By Chris Rossetti
CLARION, Pa. – Elk County Catholic stunned defending District 9 Class A champion Johnsonburg 66-47 in the semifinals Wednesday night at Clarion University Tippin Gym.
And the top-seeded Crusaders (23-3) did it with defense limiting the fourth-seeded Rams (22-4) to their second-lowest point total of the year while forcing 14 Johnsonburg turnovers and holding the Rams to 26.8 percent (15 of 56) shooting including 3 of 28 from 3-point range.
“I was pleased with the results,” Elk County Catholic head coach Aaron Straub said. “We beat a great team. We feel blessed, we feel fortunate to be able to beat them at this venue.”
For Elk County Catholic, Wednesday night’s victory was just its second in 10 tries against Johnsonburg over the last two season – the second this year in five attempts – and avenged a 59-41 loss to the Rams 11 days ago in the AML Title Game.
“I really wish I could say it was all the adjustments we made,” Straub said. “Sure, we made a couple of adjustments defensively. But I think we were fortunate Johnsonburg didn’t play its best game tonight. I’m sure when they look at the tape, they are going to say they picked a bad night to have a bad night. Our pressure was a little bit better, and we contested shots a little bit better tonight.”
ECC used a 14-3 run in the second quarter to grab a 26-18 halftime lead, and the put the Rams away in the second half thanks to 21-6 run that took a 28-22 lead early in the third quarter and blew it into a 49-28 advantage two minutes into the fourth quarter.
“We did something to them that they usually do to us,” Straub said. “And that is quick separation. It seemed all of a sudden you look up, and you have that big separation.
Four 3-pointers were the key to the run with Mitchel Struble hitting a pair, including one at the third-quarter horn that gave the Crusaders a 41-28 lead going to the final eight minutes. Ivan Wortman added six points during the run including a 3-pointer and three free throws, while Cory Huff nailed a three at the start of the fourth quarter to push the lead to 16 while also scoring five points during the run.
The balanced scoring during the second-half spurt was the way ECC’s entire game went.
Four Crusaders were in double digits led by 16 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals from Huff.
Wortman added 15 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals, with Struble netting 13 points and Dan Singer 12.
The balance helped ECC shoot 50 percent (20 of 40) on the night including 7 of 17 from beyond the arc.
“I think we got some easy shots inside,” Straub said. “We made a couple of threes.”
Johnsonburg got all but 15 points from its two superstar guards Cameron Grumley and Cole Peterson.
Grumley had a game-high 20 points to go with 15 rebounds, three assists and three steals but shot just 4 of 13 from the field. He scored 11 of his points at the free-throw line going 11 of 12.
Peterson had even a worse shooting night going 4 of 20 from the field including 2 of 15 from 3-point range while scoring 12 points to go with six rebounds and two steals.
“We were just pretty fortunate they didn’t shoot the ball as well as they could have,” Straub said. “I thought we did a better job defensively tonight against those guys.”
ECC will play Ridgway in the title game Saturday at Tippin Gym at a time to be determined. It’s the Crusaders first trip to the title game since beating Union in 2011.
“Certainly we have a really good stretch there where we were in the (championship) game,” Straub said. “It’s easy when you are in it to take it for granted. It’s a big deal to get here. Class A basketball in District 9 is very good. If you can get to that game, you have done some work to just get there.
ELK COUNTY CATHOLIC 66, JOHNSONBURG 47
Score by Quarters
Johnsonburg………………. 11 7 10 19 – 47
Elk County Catholic……….. 10 16 15 25 – 66
JOHNSONBURG – 47
GRUMLEY, Cameron 4-13 11-12 20; PETERSON, Cole 4-20 2-4 12; CHERRY, Christian 3-8 0-0 6; FERONTI, Taylor 2-8 0-0 4; BENSON, Kevin 1-4 1-2 3; HODGDON, Zane 1-3 0-2 2; WALTERS, Mason 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-56 14-20 47.
ELK COUNTY CATHOLIC – 66
HUFF, Cory 4-7 7-9 16; WORTMAN, Ivan 3-9 7-10 15; STRUBBLE, Mitchell 4-8 1-4 13; SINGER, Dan 5-8 2-2 12; SCHLIMM, Brandon 2-6 2-4 6; SEELYE, Ryan 1-1 0-0 2; GEBAUER, Andrew 1-1 0-0 2; HERZING, Ian 0-0 0-2 0; KRAUS, Luke 0-0 0-0 0; KAUL, John 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-40 19-31 66.
3-point goals–Johnsonburg 3-28 (PETERSON, Cole 2-15; GRUMLEY, Cameron 1-6; FERONTI, Taylor 0-3; BENSON, Kevin 0-1; CHERRY, Christian 0-3), Elk County Catholic 7-17 (STRUBBLE, Mitchell 4-7; WORTMAN, Ivan 2-5; HUFF, Cory 1-2; SCHLIMM, Brandon 0-3).
Rebounds–Johnsonburg 39 (GRUMLEY, Cameron 15), Elk County Catholic 34 (HUFF, Cory 13).
Assists–Johnsonburg 5 (GRUMLEY, Cameron 3), Elk County Catholic 13 (SINGER, Dan 4).