Mike Jabco fittingly prepared to go to the foul line to ice the game for St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy.
Wolves coach Richard Ciambotti stood on the sideline, right fist raised, after Jabco finished a layup through contact that finally put the game out of reach for Homer-Center. Jabco knocked down the free throw and offered a fist pump with St. Joseph’s up by seven.
He added two more free throws with 11.2 seconds left to put the finishing touches on the No. 10-seeded Wolves’ 75-70 victory over No. 2 Homer-Center at Central Cambria High School in the District 6 Class A quarterfinals Friday night.
Jabco poured in 35 points to lead the Wolves to the upset.
“It’s the best game I’ve ever played by far,” Jabco said. “Mostly because I don’t think a lot of people gave us a chance. We knew we had a chance. But just the fact that no one gave us a chance made us want that win so much more.”
St. Joseph’s (10-14) advances to face the winner of No. 3 Portage-No. 6 Moshannon Valley in the semifinals at a site and time to be determined. The opponent will not be determined until Monday, with all of Saturday’s action postponed.
“Right now, we are just trying to put ourselves on the map,” Ciambotti said. “No one really knows who we are, what we’re all about. I think our guys displayed it tonight. I mean, they went out there and worked their tails off.
“They did everything as good as we could possibly have asked them to do. That was as close to a perfect basketball game as we could have asked for from these guys.”
Jabco turned in a dominant first half to help the Wolves build a 36-30 advantage.
The teams were locked in a one-possession game in the second quarter when Jabco finished a highlight-reel play. Homer-Center cut the St. Joseph’s lead to one point, and the Wolves had committed turnovers on three straight possessions.
Then Jabco got the ball on the break with an open path to the basket. He went up, hammered home a two-handed dunk over Wildcat guard Colin Moore and pulled himself up on the rim before completing the three-point play at the line.
St. Joseph’s led 26-22 with 4:32 remaining in the half.
“I knew when I caught the ball coming down the court, I was going to do it,” Jabco said. “I had to do it. Fast break, I had to dunk for them. I promised them a dunk.”
Jabco’s teammates often see him dunk at practice, but he said he can only recall doing it once in a game before Friday night.
“I went nuts, that was awesome,” said Stephen Beattie, who had 16 points. “We’ve been telling him in practice, like if you can dunk, go. No one’s going to get in front of that. They’re scared. He went up and I went nuts.”
Jabco continued his torrid pace out of the break, finishing a three-point play to push the Wolves ahead by nine 24 seconds into the third quarter. He went coast-to-coast for a layup to make it 43-35.
“Mike is an energy guy,” Ciambotti said. “So when Mike gets going, it’s tough to stop him because I’ll tell you what, he feeds off this type of environment. We’ve seen it a couple times this year where he just comes alive. And if he’s going like that, Stephen’s going, we’re going to be a tough out I think.”
But Jabco picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench with 3:41 to go in the third quarter. The score remained 43-35, and Jabco had 24 points.
“I was worried at first because then Stephen picked up his fourth foul,” Jabco said. “And we were starting to get low, but they did great. They held them on defense. They even put up some points for us.”
The Wolves stayed in control without Jabco and took a 52-44 lead into the fourth quarter.
“They stuck with the game plan,” Ciambotti said. “They didn’t try to do too much, which is sometimes what happens when you get into this type of environment and they just did exactly what we needed them to do to maintain that lead.”
A Joe Johnston 3-pointer pushed St. Joseph’s up 55-45. But the Wildcats (20-3) put together a comeback and tied it at 55 with less than five minutes to play.
Homer-Center’s Ben Wolford threw down a two-handed dunk to pull even, but St. Joseph’s retook the lead behind back-to-back buckets by Rocky Chirieleison.
The Wolves put the game away at the foul line in the final minutes.
“We have faith in each other,” Beattie said. “We’re now like a full team, not individuals, so we had all the faith in the world in us to beat these guys, and we just want to keep going.”