ST. MARYS – Elk County Catholic won the Elk County Holiday Basketball Tournament with a 58-43 victory over Ridgway Thursday night at St. Marys Area High School.
This is the 22nd time Elk County Catholic has won the boys' county tournament, now in its 31st year.
"This year it was a wide open tournament," Elk County Catholic Aaron J. Straub said. "You take a look at the records, it was anybody's tournament to win. Fortunately, among some other things, we made some shots and we were successful."
The two teams played an even opening quarter with the teams trading a pair of 2-point field goals to leave the game tied at 4-all with 3:19 left in the quarter. The Crusaders scored five of the next six points, the 5-1 spurt capped with a Darren Simons 3-pointer near the two-minute mark. Jesse Reynolds and Simons each traded 2-point field goals to make the margin 11-7. Jordan Lundin added a pair of free throws, Ben Daghir followed with 1-of-2 from the free throw line. Sorge added a late jumper as the Crusaders led 12-11 after the end of the first quarter.
"It's taken us a while, I think we're improved a lot since our first game of the season," Straub said. "That was three weeks ago. I think we've made some strides, I think we've gotten better. I think we've developed a better team identity. I think we've taken some steps on who we are and what we need to do successful. I'm happy about that, I'm happy we're starting to find what we need to do to be successful."
The two teams traded field goals to open the second quarter as Ridgway (6-1) trailed 14-13. A Ridgway 2-pointer put the Elkers up 15-14 before a Simons 3-pointer from the top of the key put the Crusaders (5-2) ahead for good at 17-15. On the ensuing trip down the floor, Eric Matheson left the game with an injury but came back to play in the second half.
The Crusaders struck with five straight points as Ben Daghir hit a 2-point shot and Ricky Pearsall poured in a 3-pointer to put Elk County Catholic up 22-15 midway through the second quarter. Lundin and Pearsall traded buckets before Josh Mitchell added a mid-range jumper to pull Ridgway within five at 24-19. Simons added a 3-point play before Lundin drained a jumper with the half, ending the half with Ridgway facing a six-point deficit, 27-21.
"We got outrebounded pretty bad in the first half, they got a lot of putbacks," Ridgway coach Anthony Allegretto said. "They're bigger than us, we're small. Both teams played hard, both teams worked hard. They'd get a lead and we'd pull them back a little bit, make some plays. We had a lot of mental breakdowns, I think we were a little tired from [Wednesday night]. I'm sure they were too.
"They got a lot of easy baskets," Allegretto said. "We'd get two baskets working really hard, they'd get an easy basket. We'd fight our way into the game, then we'd make three mistakes in a row to stretch it back out. I'm sure that is a lot of the fatigue factor. You lose Eric for part of the first half, we had to go with more guard play than bringing the big guys instead of using Oakie (Alex Oknefski), Mitch (Josh Mitchell) and Dom (Aiello). I was more worried about shutting down their gaps."
Straub said the Crusaders were able to get into passing lanes after giving up too many backdoor layups in the first half.
"I think we had that one stretch where we got in the passing lane a couple times and were able to get steals," Straub said. "The second half we got those, in the first half, they got backdoor layups. I was a little disappointed with the number of backdoor layups that we gave up early on. That's one of the things we worked really hard at, to not give up those, and unfortunately we did. Certainly those steals went a long way in determining the game and fortunately, we were able to get in the passing lanes and get some layups."
After the Crusaders opened the half with a Tyler Herzing field goal, Lundin and Matheson added consecutive shots to pull within four at 29-25 with six minutes left in the third quarter. Herzing then drained a 3-pointer from the corner and another jumper to make the lead 34-25. Sorge added a 3-pointer of his own but Herzing again scored on a layup and Pearsall buried a trey to build the ECC lead to 11 at 39-28 halfway through the third. Allegretto said both teams notched up the defensive pressure.
"Nothing changed, it was the same stuff that we did," Allegretto said. "Sometimes on a set play that we run, they think the ball has to go there. They just force the pass in there. If it's not there, don't run the play. Eric got himself in a couple bad situations there waiting for people coming up and not coming hard enough. The defensive pressure is tough playing Elk. It's tough on the other end. We forced a lot of turnovers also."
Reynolds added a free throw and Matheson scored a hoop before Pearsall buried another 3-pointer to end the quarter with the Crusaders ahead 42-31.
Matheson opened the fourth quarter with a 3-point play, then he drove to the basket and added another two points to put Ridgway within six at 42-36. Luke Daghir then drove to the basket and was fouled on the play. Ridgway was also assessed a technical foul on the play which meant Daghir would have a total of four free throws and the Crusaders would maintain possession. Luke Daghir hit all four from the foul line and Ben Daghir added another field goal as Elk County Catholic took control of the game with a 48-36 lead and just over five minutes remaining.
"I think we just scored three times in a row," Allegretto said. "They got a breakaway and Eric makes what looked to us like a pretty good block and we also get the rebound on the ball. Instead it turns into a foul, we get the technical which it was deserved. If the call's not made, there's no six-point swing, there's no technical and now we're down 12 and the game's over."
The Crusaders finished the game by outscoring Ridgway 10-7 en route to the 15-point win. Straub said second chance points were a key to defeating the Elkers.
"The first time we played Ridgway this year, we really got beat up on the offensive boards. It was 15-5 in second chance points," Straub said. "They tripled us on second chance points. One of the things that we said we wanted to make a priority is getting second chance points. We did a much better job on the boards."
Pearsall led the Crusaders with 17 points. Herzing had 13 points, Simons finished with 11 and Luke Daghir had 10. Straub said Pearsall is shooting better and he is happy with the overall improvement of the team from the first meeting against Ridgway, which he felt the Crusaders struggled.
"Rick's worked pretty hard on his outside shooting," Straub said. "Rick is transitioning from his fall sport to his winter sport. That was part of the process of finding an identity, finding something to hold onto. We made some changes and made some adjustments but we still have a long way to go. At times, we looked good and at times, we were impatient."
Matheson led the Elkers with 15 points, Lundin had 14 points. Ridgway was 9-for-13 from the free throw line while Elk County Catholic finished 6-for-10.
"One of the places that we didn't as well at is we wanted to get to the free throw line and we didn't really get to the free throw line as much as we wanted to," Straub said.
The All-Tournament Team was Joe Holmberg of Johnsonburg, Eric Matheson of Ridgway, Justin Quiggle of St. Marys, Tyler Herzing of Elk County Catholic and Darren Simons of Elk County Catholic. In addition, the offensive MVP was awarded to Ricky Pearsall of Elk County Catholic and the defensive MVP was awarded to Jordan Lundin of Ridgway.
Ridgway returns to action when the Elkers host Port Allegany on Monday. ECC hosts Brockway on Tuesday.
Elk County Catholic – 58
Ricky Pearsall 7 0-3 17, Tyler Herzing 6 0-0 13, Darren Simons 4 1-1 11, Luke Daghir 3 4-4 10, Ben Daghir 2 1-2 5, Eric Wehler 1 0-0 2, Totals 23 6-10 58.
Ridgway – 43
Eric Matheson 6 3-5 15, Jordan Lundin 5 4-4 14, Aaron Sorge 3 0-0 8, Josh Mitchell 1 1-2 3, Jesse Reynolds 1 1-2 3, Totals 16 9-13 43.
3-pointers: Elk County Catholic 5 (Pearsall 3, Herzing 1, Simons 2), Ridgway 2 (Sorge 2).
Score by quarters
ECCHS 12 15 15 16 58
Ridgway 11 10 10 12 43