Ligonier Valley boys chasing Heritage Conference title

Thursday, February 8, 2018 | 7:33 PM

There is an imaginary road in the District 6 Heritage Conference that leads to Indiana. They call it “The Road to the KCAC.”

Four basketball teams making up the lineup for a scheduled conference championship doubleheader will arrive at their destination later on Friday to determine who'll take home the boys and girls trophies.

Ligonier Valley will face Purchase Line in the boys game at 8 p.m. after Blairsville and Penns Manor square of in the girls matchup at 6 p.m. at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex (KCAC) on the campus of IUP.

The Ligonier Valley boys want only to obliterate a bad memory of their championship-game loss to Saltsburg that's lingered for a year.

“They know what that taste in their mouth was like when they lost,” Ligonier Valley coach Todd Hepner said, referring an 80-75 setback to the Trojans in 2017. “I had a player come up to me after that game and tell me that he couldn't wait to get back there again next year.

“I told him I was going to hold him to that.”

Well, now is “next year.”

“Our guys have been working all year long for a chance to get to this game again,” Hepner said.

Ligonier Valley (16-4) is hoping to complete an undefeated season in the conference and claim the championship against Purchase Line (18-3) in the nightcap.

In the first game, Blairsville (19-2) takes on Penns Manor (20-2) for the girls title. The Bobcats defeated the Comets, 58-47, in a regular-season game Jan. 16.

The Ligonier Valley boys defeated Purchase Line, 79-67, early in the season, the first in consecutive losses that occurred just once with the Red Dragons, who went on to win 14 games in a row and 16 of their past 17, including 63-59 over Homer-Center in the Heritage Conference semifinals Monday and 58-52 in a nonconference game against Harmony on Tuesday.

“We've been pretty consistent all year,” Purchase Line coach Steve Woodrow said. “When we were 2-2 early, I told the guys that it was looking a lot like past years, where we just couldn't seem to get over the hump. I said, ‘I'm not doing this up-and-down thing again,' and they responded.”

The final will match Ligonier Valley's noted inside-outside game against Purchase Line's balanced scoring.

The Rams feature 6-foot-6 junior Marrek Paola, who is averaging 24.8 points and 13.6 rebounds, and sophomore point guard Michael Marinchak (18.4 points, 5.5 assists, 5.1 rebounds per game).

Senior forward Andrew Pleskovitch chips in 10.7 points and 6.8 rebounds for Ligonier Valley.

Four Red Dragons players are averaging similar point totals, led by senior point guard Melvin Sanchez (15.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.3 apg and 3.9 steals per game).

The others are junior Dominique Campbell (14.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 5.1 apg), senior Shamar Campbell (13.4 ppg, 10.8 rpg) and sophomore Jacob Barnett (12.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg).

“Purchase line is a very athletic team with virtually no weaknesses,” Hepner said. “We got them at our place early in the year, but I believe we are both different teams now.

“You go through an entire season and experience growing pains and you hope to develop more maturity as you go along. We've both played pretty touch schedules, and you really can't go back to that game (on Dec. 12). That game is in the past.”

Hepner said Ligonier Valley will be without junior guard Jaxon Ludwig, who was wearing an aircast this week, the result of a high-ankle sprain sustained in the Rams' 62-51 semifinals victory over West Shamokin on Monday.

Meanwhile, both girls finalists advanced to the championship game with victories on Monday in the semifinals, Blairsville beating West Shamokin, 50-42, and Penns Manor defeating Homer-Center, 49-35.

Dave Mackall is a freelance writer.


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