Ligonier Valley boys basketball rebounds from poor start

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Thursday, January 30, 2020 | 9:14 PM


If you witnessed Ligonier Valley’s boys basketball game against Nazareth Prep, you probably walked away thinking it was going to be a long season for the Rams.

Ligonier Valley coach John Berger might have agreed after the 37-point loss to the returning WPIAL Class A champions.

But first impressions can be deceiving.

Berger was none too happy with his squad’s performance in the opener Dec. 6 and let them know what he expected. He told them if they didn’t play the way he wanted, as a team, more games like the opener would follow.

The next night, the Rams played the way Berger had hoped, and the result was much different :an impressive 66-47 victory against Class 5A Kiski Area.

“I didn’t expect it that quickly,” Berger said about the turnaround. “But they’ve been angels since. They’re sharing the ball, and we have three or four players scoring double figures every game.”

Ligonier Valley (18-2, 13-0) has won 15 consecutive games heading into Friday’s Heritage Conference regular-season finale against United.

The Rams clinched first place in the South Division of the Heritage Conference and hopes to defend its conference title. Playoffs begin Monday at home against the winner of Friday’s game between Purchase Line and Penns Manor. Ligonier Valley defeated both teams on the road.

Berger gave the squad off Thursday to rest up for the week.

“We’re banged up a little,” Berger said. “They’ve been working hard.”

The Rams are coming off two impressive road wins: Monday at Allegany High School in Cumberland, Md., and Wednesday at Saltsburg.

A win Monday would put the Rams in the championship game against the winner of the West Shamokin and Homer-Center game Friday at IUP.

“They’ve been getting better every game,” Berger said. “Michael (Marinchak) has been a leader, and he helps out the younger players. Everyone has stepped up.

“Our goal all season was to win another (Heritage Conference) title,” Berger said. “That game against Nazareth Prep was an eye-opener for the players. I think they realized they had to play as a team to be successful.”

Marinchak (17.3 points and 10 rebounds per game), Kyle Silk (16.3 points) and sophomore Matthew Marinchak (14.2 points) have been the leading scorers. Isaac Neidbalson averages 9.7 points and 12 rebounds.

If the Rams hope to return to the District 6 Class 3A title game, they’ll have to do it without Silk, who was ruled ineligible for the postseason by the PIAA. Silk transferred from United before the season and was ruled ineligible to play football for the Rams, but he transferred and played football at Kiski School, a private school in Saltsburg, before returning to Ligonier.

“We’ve been preparing to play without Kyle,” Berger said. “Other players will have to step up, and we must continue to play as a team.”

Silk is eligible for the Heritage Conference tournament and the team’s final game of the season against Berlin-Brothersvalley on Feb. 15 prior to the start of the District 6 playoffs.

Ligonier Valley is ranked No. 1 in District 6 ahead of returning champion Richland.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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