Beaver Falls’ pressure, rebounding too much for Ligonier Valley

Saturday, March 9, 2019 | 8:17 PM

JOHNSTOWN — Ligonier Valley didn’t overlook Beaver Falls, an opponent with a sub-.500 record and fifth-place standing in the WPIAL.

The Rams knew the Tigers had speed and would try to press them out of the building. The pressure was fast and furious as expected, but it wasn’t the only the problem for the Rams on Saturday afternoon at Greater Johnstown High School.

Rebounding was the great divide in the teams’ PIAA Class 3A first-round boys basketball playoff game.

Beaver Falls controlled the boards, pulling down 18 offensive rebounds and taking advantage of numerous second-chance opportunities in an 84-68 victory.

Beaver Falls (11-14) moves on to play Sharon (21-4) in the second round Wednesday.

“It feels good to win,” Tigers coach Carliss Jeter said. “We had some guys play really well off the bench, and we played hard. We hadn’t played in 16 days, so it’s hard to keep them focused.”

The District 6 runner-up Rams are done at 22-4. They were tying to win a PIAA postseason game for the first time since 1987. They now have back-to-back losses in the opening round.

“That’s as athletic and a quick a team as we’ve played all season,” Ligonier Valley coach John Berger said. “They play fast, but we’re usually the quicker team. It’s hard to believe we’re done.”

Ligonier Valley led 23-18 after the first quarter and appeared to be playing its normal fast pace. Shots were falling from the perimeter and senior 6-foot-7 forward Marrek Paola was establishing his presence.

But methodically, the Tigers made things more difficult for Paola and forced the Rams to take challenged shots. The Tigers successfuly navigated foul trouble, as well.

A back-and-forth second quarter saw the Tigers rally to take a 41-37 lead into halftime. Kamani Williams’ half-court banker beat the buzzer.

Ligonier Valley freshman guard Matthew Marinchak was injured after Beaver Falls’ Camden Glass blocked his shot and fell onto Marinchak’s legs.

Marinchak returned but had three points in the second half after scoring 11 in the first.

Paola finished with a game-high 25 points but had only eight rebounds — half his average — and five blocks.

“Our goal all year was to get to the state playoffs,” Paola said. “It’s a tough way to end my four years. It’s always a sick feeling after a loss.”

The momentum spilled into the third for the Tigers as Kyzer Cleckley scored on a fast break for a 55-44 advantage, the result of an 11-0 run.

“It was our defense that turned the game around,” said Beaver Falls senior Jalen Vaughn, who had a game-high 21 points. “We got up on defense and got steals and open layups. We knew we had to play a complete game. We couldn’t just play offense.”

Ligonier Valley, thanks to free throws, crept within 57-54 heading to the fourth. The Rams made 24 of 29 free throws.

A mild push early in the fourth by the Rams shaved the lead to 61-59 with 5:51 remaining.

Despite staying close during a molassas-slow final quarter, the Tigers amped up the pressure to stay in front.

After Paola scored on a layup assisted by Aaron Tutino to make it 66-63, Vaughn made four straight free throws, and Gage McKelvey converted a three-point play. The Tigers led 73-63.

“They run some great offenses,” Jeter said of the Rams. “They run those pick-and-rolls. I kept telling my guards to switch. We weren’t just playing any team. He does a great job coaching those guys.”

A 3-pointer by Noah Vaughan increased the lead to 11.

Junior Michael Marinchak (18 points) scored off a steal for the Rams and converted the and-1 to cut it to 76-68 with 2:38 left.

The Tigers, though, ripped off an 8-0 run to finish the game and cap a 27-point quarter.

Vaughn made 7 of 7 free throws in the fourth.

McKelvey finished with 17 points, and Darius Nesmith had 12 and Vaughn eight for the Tigers.

Vaughan gave the Tigers quality minutes off the bench in his first action of the season. He tore his ACL during football season and had not played a minute all season.

“The team has been playing hard all year,” Vaughan said. “I just wanted to play the role they needed me to. My teammates and coaches seemed happy, and that’s all that matters. It felt good to be playing sports again.”

Said Jeter: “He did a great job helping us on the boards and helping us break the press. We knew (Paola) was a load. And that No. 15 (Michael Marinchak), he shoots it like Larry Bird.”

The Tigers hit seven 3-pointers, two from Vaughan.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .

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