JOHNSONBURG – Using a white-hot night of shooting, the Crusaders toppled the Rams 52-45 Friday night behind eight scorching 3-pointers.
While the Rams remained in striking distance the entire game, they were unable to overcome being outscored 20-10 in the second quarter.
"With 10 turnovers in the first half, we cut it down to three in the second half so I thought we started playing in the second half compared to the first half," said Johnsonburg head boys' varsity basketball coach Bill Shuey. "We had a shot there, but we fell asleep a couple times and gave up some easy buckets."
Holding a 7-5 lead after the first quarter, the Rams were overwhelmed by the Crusaders' blazing perimeter shooting.
ECC started the second quarter with back-to-back treys from Ricky Pearsall and Darren Simons just 31 seconds apart to take a 4-point lead. A 2-point field goal from Pearsall to take a 13-7 lead prompted a Johnsonburg timeout. Later in the quarter, Pearsall drained another 3-pointer to extend the lead to seven points. Midway through the second quarter, ECC's Tyler Herzing scored six straight points to give ECC their first double-digit lead of the night. A 2-point field goal from Mitchell Holmberg stopped the stretch before an Eric Wehler 3-pointer extended the visitor's lead to 12 points. Johnsonburg's Louie Imbrogno drained two free throws with 23 seconds on the clock to send the Rams to the locker room facing a 25-17 halftime deficit.
"We came out in the zone [defense] thinking that we could slow the tempo down a bit, but [ECC] shot lights out," Shuey said. "We went to a man [defense] and I didn't think [ECC] shot as well in the second half from the three-point line, but they definitely penetrated on us."
Simons jumped out quickly in the third quarter with another 3-pointer for the 28-17 lead. Simons finished with three 3-pointers on the night en route to a 12-point performance. But the Rams chipped away with consecutive shots from Joe Holmberg and Louie Imbrogno. Despite being able to penetrate the ECC defense, the home team had no answer for the Crusaders' perimeter onslaught, as Josh Gebauer joined the party with a 3-pointer of his own for the 31-22 lead. Simons later completed a three-point play from the field as the team traded baskets down the stretch of the third quarter.
"We take a look at the third quarter and most of [Johnsonburg's] points were second-chance points," said ECC head boys' varsity basketball coach Aaron J. Straub. "We didn't do a real good job scrapping [Friday night].
"I thought Johnsonburg out-scrapped us, they out-hustled us on the offense boards and I thought they got to the ball a lot quicker than we did."
The Rams closed the gap late in the third quarter, thanks to a jumper from Joe Holmberg at the 2:20 mark and a free throw later to cut the lead to six points. ECC would later recover to take an 8-point advantage to the final quarter.
After a free throw from Johnsonburg's Quinn Luhr, Joe Holmberg hit a humper at the 7:04 mark to cut the lead to five points. On the other end, Wehler put in a bucket to restore order. With 6:30 to play, Mitchell Holmberg hit a layup and was fouled on the play, and later knocked home the free throw. Just 36 seconds later after a turnover, Luhr found the back door for a layup to put the Rams within striking distance, down 42-38.
After a free throw from Herzing following a foul with 5:20 on the clock, the Rams missed from the field and Pearsall found himself alone under the hoop for an easy layup to take a 45-38 lead with 3:57 to play.
But the Rams weren't finished yet, as Imbrogno drilled two free throws and after a Crusader miss, Joe Holmberg swished a 3-pointer with 3:14 on the clock to cut the visitor's lead to 45-43. However, Johnsonburg could not get any closer.
"We missed some shots in the first half, easy layups, and we didn't shoot a lot of outside shots in the first half, most of them were inside," Shuey said. "It's not embarrassing to lose to a good team because we fought hard and played hard.
"If anything, this will help us be better prepared down the stretch for the playoffs."
Despite the 2-point deficit, the Crusaders quickly regained control and a 6-point advantage with back-to-back layups after penetrating the opposing defense. Pearsall was all alone under the basket for an easy layup with 2:11 on the clock and Herzing later scored untouched with 1:47 remaining.
Joe Holmberg was subsequently fouled on a fastbreak layup attempt, but missed both free throws. After another Johnsonburg miss from the field, Herzing bounced in a layup and was fouled to take a 52-43 lead. Joe Holmberg drained a jumper with 13 seconds remaining as ECC earned the 52-45 win.
The Crusaders were fueled by Herzing's 13-point effort and 12 points each from Pearsall and Simons. But ECC couldn't figure out Joe Holmberg, as the Rams' star senior finished with 21 points.
"We didn't have any answers for Joe Holmberg. He played extremely well and made a lot of shots, and we just weren't able to keep the ball out of his hands," Straub said. "In the third quarter, we got into a trading buckets mentality and that's not a good situation for us, we didn't make very many stops.
"Johnsonburg played very hard and we need to do a better job of out-hustling teams."
In the last meeting between the two teams, ECC walked away with a 50-36 home win Dec. 14, 2010.
"I think any time you come to Johnsonburg and get a win, it's a good win because they play scrappy, they play hard and [coach] Bill [Shuey] is obviously doing a real good job with a young team," Straub said, "and the two seniors that they have who are playing a lot really provide excellent leadership and their young players are really playing hard."
With the win, ECC rises to 12-3 on the season, while the Rams dip down to 7-8.
"We have a long way to go in terms of our decision-making," Straub said. "We have to really clean up our decision-making. I think we need to start shooting the ball a little bit better, a little more confidently; we just have to get the shots and then we have to do a better job rebounding.
"I'm not so sure where our team is-- I know we're working hard, I know we're really buying in to what we're trying to do, but we're just not where we need to be right now."
Despite the Crusaders raining eight 3-pointers to help fuel the victory, Straub indicated following the game that long-range shots were not part of their plan.
"We said that we wanted to cut down on our 3-pointers, that we wanted to get the ball to the hoop and that we wanted to shoot more free throws than [Johnsonburg] did," Straub said. "We said we wanted to out-battle them for the second-chance points, but we didn't do any of those things.
"What we came in to try to do [Friday night] got turned around on us and that was disappointing."
ECC is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. game at home Monday against Sheffield. The Rams are to travel Monday to Kane for a 7:30 p.m. game.
Elk County Catholic – 52
Tyler Herzing 4-0-5-7-13, Ricky Pearsall 3-2-0-0-12, Darren Simons 1-3-1-1-12, Eric Wehler 0-2-0-0-6, Ben Daghir 0-1-2-2-5, Luke Daghir 1-0-0-0-2, Josh Gebauer 1-0-0-2 2. Totals: 10-8-8-12-52.
Johnsonburg – 45
Joe Holmberg 6-2-3-6-21, Louie Imbrogno 2-0-4-4 9, Mitchell Holmberg 3-0-1-3-7, Quinn Luhr 2-0-1-2-5, Cole Peterson 0-0-3-4-3. Totals: 13-2-12-19-45.
Score by quarters
Elk County Catholic 5 20 14 13 52
Johnsonburg 7 10 14 14 45