Marinchak leads Ligonier Valley to 3rd straight Heritage Conference title

Friday, February 7, 2020 | 11:29 PM

Michael Marinchak’s high school basketball days are numbered, but they won’t soon be forgotten.

The Ligonier Valley standout has scored more than 1,500 career points and enjoyed some memorable victories in the past four seasons at the District 6 school.

With the Rams set to join the WPIAL next season after Marinchak has moved on, the senior guard on Friday night was savoring yet another monumental victory.

Marinchak scored 23 points to lead Ligonier Valley past Homer-Center, 64-47, in the championship game of the Heritage Conference at IUP, the Rams’ third consecutive title.

“It’s really impressive,” he said. “We put in a lot of work all season long. A lot of offseason work, too, getting together 2-3 weeks after the (2019) season was over, whether it was at the local YMCA or wherever.”

Marinchak, whose brother, sophomore Matthew, will move on with the rest of the returning players to WPIAL competition next season, isn’t finished yet. The more games the Rams win, the longer Michael plays.

“I love this team,” Michael Marinchak said. “We’ve got a family here. This isn’t just a group of guys playing ball. This is our family.”

Ligonier Valley (21-2), the top seed in District 6-3A, is scheduled to play one more regular-season game Feb. 15 at home against Berlin-Brothersvalley, and the Rams are hoping to enter the district playoffs with a head of steam.

Ligonier Valley has won 18 consecutive games dating to a Dec. 13 loss to District 3-4A Susquehannock at the Hollidaysburg Tournament.

The Rams’ only other loss was an 89-53 thrashing in the opener to defending PIAA Class A champion Nazareth Prep of the WPIAL.

“We had a meeting after that game, and we talked about how to be successful,” Ligonier Valley coach John Berger said. “We talk about playing as a team. We said if we’re going to play playground basketball to pad our own stats, that’s not going to work.”

The Rams responded in the following game, trouncing Class 5A Kiski Area of the WPIAL, 66-47.

In the two previous years Ligonier Valley won the Heritage Conference championship and reached the PIAA playoffs, the Rams relied heavily on 6-foot-8 Marek Paola, a freshman at Division II Seton Hill.

Berger said his team quickly made the necessary adjustments. Marinchak said it wasn’t easy at first.

“It was hard to adjust,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to win games when you’ve got a big guy in there that you can just dump the ball to, and he can score easy baskets.”

The addition of transfer Kyle Silk, a 6-2 senior forward, has helped offset the loss of Paola this season.

Silk added 15 points against Homer-Center (14-7), but he’s been ruled ineligible for the District 6 playoffs by the PIAA following his transfer from United.

“We have a great group of guys who wanted to win this thing for Kyle, knowing he can’t play in the postseason,” Berger said.

Ligonier Valley took a 32-27 lead into the halftime locker room after the teams played to a 14-14 standoff in the first quarter.

The Rams used a 7-0 run midway through the second quarter to take the lead for good. Marinchak, whose half-court shot at the first-quarter buzzer was late, led all scorers in the first half with 12 points.

“It’s the quickness and the shooting that’s hard to overcome,” said Homer-Center coach Bob Rado, who is retiring after the season with more than 500 coaching victories combined at Homer-Center, Indiana and Marion Center.

He’ll lead the Wildcats into the District 6 playoffs for his final fling.

“It’s hard when you have to play against (at least) four guys who can stick 3s and are quick enough to drive it to the hole, too,” Rado said. “They have all kinds of weapons. You can’t just concentrate on one guy, or somebody else is going to hurt you.”

Rado said the experience of playing against the district’s top seed in a college arena setting such as the 5,000-seat Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex is something he hopes will prepare his team for the district playoffs.

“Games like this are good for that,” he said. “If you’re going to make a run, you want to play against teams like Ligonier. I thought we played well and stayed with them in the first half. I have no complaints about the way we played.”

Ligonier Valley outscored Homer-Center in the second half, 35-20. Jaden Evanick led the Wildcats with 12 points.

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