R.J. Marsh refused to let St. Joseph’s go down without a fight in the District 6 Class A championship game against Bishop Carroll.
The Wolves fought all the way back from a 12-point deficit at halftime, surging to within two points early in the fourth quarter Wednesday night before falling 65-55 to Bishop Carroll at Mount Aloysius College Athletic and Convocation Wellness Center.
Marsh scored 12 of his team’s first 20 points in the second half to climb back into contention. But the Huskies connected on two critical 3-pointers in a 12-second span to swell the lead back to eight points.
“R.J. is competitor. We saw that from the minute he walked in the door at St. Joe’s,” Wolves head coach Richard Ciambotti said. “The kid wants to win, and he’ll do whatever it takes, whether it’s on offense or defense.”
The Huskies won their ninth district title, while the Wolves made their first district title appearance in program history.
The Wolves had their first district title within reach early in the fourth quarter, cutting Bishop Carroll’s lead to 42-40 a minute into the fourth quarter.
That’s when Tristan McDannell and Ben Eckenrode knocked down consecutive 3-pointers just 12 seconds apart to all but dash St. Joseph’s hopes of a district title.
“It was a big energy booster,” McDannell said of the critical 12-second stretch. “We were down a little bit right there; our energy was down. It brought us up. We got hype off that.”
Marsh finished with a game-high 27 points, while Ethan Khoza added 11 points and Jack Mangene chipped in 11 rebounds.
Zane Thornburg’s tough defense also kept the Wolves alive, as he limited Bishop Carroll’s leading scorer Eckenrode to just five points.
But A slow start in the first half ultimately doomed the Wolves in their title chase.
After connecting on 12-of-20 3-pointers (60 percent) in the district semifinals against Juniata Valley, the Wolves hit only 4-of-19 attempts from long distance (22.2 percent) in the finals.
The Huskies’ pressure defense forced the Wolves into some unwanted shots in the first half, and some title game nerves didn’t help either.
“We came into the locker room and got that first nervousness out of our system, and we were able to lock in and do what we’ve done all year,” Ciambotti said. “Unfortunately, it was too much of a hole to dig out of.”
The Wolves have had a busy two weeks since winning the Mid State Conference championship on Feb. 17, winning two district playoff games before Wednesday’s loss in the finals.
The Wolves will get a nine-day reprieve before making their first-ever PIAA tournament appearance at a District 6 site to be determined on March 9. They will face the loser of Friday’s District 5 championship game between Shade and Shanksville in the opening round of the PIAA tournament
“It’s been a marathon,” Ciambotti said. “I feel like we’ve been on the bus a lot. …We’re not going to talk about the state tournament until we get back Monday, and then we’ll get pretty engaged with game prep and fixing some things that we saw from tonight.”