Paola leads Ligonier Valley boys past Central Cambria

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Saturday, February 23, 2019 | 10:02 PM


Luckily for Ligonier Valley, free-throw shooting didn’t figure in the outcome of the top-seeded Rams’ 75-55 boys basketball victory Saturday over visiting Central Cambria in a District 6 Class 3A quarterfinal.

They made just 6 of 13 attempts (46 percent) to Central Cambria’s 10 of 11 (91 percent).

From the field is where the 20-point outcome was decided. Ligonier Valley made a whopping 33 field goals, including 14 by 6-foot-8 senior Marrek Paola, who led the Rams with 30 points and 14 rebounds.

“I know I say this all the time,” Ligonier Valley coach John Berger said, “but Marrek is a man among boys at this level.”

Paola, who last week signed a letter of intent to attend Seton Hill, has been running over opponents all year. He notched his fourth 30-point game in the past three weeks in dominating No. 9 Central Cambria (9-14).

“He makes a big difference for them,” Central Cambria coach Adam Stephan said. “When he’s hitting shots like he was tonight, he’s tough to stop. He really hurt us on the boards.”

Paola scored 10 points in the second quarter to spark Ligonier Valley (21-2), the defending Class 3A champion, to a 26-point quarter and a 42-25 halftime lead.

But, despite another solid effort from his big man, Berger wasn’t content with his team’s performance after an eight-day layoff.

They drew a first-round bye in the playoffs, which were delayed last week in starting for a day because of Wednesday’s snowstorm that canceled classes at some District 6 schools.

“We hadn’t played another team since last Thursday, and it showed,” Berger said.

Ligonier Valley used a 12-2 run to start the second quarter and pull away from a 16-14 first-quarter lead, taking advantage of the absence of Central Cambria’s leading scorer, Tanner Melnyk, who sat for a portion with foul trouble before he fouled out in the fourth quarter.

Melnyk led the Red Devils with 16 points. Jarrod Garzarelli added 10.

“We didn’t play well in the first quarter,” Berger said. “We have to remember that it’s a team game, not an individual game.

“We have the luxury of having a big guy under the basket. There’s no reason for him to throw the ball back out because no one is going to stop him. Some of the other guys get frustrated, but that’s just the way it is.”

Isaac Neidbalson added 17 points, and Michael Marinchak scored 13 for Ligonier Valley, which will play No. 5 Bellwood-Antis (16-7) in the semifinals Tuesday at a time and site to be determined.

Marinchak, the team’s second-leading scorer, was inserted into the lineup for the second quarter.

He was ejected from the Rams’ 66-42 victory over West Shamokin on Feb. 8 in the Heritage Conference championship game at IUP for picking up two technical fouls and, according to PIAA rules, was required to miss a game.

He sat out an 83-62 victory at Bedford in the regular-season finale on Feb. 14, but Berger wanted to add another layer to Marinchak’s penalty by keeping him out of the starting lineup for the quarterfinal.

“The rust came off tonight,” Berger said. “In the next round, you’re going to see us come out firing on all cylinders with more intensity.”

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