Ligonier Valley boys repeat as Heritage champions
Even an ejection couldn’t deter the Ligonier Valley boys basketball team. The Rams roster just goes too deep.
And they’ve got Marrek Paola on their side
The Seton Hill-bound, 6-foot-8 senior scored 31 points to lead Ligonier Valley to its second consecutive Heritage Conference championship with a 66-42 victory over West Shamokin on Friday night at IUP’s Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex.
Ligonier Valley (19-2) overcame the loss of second-leading scorer Michael Marinchak to an ejection for being whistled for two technical fouls in the fourth quarter.
Under PIAA rules, Marinchak will be required to sit out Ligonier Valley’s regular-season makeup game at United on Monday.
Ligonier Valley, which beat Purchase Line in last year’s Heritage Conference championship game, was making its third consecutive appearance in the classic, which drew an estimated 3,000 fans Friday.
Paola, who also grabbed 11 rebounds, scored 18 first-half points for the Rams, who also got 11 points from Jaxon Ludwig and 10 from Matthew Marinchak.
Riding momentum from the first half, Ligonier Valley came out of the halftime locker room firing.
Ludwig scored five quick points for the Rams, who won their only regular-season meeting with West Shamokin. LV then pulled away with a late fourth-quarter surge to post a 17-point margin.
Paola and Ludwig combined to score 14 of Ligonier Valley’s third-quarter points as the Rams outscored the Wolves, 18-13, to take a 44-27 lead.
When point guard Marinchak was ejected, it didn’t much matter to the Rams, who poured it on in the fourth quarter, building their biggest lead with the final score.
With 5 minutes, 43 seconds remaining, Marinchak was ejected after being whistled for two rapid-fire technical fouls. Marinchak, who was fouled by West Shamokin’s Jack McCullough, was cited for taunting, then drew a second technical, apparently, for disputing the first call.
The sequence appeared to energize West Shamokin for a time, but the Wolves quickly fell apart and couldn’t gain ground.
Paola’s 10 first-quarter points fueled Ligonier Valley’s 13-8 advantage heading to the second quarter.
West Shamokin coach Judd McCullough, sensing his team’s inability to match Ligonier Valley’s frenetic pace, employed a slow-down approach in hopes of frustrating the Rams.
But Ligonier Valley’s smothering defense forced the Wolves into a string of turnovers, and the Rams steadily increased the lead to 12.
With Paola adding eight more points, Ligonier Valley surged to a 26-14 halftime advantage.
Ethan Libengood led West Shamokin (16-7) with 18 points, and Trevor Smulik added 11.
Dave Mackall is a freelance writer.