Ligonier Valley boys advance to District 6 Class 3A final

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019 | 10:21 PM


EBENSBURG — It’ll be Ligonier Valley and Richland in a rematch of the District 6 Class 3A boys basketball championship this season after both posted victories Tuesday night in the semifinals.

By most accounts, it was anticipated that the two top-seeded teams would meet in the title game Friday at Mt. Aloysius College.

“It’s going to be a heck of a game,” Ligonier Valley coach John Berger said. “We’ll have our guys ready to go.”

Marrek Paola scored 30 points and added 19 rebounds to lead No. 1 seed Ligonier Valley to a 65-45 victory over No. 5 Bellwood-Antis in the nightcap of a doubleheader at Central Cambria.

In the first game, No. 2 Richland advanced with a 50-35 victory over No. 3 Forest Hills.

Ligonier Valley defeated Richland in the 2018 championship game but was ousted in the first round of the PIAA playoffs, and Richland lasted until losing in the state championship game to Neumann-Goretti.

Paola scored 13 first-quarter points to spark Ligonier Valley to a 22-7 lead, and the Rams (22-2) never were threatened.

“You can’t ever underestimate an opponent,” Paola said, “but to get a lead like that, we love it, and that’s all we can ask for.”

Paola scored 19 first-half points as LV built a 35-14 lead at intermission.

Bellwood-Antis (16-8), which didn’t reach double figures until the final minute of the second quarter, was led by Mason Yingling’s 12 points. He was coming off a 30-point performance in a quarterfinal-round victory at No. 4 West Shamokin, but he didn’t score against Ligonier Valley until 16 seconds remained in the first half.

“Credit (Paola) for a lot of what we weren’t able to do,” said Bellwood-Antis coach Kevin Conlon, who played collegiately at Pitt-Greensburg.

“In most games, most of those shots Mason was taking would have fallen. But he couldn’t get it going, and then, he seemed to lose a little bit of his confidence.”

Said Berger: “Yingling was trying to get his groove on, and he couldn’t find it.”

Michael Marinchak also scored in double figures for Ligonier Valley with 14 points, but the Rams’ second-leading scorer was held to just four in the first half.

Nathan Wolfe, who gave up 3 inches to the 6-foot-8 Paola in the middle, added 10 points for Bellwood-Antis before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

“We battled (Paola) as best they could. They battled him hard. But those 50-50 balls that were being tipped around, most times he was coming up with them. And he was hitting shots from everywhere — fadeaway jumpers, 3s … ”

Berger, in the first year of his second stint as coach at Ligonier Valley, was disappointed with the Rams’ second-half effort but shrugged it off, pointing to the team’s seasonlong success.

“It looked to me that they lost interest and started playing more individual basketball as opposed to a team game,” he said. “In the beginning of the year, I was saying something about it. But it’s just kind of the way they do it. And it’s the way they’re going to do it. They’ve done it all year. It’s pretty hard, with their accomplishments, to take it away.”

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