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Ciranni's career night unable to save Homer-Center

| Friday, March 4, 2011

Craig Ciranni did everything he could do.

The Homer-Center senior posted a career high in points, broke a school scoring record and seemingly played every position on the court, but it still wasn't enough to overcome the team's disastrous third quarter as the Wildcats lost to Bishop Carroll, 67-62, in a District 6-A quarterfinal Friday night at Richland High School.

And with that, the careers of Ciranni and five other Homer-Center seniors came to an end unusually early as the Wildcats (17-5) failed to advance to the district semifinals and the state playoffs for the first time in four seasons under head coach Bob Rado.

"It's been a good run for these seniors. I can't complain," Rado said. "I didn't want it to end, though. I really, really didn't, and they knew it."

Ciranni tried his best to make sure it wouldn't end, scoring 36 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. The 6-foot-4 forward even hit a few shots from behind the arc and often brought the ball up the floor for the Wildcats.

"Poor Craig Ciranni, I had him doing basically everything, and it wore him down," Rado said. "He was totally exhausted. I tried to give him a little bit of a breather there in the third quarter when we were down. I hated to do it, but he had no energy left. He was handling the ball for me. I wanted to put him low because I thought he could really make a difference for me low, but he couldn't do it all. He tried."

With his team down 11 points heading into the fourth quarter, Ciranni tried to lead a comeback, scoring 14 points in the final period, but the Wildcats were never able to get closer than four points.

"I knew it could be my last (game), so I just had to give everything I had and go for it, and everybody tried," Ciranni said. "Everybody at the end of the game was exhausted, and I just try do whatever I can every night to help my win and tonight, just came up a little bit short. You can't doubt anybody's effort because everybody's effort was there. It just didn't work out the way we wanted tonight."

In the midst of his effort, Ciranni broke the all-time career scoring record at Homer-Center, passing Craig Olsen, but that provided little comfort.

"I'm sure I'll look back on it and just remember all the games in my career, and it'll mean something, seeing my name on the plaque years down the road," Ciranni said. "Right now, it's a little disappointing, but it's a great achievement."

Ciranni might be still looking to add to his career totals if not for the Wildcats' mistake-filled third quarter.

Thanks mostly to a 10-0 run to open the game, the Wildcats entered the second half with a 28-22 lead. However, after handling the Huskies' full-court defense fairly well in the first half, the Wildcats had no answer for it in the third quarter.

Homer-Center opened the period with four straight turnovers, and the Huskies' fifth steal of the half led to a fast-break layup for Nick Lassak that put the Huskies ahead for the first time all game, 31-30, at the 4:56 mark.

"They upped the pressure, and right from the get-go, we just made some mistakes with the basketball," Rado said. "The one thing that concerned me the most about (the Huskies) was their quick guards. We've played against maybe one quick guard here or there, but they can throw more than that, and the pressure they put on us, we haven't seen pressure like that all year."

Rado called a pair of timeouts in the third quarter to try to settle his team down, but nothing worked. After taking their first lead, the Huskies continued to force turnovers -- 10 total in the quarter -- as they built a 45-34 lead by the end of the period.

"It's what got us here all year," Bishop Carroll head coach Cosie Aliquo said of the team's full-court pressure. "I thought tonight we got some more steals and turned the game around a little bit."

The Wildcats tried desperately to turn the game back in their favor in the fourth quarter, but the Huskies wouldn't let them make a big run.

The high point for the Wildcats seemed to be when Ciranni grabbed an offensive rebound on a missed free throw and hit a short jumper while being fouled. That brought the Wildcats to within six points, 57-51 with three minutes to go.

However, Ciranni missed the free throw, and after the Huskies failed to score on their next trip down the court, Matt Jones missed a 3-pointer that could've made it a one-possession game.

Bishop Carroll then converted three consecutive layups to stretch the lead to 63-51 with just one minute to go. The Huskies shot 62 percent from the floor in the second half to finish 25 of 50 on field goal attempts.

"Any time we went on a run, they were right there to answer," said Homer-Center senior guard Dylan George, who finished with eight points and eight rebounds. "We couldn't get anything going."

A basket by George would bring the fourth-quarter deficit to its smallest point, 66-62, but by then there were only 6.8 seconds to go on the clock.

The result was a surprise seed-wise -- Homer-Center was No. 2 and Bishop Carroll No. 7 -- and record-wise as the Huskies entered the contest with a losing record. However, Bishop Carroll is usually a force in the playoffs, reaching the district title game two of the last three years. The Huskies made it three for four after destroying third-seeded Juniata Valley, 73-37, in the semifinals Tuesday.

The Huskies play in the rigorous Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference, which consists of all Double-A and Triple-A teams except for Bishop Carroll and Bishop Guilfoyle.

"The Bishops are always tough," George said. "We definitely didn't overlook this team, but we just turned the ball over too much tonight, and it came back to haunt us."

Also, after jumping out to a 10-0 lead, the Wildcats had opportunities to put the game away early, but they were unable to pull away from the Huskies.

After their bad start, the Huskies had pulled within three points, 13-10, by late in the first quarter. A Ciranni 3-pointer at the buzzer gave Homer-Center a huge boost and an 18-10 lead heading into the second, but it didn't faze Bishop Carroll.

The Huskies never had the lead in the second quarter, but they stayed in the game, sometimes pulling within three or four points, thanks greatly to a pair of 3-pointers from Ryan Lauer, who shared the team's scoring lead with Dylan Link at 14 points.

"Even the 10-0 run, it was a great run, but here again, we could've really stepped on them because we still had opportunities," Rado said, "and we let our guard down here or there, and the next thing you know, they score one or two hoops, and they're right back in it."

The Wildcats struggled with turnovers in the second quarter, too, committing eight. For the game, Homer-Center turned it over 25 times. The Wildcats also shot just 15-of-30 from the free throw line.

Ciranni needed 25 points to break the scoring record heading into the game, and he accomplished it with a jumper from the right elbow early in the fourth quarter. Ciranni finished his career with 1,372 points.

"I would actually say he's the best player I've ever coached," said Rado, who has spent about 30 years in coaching. "I could put him anywhere, and he could be successful. I could put him on the wing, I could put him underneath, he can handle point guard -- he did it all. And, the greatest thing about Craig is the fact the kid never complained. I never heard him say anything about anybody or complain about anything in practice through four years. ... He's the most coachable kid I could say I've ever coached."

Ciranni was part of a senior class that, in a four-year span, saw the program reach two district titles, winning one, and qualify for the state playoffs three times.

This year, the Wildcats earned their third straight shared or outright Heritage Conference title by storming through the league with a 15-1 record.

"I don't think anybody expected us to be where we were at this point in the year, getting a No. 2 seed," Ciranni said. "I'm just proud of everybody because they gave it their all, and we just came up short today."

In addition to Ciranni and George, the Wildcats will lose senior starters Stephen Nymick and Zack Davis along with reserves Brandon Schork and Patrick Yurky.

"I can't believe it's over. Four years playing on this team, and I didn't see it ending tonight," George said. "I wish it wouldn't have ended this fast my senior year in the playoffs, but we got a D6 championship, we got three conference championships, and that's a lot more than a lot of teams could say."

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