Richard Ciambotti spent the past week working with his St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy players to improve after their loss in the District 6 Class A championship game.
The Wolves pulled within two points against Bishop Carroll in the fourth quarter of the title game last Wednesday, but they couldn’t complete the rally. The loss gave the Wolves plenty to work on heading into their matchup with District 5 runner-up Shanksville-Stonycreek in the first round of the PIAA tournament at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Tyrone High School.
“We just kept saying like we don’t want to be the same team Friday night that we were in the district championship game,” said Ciambotti, whose team is making the first trip to the state playoffs in program history. “We want to be that much better.”
The SJCA coach thought rebounding proved to be an issue for his team in the loss to Bishop Carroll. It’s become a priority for the Wolves on Friday night. Ciambotti said Shanksville attacks the glass, and St. Joseph’s can’t afford to lose the battle on the boards to advance in the state playoffs.
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“Everybody has to rebound every possession and if you take a possession off, you’re going to get an offensive rebound in a key spot and give ‘em an extra possession,” Ciambotti said. “When we were watching the Carroll game, we gave (up) too many second-chance points. That was the difference in the game in some critical spots.”
It also hurt the Wolves defensively, an area that’s been a strength this season.
St. Joseph’s has stayed active on the defensive end to shut down opposing teams. Zane Thornburg and Matt Steyers have led that effort for the Wolves.
Both made a difference during St. Joseph’s run to the district title game.
Thornburg and Steyers each took turns defending Juniata Valley’s Cameron Collins in the team’s win in the district semifinals. They helped limit Collins in the second quarter while racing out to a double-digit lead. Thornburg, who often guards the opposing team’s best player, only allowed Bishop Carroll’s Ben Eckenrode to score five points in the championship game to help keep his team in the game.
Ciambotti said Steyers has become a floor general for the Wolves, as he’s always in the right spot and doing the right thing.
SJCA will need Thornburg and Steyers to stay sharp defensively — and to battle on the boards — to keep advance in the state playoffs.
“We tend to play with a lot of energy on defense and we expend a lot of energy, but if you don’t finish it with a rebound, that’s a pretty deflating issue at the end of a possession,” Ciambotti said. “So then it’s hard to get back up and play defense again at that level.”
PIAA Class A tournament
St. Joseph’s vs. Shanksville-Stonycreek
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Tyrone High School