Ligonier Valley, Carlynton hit reset buttons for PIAA playoffs matchup

Friday, March 6, 2020 | 6:56 PM

Mike Kozy inferred District 6 Class 3A runner-up Ligonier Valley, which next season becomes a member of the WPIAL, is perceived to be out in the hinterlands though the Carlynton boys basketball coach is a bit familiar with the area.

Kozy played at nearby Saint Vincent and is a member of the school’s athletic Hall of Fame.

You could say Kozy, a 1,000-point scorer at Saint Vincent, knows eastern Westmoreland County better than he thinks.

“I remember when he played at St. Vincent,” said Ligonier Valley coach John Berger, who like Kozy at Carlynton, coaches at his alma mater.

The two will cross paths Saturday when the march toward a state championship begins with Kozy’s Carlynton crew matching up against Berger and Ligonier Valley (23-3) in a Class 3A first-round game at Johnstown.

Ligonier Valley was beaten for a second consecutive season by Richland in the District 6 championship game. The outcome halted LV’s 20-game winning streak.

“You win 20 straight basketball games, I don’t care who you are or who you play, that’s impressive,” Kozy said. “I expect we’ll see a well-coached team, and we’ll have our hands full with them.”

It is said Kozy is a legend of sorts at Carlynton, having won WPIAL Class 2A Player of the Year as a point guard for the Cougars’ 1988 WPIAL-championship team. Decades later, he has his alma mater in the PIAA playoffs for the first time in his 11 years as Carlynton’s coach.

“We’re kind of an interesting story, 1-11 in the section, 6-16 overall. We were not a good team,” Kozy said. “Given where we were last year, looking at the big picture, this is a scenario now that we hope our program can regularly set its sights on.”

For Ligonier Valley, it is another preview of what’s ahead when it joins the WPIAL. The Rams, after an overtime loss to Richland in the 2019 District 6 championship game, lost to Beaver Falls in a first-round PIAA game.

A victory over Carlynton would be only their second in a PIAA playoff game. Ligonier Valley defeated Burgettstown in a 1987 first-round game.

“The guys were fired up for this opportunity after losing the championship game,” Berger said, referring to Richland’s 62-47 victory on Feb. 28 at Mt. Aloysius. “It’s nice to see them hit the reset button. They didn’t have that same reaction last year heading into the Beaver Falls game.”

Berger is taking a hopeful approach this time, saying he’s expecting his guys to put on a good showing against a talented WPIAL team.

“We just had a 20-game winning streak broken. Let’s get hot again,” Berger said. “Who knows what can happen?”

Unlike that ‘88 Carlynton team, there has been no WPIAL championship since for the Cougars (15-9). But the key to extending a season is, well, to reach the playoffs, where Kozy played on Carlynton teams that made first-round exits in the PIAA tournament in his junior and senior years.

“I certainly can draw off those experiences as a coach,” he said. “My job is to push the right buttons and help our players write their own story.”

The game will match a pair of talented point guards in Ligonier Valley senior Michael Marinchak, the school’s second all-time leading scorer, and speedy Carlynton junior Dequay Canton, a fifth-place finisher in the 100-meter dash at the 2019 PIAA track and field championships in 11.14 seconds.

Canton’s backcourt mate, Chauncie Mickens, rounds up what Kozy calls “the leaders of the team.”

Carlynton exited the WPIAL playoffs with a 74-69 loss to eventual champion North Catholic.

“There’s four seniors who have been playing together since fourth grade,” he said. “They really understand and complement each other.”

Marinchak’s younger brother, Matthew, led Ligonier Valley in the District 6 championship loss with 22 points.

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