Lancaster Catholic outlasts Belle Vernon in 4OT epic

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020 | 9:42 PM


ALTOONA — Lancaster Catholic won’t get to re-watch the last portion of its insane PIAA second-round win, and it’s unfortunate.

“We has someone filming and our iPad died in the seventh quarter,” Crusaders coach Joe Klazas said. “We’ll have a lot to remember, I can tell you that.”

The game will go down as a classic in the 2020 state postseason and might even be mentioned with some of the top games in tournament history. It should be.

In a thriller neither team will soon forget, Lancaster Catholic outlasted Belle Vernon, 84-82, in four overtimes Tuesday night at Altoona to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2011.

WPIAL Class 4A runner-up Belle Vernon (20-8) battled the District 3 champions, repeatedly answering each highlight with one of their own. It was like two boxers who couldn’t hear the bell.

But the Crusaders pulled the plug on Belle Vernon and its prolonged season under second-year coach Joe Salvino.

“You can’t put words to this,” Salvino said. “Our players just overachieved and have that not-going-to-quit attitude. If people didn’t see how tough these kids are, then they’re missing the whole picture. I couldn’t ask for anything more from our kids.”

Lancaster Catholic (25-3) finally went ahead to stay when junior Devin Atkinson, who tied a game high with 26 points, made two free throws with 2.6 seconds left in the fourth extra period.

“This was, by far, the best game I have seen,” Klazas said. “The length of the game, the heroics on both sides. It was a battle.”

The loss spoiled a valiant performance by Belle Vernon senior forward Jared Hartman, who scored a game-high 26 points, making four 3-pointers and 8 of 9 free throws for the Leopards, who were looking for two state playoffs wins in a season for the first time in program history.

Hartman, who had 15 in the extra time, was one of three players to foul out late for Belle Vernon, joining sophomore Devin Whitlock and senior Thomas Hepple.

“Jared … left it all out there,” Salvino said. “Once Devin was out of the game, Jared took it upon himself to be the leader, to take control of what had to go on. He was fantastic.”

Hepple and Whitlock each had 14 points, Whitlock adding 10 assists, and Jake Haney finished with 15 points, also making four threes.

Senior 6-foot-6 forward David Mawanga, who is from Congo, finished with 19 points and made 9 of 16 free throws, while senior Cal Titus scored 16 and junior Nevin Roman had 10.

Atkinson and Mawanga combined for 22 points in the overtimes.

“I am not going to take anything away from that team,” Salvino said. “I thought the way we played against them, what we did against them was an accomplishment in itself.”

The Crusaders had their three previous playoff games decided inside the final minute, but none went to overtime.

“This is a special group,” Klazas said. “There is a lot of togetherness and they play for one another. They are relentless.”

Senior forward Mitch Poulot made a layup off a steal with 45 seconds left in regulation to give the Leopards a 52-50 edge. But Atkinson drove in to tie it and force the first overtime.

After a three-point play from Atkinson made it 59-56 late in the first overtime, Whitlock buried a 3-pointer to send it to a second extra frame.

“We just said, ‘Keep being aggressive,’” Klazas said.

In double OT, Whitlock came up with a steal under the basket as Lancaster tried to inbound, and he dished to Hartman to give the Leopards a 66-65 lead. When Lancaster was up 65-60, Hepple hit a rare three and Whitlock made another steal to keep momentum with Belle Vernon.

Hartman made two free throws to put the Leopards up 70-67, but reserve junior guard Ross Conway fired in a three from the elbow with two seconds left to send it to a third overtime.

“(Hartman) was incredible,” Klazas said. “He did it all, inside and outside. He handled the ball well too.”

Hartman drained two threes in the next four-minute stanza, the second with 22 seconds left to give the Leopards a 78-76 edge.

But Titus made a layup with eight seconds left and a fourth overtime was set to commence.

Hepple drove in for two to tie it 82-82, and Kamwanga missed a pair of free throws with 49.3 to play.

But Atkinson, who was 6 of 15 at the line, made 2 of 2 when it mattered most to seal the win.

Belle Vernon sophomore Tyler Kovatch got a clean three off as time expired in the fourth overtime, but it missed wide to the left.

“I was just trying to help my team win the game,” Hartman said. “I have never played four overtimes in my life. I’m pretty tired. I was feeling it a little bit, so I knew I could take the shots.”

Haney staked the Leopards to a nine-point lead in the second quarter with his perimeter shooting.

“He shot the ball well and did what he has to do,” Salvino said. “Everybody did. We would have never got to this point if everybody wasn’t doing their job. That’s all I ever ask them to do.”

Lancaster Catholic, which will meet Imhotep Charter (21-8) in Friday’s quarterfinals, made 21 of 39 free throws. Belle Vernon converted 14 of 25 but made 10 threes.

“I have been in a lot of games,” Salvino said. “This was a great game. I just hope our kids really realize what they accomplished this year.”

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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