SHARON — Cathedral Prep is one win away from a trip to Hershey.
The District 10 champion Ramblers overcame a slow first half to roll to a 68-54 victory over Penn Hills Friday night in the PIAA Class 5A quarterfinals at Sharon High School.
“This group deserves the best and I am so happy for them,” Cathedral Prep coach Steven Piotrowicz said. “We just played a really good team. I thought our boys executed our game plan to a ‘T’ and played with a lot of confidence. We were able to make some shots and when we’re able to make shots, we’re very hard to beat. I’m so happy for them. Everyone that played tonight did a great job of doing their job at a high level.”
And they have their defense to thank for the opportunity to play in Monday’s Final Four.
Cathedral Prep (24-3) — using a 2-3 zone at times — never let the WPIAL champions get truly comfortable on the offensive end, forcing the Indians (23-4) into 14 turnovers and an 18 for 42 clip from the field.
“What we do defensively not a lot of teams aren’t used to that, so we were able to limit them to one possession,” Piotrowicz said. “We were trying to make everything hard for them. That’s what we try to do against any team. There’s little kinks here and there with how we want to use different personnel, but our guys take pride in one-on-one defense and took pride in limiting them to one shot per possession.”
Entering the second half and locked in a 24-all stalemate, senior forward Semontae Lofton’s nine points led the charge, helping the Ramblers go on a 14-4 run to start the third quarter and take their biggest lead of the game to that point at 38-28.
“That was huge,” Piotrowicz said. “I can’t explain it, but we’ve been a third-quarter team this year. Except for one game, all of our runs have come in the third quarter. Our kids stepped up and did what they had to do.”
The Indians were able to get a quick five points from Robert Thomas and Julian Dugger — who is getting Division I looks in football from Toledo and Pitt — to close to within 38-33 entering the fourth quarter.
Behind Amaree Pickens’ eight points, Cathedral Prep wasted little time stopping any momentum Penn Hills had with a 12-2 run to open a 15-point lead and would eventually extend it to 17 moments later (54-37).
“We’ve been in that position before, number one,” Piotrowicz said of Penn Hills’ run to end the third quarter. “Number two, basketball is a game of runs. As long you’re not letting them take off on a 10-0 or more run, our team is OK with that. Teams are going to make shots at this level because you have really good teams going at it. The kids maintained their cool and we were able to weather the storm.”
Penn Hills would get as close as 11 on Dugger’s three-pointer down the stretch, but four free throws from Pickens and a pair of buckets from Jake Sambuchino put the game out of reach.
“The second half, coach told us to pick it up, because he knew we could play better than what we were and that’s what we did,” Lofton said. “I think we actually wanted it more. We came out on the court (in the second half) wanting to win and believing we could do it.
“The start of the third quarter was big for us … it gave us momentum. We were fighting some adversity when they went on their run, but we picked it up (in the fourth quarter) and pulled it off.”
Ten lead changes and five ties highlighted the first 16 minutes with the Indians nor the Ramblers able to create any breathing room — four points was the biggest point differential in the first and second quarters — and appropriately entered the half tied.
“That was just basketball … two really good teams going at each other,” Piotrowicz said. “You are feeling each other out, trying to see what you can do and what you can’t do. We were able to make adjustments at halftime to allow the game to open up for us.”
With the win, Cathedral Prep will meet District 3 champion Exeter (26-6) — who held off WPIAL runner-up Peters Township 75-72 in overtime in the other western quarterfinal — in the Class 5A Western Finals Monday at a site and time to be determined. District 12 champion Imhotep Charter (28-3) and runner-up Archbishop Ryan (17-10) will in meet in the Eastern Finals.
“We’ve been coming to practice locked in and we’ve been playing for each other and wanting to win for each other,” Lofton said.
NOTES: Lofton led the Ramblers with a 23-point, 11-rebound double-double, while Pickens (19) and Sambuchino (16) lent another 35 points. … After not playing a WPIAL team in the regular season, the Ramblers improved to 3-0 against the district in the state tourney with wins over South Fayette (47-45), Mars (66-54) and now Penn Hills. … Zion Barksdale (eight) and Sambuchino (seven) combined for 15 rebounds for Cathedral Prep — who only had 11 turnovers and held a 38-29 edge on the glass. … Daemar Kelly (12), Noah Barren (11), Dugger (11) and Thomas (10) reached double figures for the Indians (23-4). … Cathedral Prep improved to 2-2 against Penn Hills in the state tournament with its only other win coming in the 1994 semifinals (62-43). The Indians ended the Ramblers’ seasons in 1987 (65-54) and 1999 (52-48).
PIAA CLASS 5A QUARTERFINALS
PENN HILLS 11 13 9 21 54
CATH PREP 12 12 14 30 68
PENN HILLS: Kelly 4-3-6-12, Barren 3-5-6-11, Thomas 4-2-5-10, Dugger 3-4-5-11, Redman 2-0-0-6, Smith 1-0-2-2, Oliver 1-0-1-2, Peeler 0-0-0-0; 3-PT GOALS: Redman 2, Kelly, Dugger; TOTALS: 18-14-25-54.
CATHEDRAL PREP: Sambuchino 6-1-2-16, Pickens 3-10-10-19, Barksdale 2-1-4-5, Spencer 0-2-2-2, Lofton 9-5-7-23, Wallac 0-0-0-0, Roberts 0-0-0-0, Rahama 1-1-2-3; 3-PT GOALS: Sambuchino 3, Pickens 3; TOTALS: 21-20-27-68.