In what was billed as a “battle of the bigs,” Penns Valley’s Zach Engle dominated Kane’s Andrew Bucheit to help the Rams to their first-ever PIAA playoff win with a 56-36 victory over the District 9-champion Wolves in the first round of the PIAA-AA championships Saturday night at Clarion University’s Tippin Gym.
Engle scored a game-high 21 points to go with seven rebounds and was a big reason Bucheit was in foul trouble all night long.
“Zach is a great presence inside,” Penns Valley head coach Terry Glunt said. “He can do a lot of things in the middle. He can take it to the basket well, plus he’s an excellent passer. He also puts some fear in shooters’ minds when they take it in there. They have to shoot over a 6-foot-7 kid who is pretty solid at blocking shots.”
Engle got plenty of help from fellow senior Logan Pearce, who scored 20 points of his own.
“I thought early on, Logan Pearce was solid,” Glunt said. “I liked how he took charge early on offensively.”
Behind Pearce and Engle, Penns Valley scored the game’s first 12 points and led 12-0 four minutes into the contest. Engle had seven and Pearce five during the run.
During the run, Bucheit picked up two fouls and had to come out of the game.
“We wanted to attack,” Glunt said. “We were in a foreign gym, and we wanted to take it to the basket.” We took the ball inside early, but we were also able to knock down some shots too.”
Penns Valley was able to get the lead to 28-13 at halftime, although Glunt was anything but comfortable with it.
“It was 28-13 at halftime, and I said the first team to 30 wins,” Glunt said with a chuckle. “For a while there, it looked like they were going to be that team.”
That’s because Kane started the second half on a 9-0 run to close within six, 28-22, two-and-half-minutes into the half.
The Wolves still trailed by just six, 32-26, following a Bucheit basket with 3:19 left in the third quarter, his seventh point of the quarter. But shortly after that, Bucheit picked up his fourth foul and had to leave the game.
Penns Valley took full advantage of the big man on the bench scoring the final five points of the quarter, three from Pearce, to take a 37-26 lead at the end of three.
The run continued in the first minute of the fourth quarter with as Penns Valley pushed a 15-point lead thanks to baskets by Chase Collison and Pearce.
Then, after Davis Gardner hit a free throw to cut the Kane deficit to 14, the Rams went on a 9-0 run to put the game away.
“We pulled things together,” Glunt said. “We just had to bring them in and get them refocused. It took two timeouts to do it, but good team go on runs. They are the District 9 champs.”
Ben Alexander added nine points for the Rams, while Bucheit and Shane Rolick led Kane with seven each.
Penns Valley will take on West Middlesex in the second round Wednesday at a site and time to be determined.
“We have a tape on West Middlesex, but I haven’t look at it yet,” Glunt said. “All my attention was prepping for Kane. We are taking it one step at a time. I hear they have some decent athletes, some decent height.
“Obviously, they are a good team to have beaten West Branch, who was one of the top AA teams in District 6. But I think we are too. I think we’re going to give it a real solid effort Wednesday.”