Ellwood City boys punch ticket to PIAA playoffs by eliminating Yough

Wednesday, February 28, 2024 | 10:39 PM

In addition to being a 2,000-point scorer in his basketball career, Ellwood City senior Joe Roth is a high-level swimmer who competes for WPIAL and PIAA titles.

He swims for Riverside, which co-ops with Ellwood City.

On Wednesday night, he sent Yough’s season to the bottom of the pool.

In a rare head-to-head matchup with another 2,000-point player, Roth matched Yough’s Terek Crosby with 21 points and both shined in the fourth quarter before the visiting Wolverines settled on a 40-37 victory in a do-or-die WPIAL Class 3A consolation game for seventh place.

The 6-foot-5 Roth had 10 in the fourth to propel the Wolverines (17-9), who advance to the PIAA playoffs. Yough’s season ends at 19-7.

Crosby had 12 in the final quarter, including a straightaway 3-pointer to cut it to 38-37 with 3.6 seconds remaining.

But Roth made two free throws, and Crosby missed a potential tying half-court heave at the buzzer.

Crosby, who played much of the second half with four fouls, finished his high school career with 2,036 points, second-most in school history behind Cougars’ great Ben McCauley (2,284).

The Cougars never led in a choppy game that was 17-17 at halftime. Neither team deviated from man-to-man defense and repeatedly went to its go-to guy for scoring.

Roth and Crosby both became the seventh players in their respective counties to score 2,000 in these playoffs, Roth in Lawrence County, Crosby in Westmoreland.

Roth, who has 2,049 career points, said he wanted to be assertive with his team’s season on the line.

“I wanted to make sure we were right there,” Roth said. “I tried to block everything out and focus. I didn’t want to end here.”

He’ll also focus this weekend at the WPIAL swimming championships at Pitt’s Trees Pool. While he won’t have to negotiate a possible scheduling issue with the swimming and WPIAL basketball finals at Petersen Events Center, he will go for gold in four events: the 50-yard freestyle, the 100-yard backstroke and with the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays.

“Our guys knew if you win, you get another one and if you lose you’re done,” Ellwood City coach Dan Bradley said. “Down the stretch, Joe made some plays. He had some great decision making.”

When Yough pulled to within 30-29 on a high-banking shot by Crosby with 6:14 to play, Roth scored six straight on aggressive drives to the rim. With the Wolverines up by seven, Crosby hit a 3 to make it 36-32.

“We had chances to make plays, and we didn’t make them,” Yough coach Jim Nesser said. “(Roth) is a good player. He made plays, and we didn’t.”

Yough senior forward Austin Matthews’ prep career also came to a close. He scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half.

Matthews came close to 1,000 career points, finishing with 992.

Only one other player, senior Zander Aird, scored for Yough.

“Our guys played hard for me,” Nesser said. “But you can’t make mistakes like we did and expect to win. You can’t only play well for two quarters. You do that, and you lose.”

Ellwood City’s largest lead was eight (14-6) on a tip-in by Roth in the second quarter.

Sophomore Aaron Lake added nine points for the Wolverines, who only got points from their starters.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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