Big man Paola proud of Ligonier Valley’s accomplishments

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Sunday, March 10, 2019 | 7:51 PM


Marrek Paola felt a range of emotions as he talked with friends outside of his Ligonier Valley’s locker room Saturday, minutes after a season-ending loss to Beaver Falls in the PIAA Class 3A boys basketball playoffs.

In a flash, a brilliant prep career was complete for the celebrated, 6-foot-7 big man, a program all-timer who produced double-doubles like clockwork.

Paola used the word “sick” to describe the aftermath of the Rams’ second straight first-round exit from the state bracket. But reviewing the team’s body of work, not one game, brought a subtle smile to his face.

“It’s tough to have it end this way,” Paola said. “We worked hard to get here. We’ve had a lot of accomplishments. It’s just hard to see it end, but I’m proud of my team.”

Paola has been one of the most dominant post players in Westmoreland County, averaging a double-double for the majority of his career.

He had 25 points, eight rebounds and five blocks Saturday at Johnstown, but Beaver Falls outran the Rams, 84-68, denying them their first PIAA playoff win since 1987.

The high-scoring Rams from District 6 finished 23-4.

“We knew that big guy was going to be a load,” Beaver Falls coach Carliss Jeter said. “We saw he was averaging 30 points over their last seven or eight games. We knew he could rebound and score, and even step back and shoot it. He was tough to prepare for. Our bigs needed to play well for us to win.”

Paola, who will continue his playing career at Seton Hill, finished with 1,912 points, 1,059 rebounds and 204 blocks in his four years with the Rams.

“I hope to have many good things ahead of me,” Paola said.

Paola will play in the Roundball Classic all-star event April 12-13 at Geneva College.

Ligonier Valley coach John Berger probably will need time to reflect and accept finality, but he knows he will miss two game-changing athletes. Players like Paola don’t come along very often. Same goes for fellow senior Aaron Tutino, a standout wide reciver in football and the basketball team’s only other senior.

“I feel bad for (seniors) Marrek and Aaron,” Berger said. “They have been a big part of our program.”

The Rams will look to build around the goggle-wearing Marinchak brothers next season. Michael, a talented junior, and Matthew, an on-the-rise freshman, have shown go-to ability in the backcourt.

The Marinchaks are Berger’s nephews. They will be a tough out next season, but Paola’s large-looming presence will be missed.

“We have a nice nucleus coming back,” Berger said. “I just hope we grow a few inches.”

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

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