Ligonier Valley’s 20-game win streak snapped by Richland in D6 title game

Friday, February 28, 2020 | 9:39 PM

CRESSON — For a second season in a row, the Richland Rams proved too strong for the Ligonier Valley Rams and came away with a victory in the District 6 Class 3A boys basketball championship game.

Only this time, Richland did it in convincing fashion.

“I’m shocked,” Ligonier Valley coach John Berger said. “It wasn’t what I expected.”

Caleb Burke scored 17 points, and No. 3 seed Richland led from start-to-finish to beat top-seeded Ligonier Valley, 62-45, Friday night at Mt. Aloysius College, ending LV’s 20-game winning streak.

Both teams advance to the PIAA playoffs, which begin March 7.

Richland will meet Warrior Run, and Ligonier Valley will face Carlynton, the WPIAL’s fifth-place team, at sites to be determined.

“They just broke a 20-game win streak of ours,” Berger said. “We’re 23-3, and we’re headed to the state playoffs. We’ve never won a game there. We’re going to get back to work next week, and we’re going to win a state playoff game. That’s the immediate goal.”

Richland (17-7) also ousted Ligonier Valley a year ago in the District 6 championship game, but the 68-64 overtime victory was a much tougher task.

Ligonier Valley won the 2018 title-game matchup with Richland, 58-54.

“If that ball goes in for them a little more tonight, it’s a much tighter game,” Richland coach Greg Burke said, referring to Ligonier Valley’s anemic offense.

Richland led Ligonier Valley 15-2 after the first quarter, 28-17 at halftime and 44-28 after three quarters.

“I was surprised we had two points in the first quarter. I didn’t think we were going to score,” Berger said.

Koby Bailey added 15 points and Jordan Ford chipped in 13 for Richland, which capitalized on a barrage of second-chance shots in the paint.

In what amounted to the final District 6 playoff game for Ligonier Valley, which will join the WPIAL next season, the cold-shooting Rams from Westmoreland County battled the Rams from Cambria County from behind the entire game.

Just twice did LV manage to cut the deficit to single digits after Richland went ahead 11-0 at the onset, the last on Matthew Marinchak’s 3-pointer that reduced the Richland lead to 48-39 with 4 minutes, 18 seconds left.

“We relied too much on 3-pointers,” Berger said. “We have the type of team capable of taking the ball to the basket. When they’re not falling from outside, you’ve got to get to the hoop.”

Matthew Marinchak led Ligonier Valley with 22 points. Michael Marinchak added 13.

Ligonier Valley continued to play without senior Kyle Silk, the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder, who is ineligible for the postseason after playing during the regular season.

Silk, who also was ineligible to play for the Ligonier Valley football team, is a transfer from United.

Richland scored the game’s first 11 points before Ligonier Valley got on the board in the final minute of the first quarter on a layup by Isaac Neidbalson.

Richland built the lead to 23-9, taking advantage of its inside game to consistently score up close.

“We know what Caleb can do for our basketball team,” Burke said of his son, the team’s senior point guard who is committed to New Hampshire to play wide receiver. He’ll join his former high school football and basketball teammate, Collin Instone, a defensive tackle for the FCS program.

“It’s up to those other guys to step up,” Greg Burke said. “Our guys talk about being tough and aggressive with the basketball. When we’ve done our best is when everyone is scoring and Caleb isn’t just scoring 25 points a game. We got that balance tonight.”

Six consecutive points in the second quarter pulled Ligonier Valley within 23-15, but the momentum swung back to Richland when Ligonier Valley’s Cooper Mills shoved Bailey after the two had fought for a rebound.

Mills was whistled for a technical foul, but Richland made just 1 of 3 free-throw attempts, though it retained possession and converted it into a basket by Ford to push the lead back to 26-15.

Richland enjoyed its 11-point halftime lead as Ford led the way with 13 points.

“Richland was the better team tonight,” Berger said. “It was their night. It wasn’t ours.”


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