CLARION, Pa. – When one thinks about all the District 9 titles Elk County Catholic has won – 24 in head coach Aaron Straub’s 40 years as the boys’ coach after a 40-31 victory over DuBois Central Catholic in the Class 1A title game Saturday at Clarion University’s Tippin Gym – its easy to forget that while Straub has won those titles the current group of players has not.
In fact, only Charlie Breindel and Luke Jansen dressed varsity in 2020 when ECC last won a title.
“Sometimes it’s easy to forget that this is some of their first opportunity on a big floor, their first opportunity to play for a District championship,” Straub said. “We were disappointed with the way last year turned out losing in the semifinals (to eventual champion Clarion) on our home floor, and I think those guys did a really good job of making it their mission to come back this year and play. We’ve been fortunate, we’ve stayed healthy. We really navigated the season with eight guys for most of the season and then ten for the last month or so. We’ve done a nice job buying into the mission and the plan.”
Rewatch the game
Jansen understand the history of ECC and what winning another title for the school meant.
“We are definitely very proud of it,” Jansen said. “It’s usually a winning tradition.”
Like Straub, Jansen also pointed to the semifinal loss a year ago as a motivating factor for this season.
“After we lost in the semis, a lot of the guys who were on the team last year, that definitely fueled us over the summer,” Jansen said. “That really motivated us this year. It feels good to be back.”
Something else that helped fuel the Crusaders (21-5) was a 46-41 loss at DCC Jan. 7.
The Cardinals (18-8) unabashedly made a big deal of beating ECC for the first time in 12 years while breaking a 17-game losing streak to the Crusaders and ending ECC’s 26-game AML win streak.
But in the end, that loss might have been one of the best things to happen to the Crusaders, who came back to beat DCC 52-37 in the AML semifinals Feb. 17 before taking the rubber match Saturday.
“I think we did take that a little personal,” Jansen said. “We didn’t want that to ruin our season but to fuel it and help us down the line, which I think it did.”
Another loss, one just before the D9 playoffs started, that also helped refocus ECC was a 44-23 defeat at the ends of eventual D9 2A champion Ridgway in the AML title game.
Since that loss, the Crusaders have won three in a row with Saturday’s game being the closest of the three.
“We kind of are just playing hard and keep the offensive going,” sophomore Colby Nussbaum said. “We are trying not to get sped up at all.”
The patient offense was on full display in the first half for ECC, especially in the last 1:15 of the first quarter when the Crusaders moved the ball with precession leading to a 3-pointer from Breindel at the horn that put them up 9-5 going the second quarter.
Then in the second stanza, ECC outscored DCC 12-6 to build a 10-point, 21-11, halftime lead.
That included a pair of driving layups by Jansen.
“It’s all about getting good looks, easy looks, and then crash the glass,” Jansen said. “We like to try to make it easier on ourselves and get the best looks we can and use good footwork around the hoop. That way you either get a shot for yourself or a shot for someone else.”
Watch Jansen and Nussbaum’s postgame interview
ECC got the lead to 12, 30-18, late in the third quarter and led by 10, 30-20, going to the fourth quarter.
DCC, though, didn’t go away without a fight.
The Cardinals used 9-1 run to get back within two, 33-31 on a Luke Swisher basket with 2:47 to play.
Swisher had four points during the run that also saw Andrew Green hit a 3-pointer.
ECC, though, wouldn’t be denied.
Jansen hit two free throws with 2:14 to go after driving the lane to return the lead to two possessions, 35-31, then Nussbaum scored a basket and hit one of two charity shots to make it a 38-31 lead with 52 seconds left.
“Someone told me a long time ago if a coach had to motivate the players, you are not going to have a very good team,” Straub said. “If the players motivate the coach, you are going to have a really good team. These guys continue to motivate our coaches. They have a lot invested, and when you have a lot invested, it’s very difficult to surrender.”
Straub said that starts with his captains, his leaders.
“We have really good captains who are leaders,” Straub said. “Leadership is nice from a coach and an assistant coach and a coaching staff. But for leadership to be really effective, it has to be from the players. Fortunately, we have that. If you watch any of our huddles, you will see Charlie just take the huddle over. On the floor, he will take it over. Who am I to step in and argue with that. We’ve delegated a lot of that leadership to the players.”
Breindel led ECC with 14 points with Jansen adding 10 and Jordan Wasko seven.
Alec Srock had 10 for DCC with six coming from the line while Swisher added eight, six in the second half.
Both teams advance to the PIAA playoffs.
ECC will host the fifth-place team out of the WPIAL, Rochester, Tuesday, March 8, while DCC will host the third-place team out of District 6, Conemaugh Valley, also Tuesday.
ELK COUNTY CATHOLIC 40, DUBOIS CENTRAL CATHOLIC 31
Score by Quarters
DCC5 6 9 11 – 31
ECC9 12 9 10 – 40
DCC – 31
Peyton Mauer 0 0-0 0, Brendan Paisley 2 0-0 4, Jalen Kosko 3 0-0 6, Alec Srock 2 6-9 10, Andrew Green 1 0-0 3, Luke Swisher 4 0-1 8, Brayden Fox 0 0-0 0, Carter Kosko 0 0-0 0, Dylan Hanna 0 0-0 0. Totals 12 6-10 31.
ECC – 40
Jordan Wasko 4 3-9 7, Luke Jansen 4 2-3 10, Micahel Jacob 1 0-0 2, Wil Wortman 0 0-0 0, Colby Nussbaum 1 1-2 3, Adam Straub 0 0-0 0, Charlie Breindel 4 4-7 14. Totals 14 10-21 40.
Three-pointers: DCC 1 (Green). ECC 2 (Breindel 2).
THIRD-PLACE CONSOLATION GAME
OTTO-ELDRED 70, NORTH CLARION 62
CLARION, Pa. – Overcoming an eight-point halftime deficit, Otto-Eldred secured third place in D9 Class 1A with a 70-62 win over North Clarion at Tippin Gym.
The Terrors (22-3) trailed 39-31 at the break but led 53-52 by the end of the third quarter thanks in large part to three Austin Cousins 3-pointers. Cousins had 11 of his 20 points in the third quarter.
Otto-Eldred hit 12 3-pointers in the game, including six from Cousins.
Landon Francis also dropped four bombs and scored 16 points while Gavin Jimerson netted 15 and Manning Splain 11.
Collin Schmader and Aiden Hartle both scored 15 for North Clarion (16-11) with 14 of Schmader’s coming in the first half when he hit four 3-pointers.
Josh Daum added 14 points for the Wolves with Cole Byers chipping in nine.
Both teams advance to the PIAA playoffs.
Otto-Eldred will take on District 6 runner-up Williamsburg Tuesday, March 8, at Williamsburg most likely, while North Clarion will take on D6 champion Bishop Carroll, also Tuesday most likely at BC.
FIFTH-PLACE CONSOLATION GAME
JOHNSONBURG 52, CLARION 46
JOHNSONBURG, Pa. – Behind 15 points from Isaiah Jackson, Johnsonburg picked up the fifth-and-final PIAA playoff spot awarded to District 9 Class 1A with a 52-46 win over visiting Clarion.
JeffersonFreeburg added 14 points and Jake Lobaugh 12 for the Rams (13-13), who lost at home in overtime to Clarion in the 2021 District 9 1A title game.
Kameron Merrell and Christian Simko each scored 12 points for Clarion (15-12) with Gabe Simko and Devon Lauer adding eight apiece.
Johnsonburg will travel to WPIAL champion Bishop Canevin for a first-round PIAA game Tuesday, March 8.