ST. MARYS – The Johnsonburg Rams held off a second-half rally by the Elk County Catholic Crusaders in yesterday evening's first-round game of the Elk County Holiday Boys' Basketball Tournament, winning 40-37 to advance to tonight's championship game versus the Ridgway Elkers.
Early on it looked like the Rams would have no trouble from the Crusaders as they outscored them 13-2 in the first period and 9-7 in the second quarter to take a 22-9 halftime lead.
"We'd like to hold everybody to two points," said Johnsonburg coach Bill Shuey. "We did get off to a good start. ECC's shooting was kind of cold, but we knew that eventually it was going to warm up and then they made two threes before the half ended and it got fairly closer."
ECC coach Aaron Straub made no excuses for his team's first-half offensive struggles.
"We weren't very good in the first half," Straub said. "I thought defensively throughout the entire game we played well. I just felt offensively we really took a couple steps back and I am not sure why that is. We really didn't look very good offensively, obviously didn't make many shots, but didn't have many good looks either. We know we need to get better offensively."
The Crusaders looked like a different team in the second half, outscoring the Rams 16-8 in the third period and 12-10 in the fourth quarter.
"We made a nice run. Not grabbing a couple rebounds really hurt us down the stretch. If we could have secured the rebounds I think we would have been in a little bit better shape, but we did battle. We just dug a really deep hole [in the first half]," Straub said.
Despite ECC's rally, Shuey was able to keep his team focused.
"I was impressed. We have a young team but they didn't seem to lose their focus," Shuey said. "We didn't shoot well on the foul line. We were 3-for-12. We're going to need to do better than that. ECC is a good team and we knew we weren't going to beat them by 20 this time. I think we caught them off guard the first time we played them."
"I think it was a defensive struggle here," Shuey added. "This was a long scoring game for ECC. We were lucky to get a win out of this one."
The Rams were led offensively by Quinn Luhr with nine points on four twos and a one-for-six night from the foul line. Cameron Grumley and Frank Kocjancic each also added eight points on four twos.
The Crusaders were led by Clayton Housler with 15 points on three threes, two twos and a two-for-two night from the line. Brandon Schlimm added six points on three twos.
The game opened with Johnsonburg scoring a three by Mitch Holmberg. ECC then got on the board with their only points of the quarter on a bucket by Housler. The Rams then went on to score 10 unanswered points capped by a bucket by Kyle Sheldon with about two seconds remaining to make the score 13-2 at the end of the first period.
The second quarter started as a defensive struggle, with Grumley making the first bucket of the period with 4:43 left in the half. A foul shot by ECC's Brock McCullough made the score 15-3 in favor of the Rams midway through the period. Johnsonburg racked up seven more points to take a 22-3 lead with just over two minutes left before ECC scored a pair of threes on shots by Housler and Devin Constable to make Johnsonburg's lead 22-9 at halftime.
Johnsonburg's Calvin Moore scored the first bucket of the second half to extend the Rams' lead to 24-9. ECC then added six points on a pair of buckets by McCullough and a basket by Hank Cappiello. After another Johnsonburg bucket, this time by Sheldon, the Crusaders added four more points on foul shots by Housler and a basket by Schlimm to cut the Rams' lead to 26-19 with just over two minutes remaining in the quarter. Moore scored the Rams' final bucket of the period and ECC added five more points on foul shots by Ben Wortman and Mitchell Vallone, and another three by Housler to close the gap to 30-25 headed into the final period.
A bucket by Schlimm brought the Crusaders to within three of tying the score. The teams traded buckets, with Grumley adding another basket to extend the lead back to five points with just over five minutes left in the game. Another foul shot by Vallone and basket by Cappiello pulled the Crusaders to within two, with the score 34-32 in favor of the Rams with 3:18 left on the clock. The Rams then added a pair of buckets to open the gap headed into the final minute. Both teams again traded baskets before Housler hit another three with 15 seconds left to make the score 40-37. The Rams made two more trips to the foul line, but were unable to extend their advantage. However, they were able to prevent the Crusaders from scoring and hold on for the victory.
Looking ahead to tonight's match-ups, Shuey remarked that Ridgway will be a tough opponent.
"We're going to have to play better," Shuey said. "We're going to have to make our foul shots and execute a lot better. It should be a good contest."
This afternoon's consolation game will be an important contest for the Crusaders, according to Straub.
"I think that we'll learn a lot about our team by the way we approach tomorrow night," Straub said. "I think we'll learn a lot about us, about how hard we come out, and how hard we play. I think you'll have an opportunity to see a really good effort by our team tomorrow night."
The Johsonburg Rams are now 5-0 on the season. They return to action tonight to when they face off against the Ridgway Elkers in the championship game of the Elk County Boys' Holiday Tournament at 8 p.m. at St. Marys Area High School. Johnsonburg will be the home team for the contest.
The Crusaders are now 3-2 on the season. They return to action this afternoon at 4:30 p.m. when they take on the St. Marys Area Flying Dutchmen in the consolation game of the Elk County Boys' Holiday Tournament at St. Marys Area High School. ECC will be the visiting team.
A good-sized crowd attended Thursday evening's contest.