Marinchak brothers are double trouble for Ligonier Valley opponents

By: HSSN Staff
Saturday, January 12, 2019 | 6:54 PM


Matthew Marinchak was leaving the Ligonier Valley locker room last season after a game, and a fan came up and congratulated him for playing well.

He thanked the person and continued to leave the gym.

But Matthew, who was in eighth grade, was taking praise for his older brother, Michael.

This season, however, fans are seeing double as Michael, a junior, and freshman Matthew are starting guards for the Rams. It’s the first time since third grade they‘re playing on the same team.

While they aren’t twins, the glasses they wear and their appearances easily can fool people. The best way to identify them is their uniform numbers: Michael wears No. 15 and Matthew No. 30.

They also play similarly, hustling and creating havoc for opponents.

“People get us mixed up, even last year when he played junior high,” Michael said. “He’d come out on the floor after games and high-five me, and people would tell him good game.”

Ligonier Valley is 12-1 and sits atop the Heritage Conference. The Rams could be headed on a collision course in the PIAA District 6 Class 3A tournament with Richland. Ligonier Valley defeated Richland for the 2018 title, but Richland advanced to the PIAA championship game at Hershey.

That’s where the Rams and new coach John Berger wouldn’t mind ending up in March.

But the Rams have a lot of work ahead if they want to make it that far. One area they must get better at is defense.

“That aspect of the game (defense) drives me crazy,” said Berger, who is the uncle of Michael and Matt. “We must improve.”

And while coaching is a daunting task, Berger knows he must treat everyone fairly and not take it easy on his nephews.

“When we are here, I’m coach. At home I’m uncle J,” Berger said. “My mom, their grandmother, made it clear that there would be no basketball talk at the dinner table.

“I’m pretty tough on all my players. Everyone knows they don’t get extra treatment.”

But it’s clear if Berger wants to communicate on the court, Michael and Matthew have his ear. They both come over to talk or listen to their uncle when free throws are being shot.

“I’m blessed to have such a great group of players from top to bottom at Ligonier Valley,” Berger said. “They’re supporting each other. When Marrek (Paola) scored his 1,500th point and Michael his 1,000th (in the same game), everyone jumped up.”

Those milestones came Tuesday, when Ligonier Valley rolled past United, 77-48. Paola, who had 23 points and 15 rebounds, scored his 1,500th career point early in the third quarter. Michael Marinchak, who had 27 points and 14 rebounds, collected his by completing a three-point play midway through the fourth quarter.

One of the first players to hug Michael was his brother.

“I knew I had to work hard if I wanted to play with him this year,” Matthew Marinchak said. “I was trying to get him the ball so he could reach 1,000. We never get mad at each other on the court, though I was yelling at him to shoot the ball.”

Matthew Marinchak didn’t have a good night shooting against United, and foul trouble forced him to sit more than he wanted. But he finished with six points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals.

“Matthew is a very good shooter, probably one of my best shooters,” Berger said. “Matthew was going out of his way to help his brother reach his milestone. I’m glad that is behind us.”

Said Matthew: “Growing up together, we knew where each will be, when to shoot it and when not to shoot it. We look for each other, and we look for our teammates.”

And while they have few disagreements on the floor, the playground can be different.

“Playing on the playground against each other can get a little intense,” Matthew said. “It makes us both better.”

Added Michael: “It’s amazing to get a chance to play with Matthew. It makes the whole season. Now we’re on the same court, and it feels great.”

But Michael said it’s just not him and his brother who make the team.

“We have all 15 players working hard to make the team better,” Michael said.

“Matthew is a good shooter. He was trying to get me the ball to reach 1,000, but when he’s hitting, he can shoot with the best of them. When he’s scoring, it takes pressure off me and Marrek.”

And while the Rams continue to dominate the Heritage Conference, the team is working toward larger goals.

“Our eyes are on winning the KCAC title again,” Michael Marinchak said. “Then we’ll worry about other things.”

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at pschofield@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Schofield_Trib.

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