ST. MARYS — Elk County Catholic used a 12-0 edge in the third quarter on its way to a 61-35 victory over visiting DuBois Central Catholic in the semifinals of the AML tournament at Aaron J. Straub Gymnasium Thursday night.
The Crusaders (23-0) held a 31-21 lead at the half before holding the visitors scoreless in the third quarter to break the game open.
DCC (12-11) looked to cut into the deficit early in the second half, as Justin Miknis drove hard to the basket and put up a shot, as the ball was halfway down before spinning out and into the hands of a Crusaders defender.
The shot was the first of many that didn’t bounce the Cardinals way in the third quarter, as on the other end Brennen Klawuhn drained his second three-pointer of the night for ECC to get the scoring started in the second half.
Alec Wehler and Regis Wortman added buckets on back-to-back trips down the court, then a three-pointer by Wortman stretched the Crusaders’ lead to 20 at 41-20 with four minutes to play in the third.
The only basket in the final four minutes of the frame came from Bryce O’Leary at the 1:26 mark as the home side took a 22-point advantage into the final quarter of play.
“Obviously the key to the game tonight was how we came out in the third quarter,” ECC head coach Aaron Straub said. “We got them just a little bit out of their rhythm and took away some of their easy baskets.”
ECC opened the fourth quarter on a 6-1 run, as baskets by Carter Lindemuth, Wortman and Leo Gregory gave the Crusaders their largest lead of the night at 49-22 with 6:21 left to play.
The final six minutes and change were much more even, as the Cardinals got a pair of three-pointers from Damon Foster and Kenny Starr down the stretch.
A basket on the inside by ECC’s Isaac Brock in the closing seconds closed out the scoring as the Crusaders picked up the 61-35 win.
Straub said with both teams coming off big wins Wednesday night, with his Crusaders topping Bradford on the road and DCC edging Cameron County at home, he felt both teams were a little flat.
“It’s nice to get a final game at home, but we need to get healthy and stay healthy,” Straub said.
The Crusaders head coach noted that rebounding, including on the offensive end is something his team has been working on throughout the season.
ECC finished with a sizable advantage on the boards, including several key offensive rebounds which led to second-chance points.
“Offensive rebounding is just a mindset and a lot of times the person who wants to go get it is going to get it,” Straub said. “I think we are making a little bit of progress in terms of offensive rebounding, but we still have a long way to go.”
ECC jumped out to a 8-0 lead in the opening quarter, as Wortman got the scoring started with a basket on the inside 22 seconds into the game, then Klawuhn and Alex Breindel each added a three to put the Crusaders in front by eight at the 5:24 mark of the first.
Wortman was the lone ECC player to finish in double figures on the night with 15 points, as Alec Wehler and Hoffman each added seven points while eight other Crusaders contributed to the scoring in the victory.
Miknis got the Cardinals on the board with 5:15 left to play by finishing off a hard drive to the basket.
A throw from Brandon Walker and a fast-break bucket by Jonathan Kurtz cut ECC’s lead to 12-7 with 1:11 left in the opening frame, as Ben Hoffman closed out the scoring in the first quarter by going 1 of 2 at the line with 4.1 seconds remaining to send the Crusaders into the second quarter up six.
ECC used a pair of runs in the second to add to their lead, as it opened the frame on a 7-3 run, before later going on a 9-2 run to take a 31-16 lead inside of two minutes to play in the first half.
The Cardinals responded with a 5-0 run to close out the half on a three from Miknis and a pair of free throws by Kurtz as ECC took a 31-21 lead into the half.
“Obviously in the first half we didn’t do a very good job stopping Justin (Miknis) or Jonathan (Kurtz),” Straub said. “We know that if we see them again we need to do a better job with that.”
Miknis and Kurtz accounted for 20 of DCC’s 21 points in the first half, as Kurtz led the way with 11 and Miknis added nine points.
Kurtz finished with 14 points, while Miknis added 13 and no other Cardinals player finished with more than three points in the loss.
DCC was unable to carry the momentum over from their run to close out the first half, as the Crusaders held them without a point in the third quarter to gain total control of the game.
“A lot of what Elk does is they capitalize on your mistakes,” DuBois Central Catholic head coach Dom Varacallo said. “If you aren’t playing to the best of your ability they’ll capitalize and score on the other end.”
“I give Elk credit, they come out and you know what you’re going to get, they play hard defensively.”
Varacallo said he was proud of his team continuing to fight in the fourth quarter despite the large deficit and the struggles they had in the third.
“We got smacked in the mouth in that third quarter and we came back in the fourth and continued to fight,” Varacallo said. “It was a hard fought game and something we can definitely learn from.”
Elk County Catholic will now face Ridgway, who defeated Johnsonburg 46-36 in the other semifinal game, in the title game Saturday at St. Marys at 8 p.m.
DuBois Central Catholic awaits their opponent in the District 9 playoffs which begin next week.