BROOKVILLE — The DuBois Central Catholic boys basketball team saw its season — and the career of senior standout Justin Miknis — come to end Thursday night with a 66-49 loss to North Clarion in a District 9 Class A quarterfinal game at Brookville High School.
The meeting was the second this season between the schools, with North Clarion pulling out a hard-fought 66-64 victory at DCC’s Varischetti Sports Complex back on Feb. 5.
That performance gave the Cardinals and head coach Dom Varacallo high hopes entering Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup with the second-seeded Wolves (20-2). And, just like in that first meeting, it was DCC (12-12) that got off to a strong start.
The Cardinals scored the game’s first seven points before the Wolves countered with a 7-0 spurt of its own. Central Catholic went back up by five (16-11) before North Clarion got back-to-back threes from Logan Minich and Tyler McCord-Wolbert to lead 17-16 after one quarter.
The teams traded scores early in the second quarter and found themselves tied at 23-23 with 5:29 left in the quarter That’s when North Clarion seized control of the game with a 14-5 run to end the half to take a 37-28 lead into the break.
The Wolves hit three 3-pointers during that stretch and actually went up by 12 before Miknis hit a trey of his own with 16 seconds remaining to make it a nine-point game at the break.
Miknis scored a game-high 21 points in what was his final game as a Cardinal, along with nine other seniors — including two who were injured and didn’t play. With those 21 points, Miknis pushed his school-record career total to 1,478.
“Justin is an amazing athlete, but a 10 times better person,” said Varacallo of Miknis. “His parents raised him the right way.
In my opinion, he is the Player of the Year in the area.”
North Clarion carried that momentum into the second half and put the game away when it outscored the Cardinals 20-8 over the first 12 minutes to build a commanding 57-36 advantage with 4:23 to play.
The Wolves pushed that to as many as 23 points (64-41) before the Cardinals ended the game on 6-2 spurt over the final 1:39 to cut the final margin to 17 points.
It was all DCC at the start, as Miknis opened the scoring with a shot in the lane before fellow senior Brandon Walker dropped in five straight points, including a trey from the corner to make it 5-0.
The Wolves came right back to tie it with seven straight — four by big man Kyle Mills. Walker’s second trey put the Cardinals back on top 10-7, but the Wolves got going from there and used a 10-6 spurt to grab it’s first lead (17-16) when McCord-Wolbert drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Walker scored all eight of his points in the quarter, while Miknis and Jonathan Kurtz each added four for the Cardinals. McCord-Wolbert and Mills each had six for the Wolves. Mills led a quarter of Wolves in double figures with 18. Mcdord-Wolbert had 13, while Khorey Mills and Logan Minich added 11 and 10, respectively.
Miknis kept DCC in the game early in second quarter as he netted seven points in the first 2:31 to help keep it an even game at 23-23. However, the Wolves ripped off 11 straight points from there to go up 34-23. Minich and McCord-Wolbert each had treys in the run, while Sam Minich finished off an old-fashion 3-point play.
Harrison Starr halted the Wolves run with a hoop inside, but Devon Walters countered with North Clarion’s fourth 3-pointer of the quarter to make it a 12-point game again before Miknis’ late triple set the halftime score. The Wolves hit eight 3-pointers in the game compared to just three in the first meeting.
Miknis had 10 of his 21 points in the quarter to help keep DCC within striking distance.
Central Catholic didn’t have a response in the third quarter though, as the Cardinals struggled to find the bottom of the net. North Clarion took advantage and kept the pedal down and used a 12-7 third quarter to push its lead to 14 points at 49-35 after three quarters.
The Wolves led by as many as 16 points (49-33) in the quarter before DCC senior Peter Downer scores in the closing seconds. Downer’s score did little to spark the Cardinals though, as North Clarion put together an 8-1 spurt to start the fourth to extend is lead to 21 at 57-36.
A 3-point play by Miknis momentarily cut the Cardinals’ deficit under 20 but the Wolves pushed that lead back out to 23 (64-41) with 1:53 to play before emptying its bench.
Kurtz scored four late points, while teammates Damon Foster and Dante Armanini each had baskets in the final 30 seconds to set the final at 66-49. Kurtz finished with 10 points.
Varacallo had high praise for his large senior class that helped bring the program back to the postseason after a couple down years when he first over as head coach.
“This group of seniors are special,” he said. “We were 2-20 as a freshman JV group, 4-18 as sophomores, 8-14 as juniors, and now 12-11 as seniors.
“What a testament to their hard work, character and perseverance to learn from failure and experience the success they did this year.
“My 3-year old son was in attendance tonight, and this group of seniors are the type of people I want him to look up to.”
North Clarion moves on to play Clarion-Limestone in next week’s semifinals. The third-seeded Lions held off sixth-seeded Otto-Eldred, 61-58, Thursday night.