South Allegheny spoils Ligonier Valley’s return to WPIAL

Friday, January 22, 2021 | 10:11 PM

Ligonier Valley’s return to the WPIAL in basketball sure didn’t turn out the way it hoped Friday.

The Rams, who were playing their first game of the season, were overwhelmed by possibly the best team in Section 3-3A.

And it didn’t help that South Allegheny (4-0, 3-0) was at full strength for the first time this season. Omar Faulkner, a 6-foot-5 senior, and Ethan Kirkwood, a 6-1 junior, missed South Allegheny’s first three games.

Bryce Epps scored a game-high 16 points to pace the Gladiators to a 58-25 victory. Kirkwood chipped in with 13 and Faulkner had 10 points, 13 rebounds and five blocked shots.

The last time Ligonier Valley played in the WPIAL was in 1978. The Rams rejoined the WPIAL in all sports starting this season.

The coronavirus forced Ligonier Valley to delay the start of the season until this week.

“Us being able to play games and practice was definitely a factor,” South Allegheny coach Tony DiCenzo said. “We played three games and while they weren’t the prettiest games by any stretch, it was an advantage for us.”

Getting Faulkner and Kirkwood back didn’t hurt either.

Faulkner opened the game with a dunk that propelled South Allegheny to an 8-0 lead. After the Rams closed to within 8-4, the Gladiators ended the quarter with a spurt — a bucket from Ayden Sloss and a 3-pointer by Kirkwood.

“After having 10 practices with the team and having to play one of the top WPIAL teams in Class 3A with their full lineup, it wasn’t the matchup we wanted,” Ligonier Valley coach Tim Gustin said. “They’re a good team, and we showed signs of some good stuff.”

Ligonier Valley didn’t shoot the ball well and turned the ball over too many times.

Junior Matt Marinchak, who led the Rams with seven points, said it was great to get the season started.

“We came out slow,” Marinchak said. “There was nothing we could do. Our shots weren’t falling. We competed well through the first and second quarter, and then things went downhill.”

South Allegheny increased its lead to 31-10 by halftime and led 45-20 after three quarters.

“They were hitting threes and Matthew wasn’t hitting the rim,” Gustin said. “That’s not going to happen too many times.”

Antonio Epps scored seven of his nine points in the second quarter to pace the Gladiators, and then Bryce Epps picked up the slack in the second half.

“We have to get back to work on Monday,” Gustin said. “We’ll look at the film and see what we can work on.

“This isn’t the same team as last year. We have a lot of new guys that are getting their first taste. Having two months without a practice and having to open with a powerhouse like South Allegheny, we were up against it, but we fought.”

DiCenzo said he didn’t know much about Ligonier Valley, but he found out early his team had to match their physical play.

“We take a lot of pride in our preparation,” DiCenzo said. “We weren’t able to do that because we didn’t know much about them. When you walk into situations like that, you just have to rely on what you do well.”

Marinchak said the team opened 2019-20 with a bad loss to Nazareth Prep and bounced back to have a great season.

He said he feels this team has to do the same with thing.

Ligonier Valley also is hoping for some good news from the WPIAL on Monday. The Rams have three players — Brandon Fetter and the Little brothers, Conner and Noah — who have hearings and are seeking approval to play.

Conner Little is a 6-5 junior and Fetter is a 6-foot junior.

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at

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