Ethan Khoza and his St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy teammates believed they could compete for the District 6 Class A championship since this season started.
They showed why with their dominant performance in a 71-54 win over Juniata Valley on Monday night in the district semifinals. The No. 4-seed Wolves outscored No. 1-seed Juniata Valley by 15 points in the second quarter to blow the game open and roll to victory, clinching a spot in the District 6 championship game and earning a berth in the PIAA playoffs for the first time in program history.
“We knew that we were one of the best teams,” Khoza said. “We knew that we can play with anybody, so that’s been our goal all this year to win District 6.”
Khoza scored 20 points and drilled six of his team’s 12 3-pointers in the win. R.J. Marsh finished with 21 points to pace the Wolves, who will take on Bishop Carroll in the district championship game at 8 p.m. Wednesday night at Mount Aloysius.
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SJCA coach Richard Ciambotti saw the potential in his team to break through in the district back in November. Khoza knew the Wolves would challenge for the district title as they built chemistry during blowout wins in a fall league.
He watched that all come to fruition early on Monday night, as the Wolves came out firing from beyond the arc, hitting five 3-pointers in the first quarter. And they held Juniata Valley to one point in the second quarter to take a 37-20 lead into halftime. The effort on both ends of the floor turned the game into a blowout.
“I think it showed that we’re not just going to outscore people,” Marsh said. “We’re going to strap up on defense. That’s where we set the tone, and that’ll feed everything else.”
After Juniata Valley guard Cameron Collins scored 13 points in the first quarter, St. Joseph’s locked him down in the second quarter. Matt Steyers, Ryan Peachey and Zane Thornburg took turns defending the quick guard throughout the game, denying him the ball and making him work for his game-high 33 points.
Their defensive performance turned the game in the second quarter, when they didn’t allow a field goal.
The Wolves executed offensively, too, finding their teammates for open 3-pointers to add to the lead. Khoza hit at least one 3-pointer in every quarter to help St. Joseph’s run away with the win.
“It just felt like I was shooting free throws,” Khoza said. “Coach has been telling me to shoot the ball more. He’s told me to look for my shot and tonight, I did and they went down.”
SJCA made history Monday by earning its program-best 20th win and earning trips to the district title game and PIAA playoffs.
And the Wolves did it with a brilliant all-around performance.
“I would say that’s the most complete game we’ve played this year,” Ciambotti said.