JOHNSONBURG – The Johnsonburg Rams are clicking at the right time of the year.
Just a week and a half removed from spoiling Ridgway's perfect season, the Rams (20-3) handily defeated DuBois Central Catholic 69-44 in the semifinals of the Allegheny Mountain League [AML] semifinals, setting up the Rams' fourth meeting with the Elkers (22-1) tonight in St. Marys for the AML crown.
Ridgway dropped Elk County Catholic for the second time this season, this time by a 51-37 score.
"I thought we played some good team basketball," said Johnsonburg head boys basketball coach Bill Shuey. "Because of that, we shared the ball very well but you could see that DCC wasn't going to quit, and they cut into our lead a bit in the third quarter but we were able to get it back up. Either way, it was a good effort."
Johnsonburg had four players score 10 points or more in the win; Cole Peterson paced all scorers with 16 points and Michael Shuey followed with a dominating night on the boards to go with a 13-point performance. They were complemented by Mitchell Holmberg and Cameron Grumley, who scored 11 and 10 points, respectively. Senior Kyle Sheldon nearly joined the double-digit club but finished with eight points on the night.
"It's hard to defend us because we don't have one or two players routinely scoring 10 or more points a game, we have at least five on the floor who can do that," coach Shuey said.
The Rams, who have won their last 11 games, opened up with an 8-0 lead and never trailed as DCC displayed difficulty defending Johnsonburg from the opening tipoff. Peterson hit both of his 3-point tries in the first quarter and after a one-hander in the paint from Grumley, Holmberg hit a layup with 11 seconds on the clock for a 19-7 first quarter lead.
With a 19-9 lead early in the second quarter, the Rams began to pull away with a 9-0 run highlighted by a 3-pointer and two free throws from Holmberg; Sheldon later hit two foul shots before nailing a long jumper just inside the 3-point line for a 28-9 lead. Grumley later hit a 3-pointer with 32 seconds on the clock as Johnsonburg took a 37-17 lead into the locker room.
Johnsonburg buried the opposition in the third quarter with 13-3 run for a 50-20 lead, culminating with a steal and subsequent layup from Peterson. The visiting Cardinals didn't get a field goal in the third quarter until roughly the 2-minute mark as Brock LaBue hit a layup and was fouled, but failed to hit the free throw. LaBue led the Cardinals with 10 points and was followed by teammate Conner Park's nine points in the loss, their third of the season to Johnsonburg.
LaBue would score all six points on a 6-0 run late in the third quarter but the Rams responded promptly as Shuey converted a 3-point play after being fouled on a layup and Peterson added a layup 25 seconds later for a 30-point lead again.
After LaBue hit a lengthy 2-point field goal to cap his 10-point night, Shuey added a layup with 32 seconds left and Peterson put in a second-chance layup at the third quarter buzzer for a 61-29 lead, the largest deficit of the night.
The Rams also dominated at the free throw line, turning in a perfect 12-for-12 showing.
"That's something that we'll need going down the stretch," coach Shuey said.
As the Rams head into their fourth battle with Ridgway tonight, the 5-year head coach clearly had no qualms about playing their crosstown rival for the AML crown.
"I expect it to be a good game [tonight] and Ridgway will be prepared," coach Shuey said. "We'll be prepared and I'm looking for a battle, and I'm really looking forward to [tonight]."
Notes: Johnsonburg has won their last 11 games… the Rams have lost twice to Ridgway this season, a 45-38 loss Dec. 30, 2011 for the Elk County Holiday Basketball crown and a 39-38 loss Jan. 20 at Ridgway… the Rams gained a measure of revenge Feb. 7 when they spoiled the Elkers' undefeated start with a 53-41 drubbing in Johnsonburg… the Rams have lost only two games when having the lead at halftime, both to the Ridgway Elkers… Johnsonburg has blown only one third quarter lead when they led 27-25 going into the third quarter of the Jan. 20 loss at Ridgway… the Rams are a perfect 11-0 on their home floor.