Richland knocks off Ligonier Valley boys in overtime in District 6 final

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Friday, March 1, 2019 | 10:15 PM


These two schools don’t particularly seem to care much for one another.

It showed in their latest meeting on the hardwood Friday night, where top-seeded Ligonier Valley met No. 2 Richland in a wild District 6 Class 3A boys basketball championship game at Mt. Aloysius.

When the final horn sounded in an overtime battle of teams with the same nickname, the Richland Rams prevailed 68-64 over the Ligonier Valley Rams.

Both will move on to the PIAA playoffs next weekend.

“Never as a player and a coach did I get to experience this,” Ligonier Valley coach John Berger said, looking around the college arena. “It’s amazing.”

But it didn’t mean Berger was happy with the outcome.

“We didn’t play our best game,” he said. “Credit their defense.”

Collin Instone, a New Hampshire football commit, scored 27 points. Caleb Burke added 21, including two clinching free throws in overtime, to help pace Richland (20-6), which avenged a 58-54 loss to Ligonier Valley in the 2018 championship game.

The victory also comes more than three months after the Richland football team defeated Ligonier Valley, 21-12, in the District 6 Class 3A championship game.

“Their hard work was rewarded,” Richland coach Greg Burke said of his basketball players. “All those years in the gym paid off tonight.”

Once Ligonier Valley recovered from a slow start that saw it fall behind by double digits, the game became a see-saw battle that went to overtime when Michael Marinchak buried a 3-pointer for Ligonier Valley with 3 seconds left in regulation.

“I wish we had a few more shots falling like that,” Berger said. “We were nervous to start. I think we came out a little timid. I kept waiting for us to go on a run, but we couldn’t get it.”

With Ligonier Valley seemingly seizing momentum, Burke took charge in overtime, masterfully handling the ball and scoring five of Richland’s 11 points, including three free throws in the final 20 seconds.

The last two came after an intentional foul on Ligonier Valley’s Aaron Tutino, a St. Francis (Pa.) football commit, who plowed into Burke near an officials’ table at half court. Following the free throws, Richland retained possession because of the flagrant play.

“Aaron said he stepped on his shoe, and the Burke kid confirmed that,” Berger said. “But it doesn’t look good, so you’re going to get that call. That’s not why we lost.

“Burke is one of the best, if not the best, point guard in high school that I’ve physically gotten to watch play. He’s just unbelievable with the ball. Great kid, too.”

Burke, like Tutino at Ligonier Valley, plays wide receiver for the Richland football team.

Marrek Paola led Ligonier Valley (22-3) with 35 points, his seventh consecutive game of at least 30 points. Michael Marinchak added 20.

Richland showed discipline early and jumped to a double-digit lead, riding a 10-1 run and building a 16-7 advantage after the first quarter.

But Ligonier Valley didn’t allow its counterpart to run away. With the 6-foot-8 Paola asserting himself, LV outscored Richland in the second quarter to close within 27-22 at halftime.

Paola scored 13 first-half points, then added 15 in the third quarter, though Richland held a 42-39 lead behind eight points from Instone.

Paola scored Ligonier Valley’s first 11 points of the third.

“We wanted to get the ball out of his hands,” Greg Burke said. “We wanted to get the ball in someone else’s hands besides those three.”

Burke was referring to Paola and the Marinchak brothers, Michael and Matthew — Ligonier Valley’s freshman guard who was held without a field goal.

“You can’t stop any of those guys, especially (Paola), but you can hope to contain them if you want to have an opportunity to win,” Burke said.

It nearly didn’t play out that way for Richland, but the Rams did just enough in the end.

Both teams played through foul trouble, Instone and Michael Marinchak each reaching four but not fouling out.

Berger, who turns 47 on Sunday, kept gazing at the surroundings, where his team had just taken a tough loss, and lamented the lost opportunity for an early gold-medal birthday present.

“This is going to sting for a while,” he said.

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