Ligonier Valley shows focus, advances to Heritage Conference title game
Tuesday, February 5, 2019 | 9:57 PM
Ligonier Valley’s run at another District 6 boys basketball championship got off to a fast start in the Heritage Conference semifinals on Tuesday night.
Marrek Paola scored 34 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to lead Ligonier Valley to a dominating, 80-58 victory over visiting Purchase Line, sending the Rams to the championship game against West Shamokin on Friday night at IUP.
“I didn’t expect this,” Ligonier Valley coach John Berger said. “I’m shocked.”
On the days leading to the game, Berger was wary of his team’s desire to remain sharp after the Rams (19-2) showed little fire in practices.
Maybe it was the weather. Perhaps it was disinterest. After all, the Rams last season made it to the PIAA Class 3A first round after winning the District 6 championship.
Along the way, they defeated Purchase line in the 2018 Heritage Conference championship game.
“We didn’t have a lot of good practices lately, but we had a decent practice (Monday) night,” said Berger, in the first year of his second stint as coach at Ligonier Valley.
“When you’ve had the success that these guys have had, it’s hard to keep them focused. That’s probably the toughest part of my job is to keep that focus.”
The Rams quickly erased his fears, jumping to a 25-12 lead after the first quarter before enjoying a 45-25 halftime advantage.
“You know, I’ll never figure this group out,” Berger said. “In all the years I’ve been involved in coaching … I love everyone of them, but you just don’t know. They might not look ready to play, but then, they go out and just put it on a team. I just sit back and watch.”
The Marinchak brothers backed Paola in the scoring column, Michael getting 15 points and Matthew finishing with 14.
Paola, who was coming off a career-high 38-point game in a victory against Allegany (Md.), scored 13 fourth-quarter points against Purchase Line (13-7).
“We really didn’t have an answer for Paola,” Purchase Line coach Steve Woodrow said. “They really have three very good players, and we tried to take two of them out of the picture.”
It didn’t matter. Paola and the Marinchak brothers accounted for all but 19 of Ligonier Valley’s points.
Purchase Line, which plays the first of two remaining regular-season games on Wednesday night against Blacklick Valley, was led by Dom Campbell’s 23 points.
Jacob Barnett added 13 for the Red Dragons, who will use games against the Vikings and Saltsburg on Monday as tuneups for the District 6-2A playoffs.
Berger not only was impressed with his team’s performance, but he is hoping to see more fire from Paola, his 6-foot-8 senior.
“He was in there battling tonight,” Berger said. “He got a little upset early when he got knocked down, and I saw the fire in him. Hey, make him mad every game. That’s what I say.”
Dave Mackall is a freelance writer.