Ligonier Valley boys using speed, not size, to blaze through District 6 playoffs

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Monday, February 24, 2020 | 8:07 PM


The second season of John Berger’s second stint as boys basketball coach at Ligonier Valley has gone much like the first season of his second go-round at his alma mater.

Simply stated, while the roster has changed, Ligonier Valley (22-2), the top seed in the District 6 Class 3A playoffs, has continued to mostly win and is headed to the PIAA playoffs for a third year in a row.

But this Ligonier Valley team, which defeated Cambria Heights in a District 6-3A quarterfinal to qualify for the state tournament and will face No. 5 Penns Valley (15-8) in the district semifinals Tuesday night, has a different look than in recent years — there’s no decided big man patroling the middle.

“I’ve had multiple coaches tell me they didn’t realize how quick we were from watching film,” Berger said. “I’ve heard them say, ‘You look so different in person than on film. You guys can get up and down the court.’”

Not having that luxury of size is a new twist for Berger’s teams.

In his first stretch as Ligonier Valley’s coach from 2011-13, Berger’s teams featured the likes of 6-foot-8 Alec Bloom, 6-6 Micah Tennant, 6-6 Jordan Jones and 6-5 Zach Yeskey.

Then, in 2018, he inherited a team that had won the program’s first District 6 championship the previous season, led by Marrek Paola, then 6-7, and point guard Michael Marinchak, then a sophomore who since has become the school’s second all-time leading scorer with 1,664 points.

With Paola having departed, Berger has had to adjust, but he’s not complaining.

“We’re very quick and fast,” he said. “That team speed has made up for a lot of the difference in not having the big guy.”

Minus the now-6-9 Paola, a double-double machine in high school who’s in the midst of a productive freshman season at Seton Hill as a part-time starter for the Division II Griffins, Ligonier Valley has relied on its backcourt for success, led by the Marinchak brothers, Michael and sophomore Matthew.

On Friday, the duo combined for 38 points in Ligonier Valley’s 59-50 victory against a decidedly taller Cambria Heights squad.

The Rams of LV won’t see the same sort of lineup against Penns Valley when the teams meet Tuesday at Hollidaysburg, but the Rams of PV’s deliberate style resembles that of Cambria Heights, Berger said.

“Cambria Heights wanted to slow things down,” he said. “We were able to speed them up a little, and that’s what we’ll try to do against Penns Valley. They only average 49 points a game. They slow it down and they look for their shots, a very patient bunch. Hopefully, we can put some pressure on them defensively and get them out of their comfort zone.”

In the other semifinal Tuesday, No. 2 Westmont Hilltop (18-5) faces No. 3 Richland (15-7), the defending District 6 champion, at Johnstown.

The championship game is scheduled for Friday night at Mt. Aloysius College.

Penns Valley is led by 1,000-point scorer Logan Snyder, a 6-2 guard who was named a Mountain League first-team all-star, and 6-3 sophomore forward Zach Braucht. The PV Rams, under legendary coach Terry Glunt, haven’t produced a losing record in 25 years.

Glunt has amassed 506 high school coaching victories combined in boys basketball and boys and girls cross country at the Centre County school.

Snyder’s 16 points Friday in the quarterfinals led Penns Valley to a 50-47 victory over No. 4 West Shamokin, earning the PV Rams a spot in the semifinals and a rematch of Ligonier Valley’s 57-33 victory in a 2018 District 6 first-round playoff game.

Berger said Ligonier Valley senior forward Jaxson Ludwig’s status is questionable after he tested positive Monday for the flu.

Already without 1,000-point scorer Kyle Silk, a transfer from United who played during the regular season but is ineligible for the postseason, Ligonier Valley has turned to senior Cooper Mills as his replacement.

Berger said sophomore Jaicob Hollick likely would replace Ludwig in the lineup if necessary.

“I’ve had a chance now to coach and play against Penns Valley,” Berger said, referring to a 110-84 victory in the District 6 playoffs in 1990. “We set a school record for points in that game.”

He’s not expecting Ligonier Valley to do it again, but he’ll take another victory just the same.

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