By Rich Rhoades
CLARION — With tongue planted firmly in his cheek, Ridgway Elkers head coach Tony Allegretto sang the praises of the District 9 method of seeding the playoff teams, in his situation, the Class A tournament.
“Whoever complains about the seeding process, they need to shut their mouth because I thought it’s perfect,” Allegretto joked. “I told (Elk County Catholic coach) Aaron (Straub) that last week. I told him I didn’t know why he was complaining. I thought it worked out fine.”
He had reason to joke about it. His sixth-seeded Elkers outlasted second-seeded Clarion-Limestone with a 49-46 overtime win at Clarion University’s Tippin Gymnasium Thursday night. Prior to that, the Elkers ousted No. 3 seed Cameron County.
The Elkers (19-6) will make a return trip to the Class A Championship game and face No. 1 seed Elk County Catholic, which upended Johnsonburg 66-47 for its second win over the defending champions in five tries this season.
The Lions (22-3) will play Johnsonburg in the consolation at a site and time to be announced. All four semifinalists will get a state playoff berth.
Allegretto then got serious.
“Obviously, it needs fixed,” he said. “The two teams out there now (ECC and Johnsonburg warming up for second game) beat us. (Johnsonburg) beat us three times and (ECC) once. They should have been on the opposite sides of the bracket. It needs fixed. We benefited from it, I’m glad, but three years ago we didn’t.”
And Allegretto made it clear his team was fortunate to hold off a Clarion-Limestone squad that plays just one senior. It took everything the Elkers had to hold off the Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference champions.
Three Josh Roselli free throws in the final 5.9 seconds were the difference. With the score tied at 46-46, Roselli went to the line and made the first one. His second one was off the mark, but he wound up getting his own rebound, was fouled and then nailed those two to set the final margin with 2.9 seconds left.
C-L’s R.J. Laugand launched a mid-court shot before the horn and it was off the mark, allowing the Elkers to escape with a hard-fought playoff win.
“Both teams fought hard, both had each other screwed up in what they do,” Allegretto said. “Coach (Joe) Ferguson did a great job with his defense. The KSAC takes a beatdown a lot for their defense and C-L played defense and played help-side and shut down a lot of things that we do.
“We didn’t make foul shots until the last 3 out of 4 and we made the play at the end to finish them off.”
Jeremy Breier, the Elkers’ 6-foot-4 sophomore, led the way with 19 points and eight rebounds. Roselli scored 14 points and Ben MacDonald fouled out with 10 points.
Three Lions reached double figures in scoring, led by the 1,000-point scoring junior point guard Laugand with 16 points. Laugand also collected 10 rebounds and dished out eight assists. He also committed 10 turnovers as the Lions failed to take care of the ball at crucial moments of the game.
“I’m happy with how our kids played overall,” Lions head coach Joe Ferguson said. “It comes down to the ball has to bounce your way at times. We had our chances a few times. R.J. played his heart out as always and I felt we put forth a good enough effort. It was just one of those games neither team should lose.
“You have to give Ridgway credit for coming out on top.”
Laugand came up huge just before the final seconds when he was fouled on a 3-point shot with 15.9 seconds left in overtime and drilled all three freebies. That knotted the score up at 46 to set up Ridgway’s winning sequence at the end.
Freshman forward Dan Callen scored 13 points and Josh Kahle came off the bench to score 11 points.
After Callen’s 3-pointer got the scoring started at the outset, the Elkers went on an 8-0 run. Then a 7-2 run put the Elkers up seven at 16-9, but the Lions kept answering back and Ridgway led by just one, 25-24, at halftime.
The Lions used a 13-5 run that started in the second quarter and continued into the early part of the third quarter to take a 26-25 lead, their first since Callen’s opening triple to start the game.
From there, seven lead changes made for an entertaining finish.
In C-L’s 7-5 advantage over Ridgway in a low-scoring fourth quarter, it was Laugand that tied it at 41-41 with two free throws with 13 seconds left in regulation.
In the four-minute overtime, Laugand’s dished to Callen for a layup and a 43-41 lead, but the Lions went 0-for-1 from the field with three turnovers in their next four possessions. Meanwhile, Joe Horning’s free throw, two more freebies by MacDonald and two free throws by Roselli gave the Elkers the lead with 52 seconds on the clock.
After C-L’s third turnover, the Elkers missed a shot and set up the final flurry that started with Laugand’s three free throws when he was fouled on the 3-point shot.
“I’m proud of our program,” Allegretto said. “It’s the third championship game in a row and with how strongly it’s been contested, to make three in a row, and hopefully we can get that second win, these kids have to be proud to be there.
“Nobody expected us to be there this year. Everybody kind of wrote us off like ‘Ridgway is OK, but they’re little bit down .’ We have two pretty good team in our league and DuBois Central is a third one, but this is a pretty good team we have and the kids have shown it all year long. They bounce back, always show up and play hard.”
NOTES: While they’re familiar foes during the regular season, Ridgway and Elk County Catholic haven’t met in a district championship game since the 1984 Class AA finals when the Crusaders won, 59-56. The only other time the two have met in the postseason was in 2010 when the Crusaders beat the Elkers in the quarterfinals, 63-45.
RIDGWAY 49, CLARION-LIMESTONE 46
Score By Quarters
Ridgway 16 9 11 5 8 – 49
C-L 11 13 10 7 5 – 46
Ridgway – 49
Josh Roselli 4-18 6-8 14, Joe Horning 2-3 2-8 6, Dustin Cowan 0-1 0-0 0, Ben MacDonald 3-6 4-8 10, Jeremy Breier 7-14 4-5 19, Cody Delhunty 0-0 0-0 0, Josh Lineberger 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 16-43 16-29 49.
C-L – 46
R.J. Laugand 5-15 5-5 16, Noah Rankin 1-3 0-0 2, Brent Slater 0-2 0-0 0, Kolton Stiglitz 1-5 0-0 2, Dan Callen 5-10 2-4 13, Josh Kahle 5-6 0-0 11, Jesse Pezzutti 0-0 0-0 0, Cesar Lopez 1-3 0-0 2. Totals: 18-44 7-9 46.
3-pointers: Ridgway 1-5 (Breier 1-3, Roselli 0-2), C-L 3-11 (Laugand 1-5, Callen 1-4, Kahle 1-1). Rebounds: Ridgway 32 (Breier 8), C-L 30 (Laugand 10, Stiglitz 9). Turnovers: C-L 18, Ridgway 13.