with a 29-16 advantage.
Garrett Rees got the scoring started in the second half for the Panthers with a basket at the 6:41 mark, before ECC used an 8-0 run to take a 37-18 lead with 4:33 remaining in the third quarter.
Regis Wortman, Wehler, Brady Schneider and Lindemuth all scored to contribute to the Crusaders’ run.
Wortman finished the night with a game-high 15 points, 12 of which coming in the second half, to help lead ECC to the win.
Wehler and Lindemuth also finished in double figures for the Crusaders with 13 and 11 points respectively.
Austin responded by closing out the frame on a 10-4 run to cut ECC’s lead back down to 13 heading into the final quarter of play as the teams finished the third even with 12 points apiece in the frame.
Dempsy Glover sparked the Panthers’ run to close the quarter by scoring the first seven points, before Mason Valenti drained a three-pointer with four seconds left, as the Crusaders took a 41-28 lead into the fourth quarter.
Any momentum Austin might have had from its run to close the third quarter quickly fell by the wayside in the final quarter of play.
The Crusaders opened the fourth on a 10-0 run to stretch their lead to 51-28 with 6:06 left to play, as the run was sparked by three-straight fast-break buckets to open the frame.
The two sides went back-and-forth over the final six minutes, as in the end ECC maintained the 23-point lead as it advanced to the semifinal round with a 61-38 victory.
“We’re good when we play together and when we have that synergy,” Straub said. “When we don’t have it we are an average team and we are going to have to find a way to get it on Tuesday night.”
The head coach was not pleased with his team’s play against Austin’s zone defense in the game and said they will have to improve on that heading into their semifinal contest.
Elk County Catholic will face fifth-seeded Johnsonburg in the semifinals, as the Rams defeated fourth-seeded Cameron County in the quarters, Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.