ST. MARYS – The Elk County Catholic Crusader varsity basketball squad ended their regular season with a 45-40 victory over the visiting Bradford Owls on Wednesday evening in a contest played at the Elk County Catholic High School gymnasium.
The Owls led for much of the contest, holding a 10-9 advantage at the end of the first quarter, a 23-16 lead at the half, and were on top 33-30 at the end of the third quarter. The Crusaders outscored Bradford 15-7 in the fourth quarter to claim the victory.
"We battled through it," said ECC coach Aaron Straub. "I think that's probably the best way to say it, we battled through this one. I thought that, first of all, we beat a good team that has had some really tough losses. When you take a look at their (Bradford's) losses, they have a really tough loss to an excellent Warren team, a tough loss at DuBois, and two tough losses to Brookville. We beat a good team, and I'm happy with the win."
The Crusaders were led offensively by Clayton Housler with 19 points on four twos, two threes, and a 5-for-6 night from the foul line. Hank Cappiello added 8 points for ECC with two twos and a 4-for-5 night from the line.
The Owls had two players in double figures. Forrest Works led the team with 17 points on seven twos and a three. Randy Ruffner added 11 points on four twos and a 3-for-5 night from the foul line.
"We didn't do as good a job as we needed to on Ruffner's penetration. We let him penetrate and get some shots over us," Straub said.
Straub added that his squad has been in a tough stretch as they played St. Marys on Friday, Brookville on Saturday, and Bradford Wednesday.
"We knew that each one of those games was really important, and we were fortunate enough to be successful," Straub said. "The effort is there by our kids. We are getting good, consistent effort. That's all I can ask."
"You're always going in one of two directions," Straub added. "You're either going the wrong way or the right way, and I really believe this team is going the right way."
The Crusaders started off the first quarter by getting on the board first as Housler scored the opening bucket of the contest. Bradford answered with a seven-point run to take a 7-2 lead with 3:17 left in the quarter. ECC closed the game on back-to-back buckets by Housler and Ben Wortman. Ruffner made a foul shot for the Owls with about two and a half minutes left in the period, and Hank Cappiello and Works traded buckets to end the quarter with the Owls holding a narrow 10-9 advantage.
Bradford opened up some breathing room in the second quarter, outscoring the Crusaders 13-7. Cappiello knotted up the score to start things off, though, as he sank a foul shot to make it 10-all. Works and Brock McCullough traded buckets to make it 12-all, and then Bradford went on another seven-point run to take a 19-12 lead. Cappiello added four points for the Crusaders on a bucket and a pair of foul shots to bring the team back within three points of the lead. In the final minute of the half, Mike Wilber made a bucket for Bradford, McCullough sank a foul shot for ECC, and Danny Rinfrette added another bucket for the Owls, making the score at the half 23-16 in favor of Bradford.
The Crusaders staged their rally in the second half, outscoring Bradford 14-10 in the third quarter and 15-7 in the fourth quarter to claim the victory. After a bucket by Ruffner to open the third quarter, ECC went on a six-point run on foul shots by McCullough and Housler and a basket by Brandon Schlimm to cut the Owls' lead to 25-23 with 5:27 left in the period. After a Bradford bucket, ECC ran up seven more points on a bucket by Wortman and a layup and a three by Housler to take a 30-27 lead, the first time they were ahead since the opening bucket of the game. That lead was short-lived, though, as the Owls went on a six-point run to end the quarter back on top 33-20.
Tyler Wilber scored the opening bucket of the final quarter for the Owls, making their lead 35-20. ECC then took the lead back for good after tallying up seven points on a three, two, and foul shot by Housler, and a foul shot by Wortman, putting the Crusaders ahead 37-35 with 5:10 remaining in the contest. Bradford cut the Crusaders' advantage to one point as Tyler Wilber made a foul shot. Alex Herzing hit a three with three minutes remaining to give the Crusaders a 40-36 lead. Ruffner cut ECC's lead in half as he made a bucket with 2:27 remaining to make the score 40-38. Herzing was 3-for-4 on two trips to the line to open Elk's lead up to five points, their biggest advantage of the night. Works scored the final bucket for the Owls with 22 seconds remaining to make the score 43-40 in favor of ECC. Housler added a pair of foul shots for the Crusaders with 9.3 seconds left on the clock to give Elk Catholic the 45-40 win.
The Crusaders finished their regular season with a 13-9 record. They were 7-3 in the D9 League and 3-3 in the AML North Division. They travel to Ridgway on Friday evening for an AML Semi-Final game which is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.
Senior basketball players and cheerleaders were honored, along with their parents, prior to the start of the varsity contest.