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Saltsburg boys basketball drops Ligonier Valley in Heritage Conference title game

| Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, 11:39 p.m.

The rubber game goes to Saltsburg.

Frank Plowman scored 24 points, including five 3-pointers in the third period, to lead the Trojans to a 80-75 victory against Ligonier Valley in the Heritage Conference basketball championship game Friday night. The first conference championship event at the Kovalchick Convocation and Athletic Complex drew a crowd of 2,439.

The Rams handed Saltsburg its only loss to date, 65-63, on Jan. 24. Saltsburg evened the count Feb. 4 with a 71-52 decision.

“We were in control for the most part. We weren't able to hold on to it,” Ligonier Valley coach Todd Hepner said.

Nick Porter, the conference's leading scorer, scored 11 of his 20 points to give the Trojans the early edge. Sophomore pivot Marrek Paola then began to assert his inside presence and scored 10 points to give the Rams a 19-17 lead at the end of one quarter.

Paola led the Rams with 24 points.

“Paola's the real deal. That kid is tough,” Saltsburg coach Don Stitt said. “I told him after the game, ‘Just keep working.' He was dominant tonight. He's dominant as a sophomore. That kid is going to be unstoppable the next two years.”

Said Hepner: “Towards the end wanted to go back to him.”

“They were double- and triple-teaming him. They did a nice job on him.”

Ligonier opened up a 30-23 lead midway thought the second period as it took advantage of a brief spell of cold shooting by the Trojans. Michael Marinchak, a freshman, hit a pair of 3-pointers to help the Rams maintain a 39-35 lead into the intermission.

Plowman hit the third 3-pointer of the night at the 6:49 mark to reach 1,000 points for his career.

“We didn't know where he was. We didn't get out on him quick enough,” Hepner said. “If you give him a little bit (of time), he'll shoot it. He made a couple of big shots, and then he missed a couple and we thought he was just getting tired. But then he came back hit a few more big ones.”

Said Stitt: “Frankie Plowman is a hot shooter. We live and die by the 3s, and we got lucky in the second half.”

The Trojans still trailed at that point, however, 43-40. Collin Smith responded with a three-point play that built the Ligonier lead back to six.

Plowman hit four 3s in the quarter to pull Saltsburg within one, 50-49. Collin Smith and Marinchak hit 3-pointers of their own to help the Rams rebuild the lead to nine by the end of the third quarter. Marinchak finished the night with 11 points.

Saltsburg crept back into contention and regained a one-point lead, 76-75, when Jake Ronan hit two free throws with 45.9 seconds to play.

“One's a guard, and the one's a big guy, so it's nice to have,” Hepner said. “They're not playing like freshmen and sophomores. They're playing bigger than that.”

Dan Shirley added 21 points, Nick Porter contributed 20 points and Jake Roman totaled 11 points and kept Paola in check in the second half.

“I told Jake we wanted him to try to front him more, and he really didn't do that,” Stitt said. “But I thought he did an excellent job in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter. And I know Paola didn't get the ball a lot in the fourth quarter. And I thought that was a testament to Jake.”

Ligonier Valley worked the ball around for the next 20 seconds, only to see Paola and Smith miss point-blank opportunities. Saltsburg won the ball back with 22.5 seconds left. Shirley hit two more free throws with 19.7 seconds to go.

Tutino scored 10 points for Ligonier.

Plowman hit eight 3-pointers to account for all of his game-high 24 points. Dan Shirley contributed 15 points for the Trojans.

Ligonier Valley figures to receive a bye in the district playoffs. Hepner believes the Rams will play Bellwood-Antis or Cambria Heights in their playoff opener.

“At this time of year you've got to be pretty good on defense,” Hepner said. “That's what we'll work on the next week and a half. Everything can be created from our defense. So we're going to work pretty hard on defense.”

Rick Weaver is a freelance writer.

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