High School Sports

District 6 Class AA boys’ basketball playoffs: Penns Valley falls in first round to Ligonier Valley

The Penns Valley boys’ basketball team put on a run, but Ligonier Valley had other ideas, withstanding a barrage from long-distance by the Rams.

Too much size and some cold shooting for too long for Penns Valley left Ligonier Valley with a 44-41 victory in the District 6 Class AA first round Tuesday night at Tyrone Middle School.

“It’s real tough,” said Luke Weaver, who netted 10 points. “We’ve been together since day one and we worked so hard to get here.”

Rallying from nine points down, Penns Valley held the lead three separate times in the fourth quarter but was unable to close the deal.

“It’s hard for me to recall a lot of games where we had a fourth-quarter lead and relinquished it,” head coach Terry Glunt said. “But they made plays down the stretch.”

Ligonier Valley (15-7), the No. 10 seed, will meet No. 2 Penn Cambria on Friday night at a site and time to be determined.

Logan Johnson also netted 10 points while Will Jackson tossed in eight for the No. 7 Rams of Spring Mills (12-7).

Alec Bloom’s 15 points and Zach Yeskey’s 11 paced the victorious Rams.

Ligonier Valley held its largest lead of the game early in the second half at 22-13 and seemed ready to cruise to the quarterfinals.

Then it was time for Penns Valley to start bombing from long range.

Weaver and Jackson hit back-to-back threes to slice the margin to three, and after two free throws from Jordan Jones, Weaver drilled another three. Following a free throw and bucket for Ligonier Valley, it was Johnson’s turn from behind the arc to close the quarter with Penns Valley down 27-25.

“The shots were available to us a little bit more in the second half,” Glunt said. “We made a couple adjustments, tried to figure out what was working for us.”

Johnson buried another trey on the first shot of the fourth quarter, just 12 seconds into the frame, and Penns Valley had its first lead of the night.

“We were feeling it,” Weaver said. “We’re a good shooting team, we had been throughout the year, but to see all of us contribute like that it was definitely a big momentum jump.”

A Jackson layup moments later took the margin to three points, but then the run stalled briefly with two Ligonier Valley baskets to retake the lead.

Then, Weaver hit another three, and Dalton Ulmanic stole the ensuing inbounds pass and scored for Penns Valley’s largest lead of the night at 35-31.

“That got a little interesting there,” Bloom said. “Every team has their spurts and we came back, we fought through it and we got through the storm that they put up with the threes.”

After Ligonier Valley tied it again, Penns Valley had its last lead of the night on a Weaver free throw, but a Scott Fennell short jumper put Ligonier Valley back in front for good with 3:13 left.

The lead was as large as 41-36 with 2:08 left on a three-point play from Bloom, but John Ott hit the team’s seventh three of the half eight seconds later. Bloom hit one of two free throws soon after, and the teams traded possessions without scoring. Then Ulmanic, who was playing with an injured ankle, drove the lane and dished to Cameron Tobias for a layup with 25 seconds left to put the margin at one.

“The kid was playing on one leg tonight,” said Glunt, whose team made 4 of 5 field goals to open the fourth. “His ankle looked like it was having a baby. I just felt we had to go with him because he’s been our steady guy all year.”

Ligonier Valley cut through the Penns Valley defensive efforts to set up a Bloom layup with 10 seconds left, and a Tobias 3-point attempt to force overtime bounced off the rim on the game’s final shot.

Ligonier Valley shot to a quick 9-4 lead in the first three minutes, but then both teams got bogged down in a miserable shooting performance. The teams combined to make just 13 of 53 field goal attempts (25 percent) in the first half.

“A couple more finishes,” Glunt said, “and we’d be talking about the great win we had tonight.”

The main reason for the Penns Valley troubles was Ligonier Valley’s size. All five starters, plus the sixth man, were 6-foor-1 or taller and three were 6-5 or better. Aside from 6-3 Ott, no one else from Penns Valley that played was taller than 6-foot.

“They’ve got some big guys,” Weaver said. “It’s hard to finish down there. It’s concentration, jitters, it’s districts.”

Ligonier Valley also pounded the boards for plenty of second-, third- and sometimes even fourth-chance shots and nearly all of the team’s field goal attempts were from within seven feet.

“Take a look at our height,” Glunt said. “You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to know you want to pound the ball inside against us.”

Following that 9-4 run to open the game, the pace practically slowed to a crawl — much to Penns Valley’s liking. It has been the standard for the team for years to thwart the opposition’s attempts to increase the tempo.

“As long as we were winning, I was OK with that,” Ligonier Valley coach John Berger said of the pace. “I told our guys, ‘Just stay disciplined on defense.’ If we got the lead, if they want to hold the ball out front, let them run the time off.”

Time eventually ran out for Penns Valley, but the Rams put up a fight to the end.

“We worked so hard to get here, we’re just trying to manage this,” Weaver said. “But we’re juniors, we’ve got a young squad and we’ll come back next year with a bitter taste in our mouth.”