Johnny Crise scores 27 to lead Highlands past Blackhawk and into WPIAL title game

Wednesday, February 26, 2020 | 10:13 PM

At this time of the year, the best teams learn how to overcome adversity.

When an opponent delivers a blow, you rebound, take a deep breath and bounce back with the same amount of energy. Top-seeded Highlands did just that Wednesday night at North Allegheny in a WPIAL Class 4A semifinal game.

Blackhawk delivered its blow with seven first-half 3-pointers to take a one-point lead at halftime. But, the Golden Rams (21-3) didn’t flinch. They weathered the storm and outscored the Cougars (13-11) by nine in the second half to earn a 53-45 victory and punch their ticket to the WPIAL championship game.

The Golden Rams will take on No. 6 Belle Vernon, a winner over New Castle in the other semifinal, at 1 p.m. Saturday at Petersen Events Center.

“Me, Luke (Cochran), Korry (Myers) and the rest of the team have come so close in previous years, and we got shut down kinda in the same situation,” senior forward Johnny Crise said. “So to finally get to this point is a great feeling, but the job isn’t done yet.”

Crise turned in one of his best games of the season when it mattered most, scoring 27 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. But in the first quarter, while Crise was putting up numbers in the paint, the Cougars were striking from deep.

The Cougars took an early 11-4 lead over the first 4 minutes. Tyler Fedisin, Ryan McClymonds and Ryan Heckathorn hit 3-pointers during the first 8 minutes. Highlands kept it close, though, and slowly worked its way back into the game before James Darno hit a layup at the first-quarter buzzer for a 13-11 Blackhawk lead.

“We can shoot, and we can play inside,” Blackhawk coach Brooks Roorback said. “We came out pretty excited, and we were able to knock down some shots.”

The Cougars’ onslaught of 3-pointers continued in the second quarter. But the Golden Rams continued to answer, and with just under 3 minutes to go in the half, Luke Cochran two free throws to put his team up by one.

From there, the teams traded buckets. On two occasions, about a minute apart, Cochran tossed up a pair of alley-oops that Crise finished at the rim, one of which drew and and-one call.

Blackhawk’s Marco Borello answered with 35 seconds left in the half by making his second 3-pointer of the quarter to push his team ahead 29-28.

“We just took a couple breaths and relaxed,” Highlands coach Tyler Stoczynski said about his halftime message. “I thought we were a little bit jittery there in the first half. I thought we were overexcited. But I thought we did a good job of weathering the storm.”

The Golden Rams locked down on defense in the second half, and Crise continued to dominate in the paint, scoring eight points in the third quarter that allowed his team to build a small lead heading into the fourth.

“We knew that they were going to take our shooters away because Korry (Myers) had a great game last game,” Crise said. “So I knew that I had to step up my game in the paint, and I had full trust in my teammates to get me the ball.”

Crise touched the ball at least once on several possessions as the Golden Rams continued to extend their lead down the stretch. With just under 2 minutes remaining, they took an eight-point lead and never looked back.

“Part of basketball, part of coaching young kids, is all about getting them on the same page,” Stoczynski said. “Once we all got on the same page, I thought we did a pretty decent job tonight.”

Listen to an archived broadcast on Trib HSSN.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at or via Twitter .

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