Hertzog's 29 points guide GCC boys into PIAA quarterfinals
CLEARFIELD — Ben Hertzog said he liked the rims at Clearfield High School during warm-ups.
The Greensburg Central Catholic senior guard liked them even more in the game.
Hertzog hit 8 of his first 10 shots, made a number athletic moves in the paint and nearly dunked on defenders in one of his best games. It added up to a career-high 29 points and keyed an amped-up start for the Centurions, who handed District 9 champion Coudersport its first loss, 72-63 on Thursday night in a PIAA Class 2A second-round game.
“We have been starting extra slow, and we wanted to change that tonight,” said Hertzog, who scored 13 in the first quarter. “I told coach Dave (Palcic) I liked the rims. We knew (Coudersport) didn't have anybody to match up with us.”
Who knows if Hertzog would have felt the same way about the baskets at DuBois, the original site for the game before it was abruptly moved Wednesday. But he warmed up quickly to the ones at Clearfield, and GCC's season lives on because of it.
GCC (25-1) moves into the quarterfinals for the fifth time in eight years and will meet WPIAL champion Sewickley Academy (23-4) on Saturday for a spot in the state final four.
Sewickley Academy defeated Bishop Guilfoyle, 70-58.
GCC built a 13-point lead early and repelled several comebacks by the Falcons (13-1), who have only lost three times in two years.
A smaller lineup did not back down against GCC, attacking the rim and hitting from the perimeter.
“Coudersport was 25-0 for a reason,” GCC coach Greg Bisignani said. “They are a classic picture of a great team and they play hard. They kept battling back. I am really proud of our kids because this was a great win. We're happy to keep playing.”
So, with that WPIAL semifinal loss to OLSH fading fast in the rearview mirror, GCC looks back to form. Not only did the Centurions set the tone early, but they moved the ball effectively in prolonged offensive sets and made extra passes.
“Much better passes lead to better shots,” Bisignani said.
Some of the on-the-money gems: Jack Liberatore made a layup off a no-look pass from Neal McDermott in the first quarter. Hertzog dropped an athletic tip-in and two alley-oop layups, one from Liberatore, and nearly threw down a pair of dunks, the first from a nifty Asa Klimchock feed.
GCC's senior starters have height.
Hertzog was “Big Ben” at 6-foot-3, McDermott 6-2, Liberatore 6-2, and Dom Eisaman 6-4.
Coudersport's tallest player was 6-1.
“They outrebounded us and were physical,” Coudersport coach Brian Furman said. “There were three or four flows where they got up 10 and we'd cut it to four, but we couldn't get over the hump.”
McDermott added 16 points and had 12 rebounds for GCC.
“We made sure to get out and run our sets from the beginning,” said Hertzog, who led GCC with a then-career-best 24 points in the state first round. “That gave us a boost. We knew from film that (Coudersport) didn't switch on screens. Our zone offense is very good.”
GCC had an NBA-like first quarter.
Hertzog was locked-in offensively in the opening eight minutes, hitting 6 of 7 shots for 13 points to stake GCC to a 27-15 lead.
But Coudersport quickly turned it around, scoring the first seven points of the third and using a 17-6 run to cut it to 33-32.
Klimchock hit a 3-pointer to key a 9-1 run to close the first half for GCC, and the Centurions led 42-33 at the half.
Zach Layag and Jared Green each scored 17 for Coudersport, which cut it to three in the third (46-43) on a hard drive by Layag.
But an alley-oop by Hertzog and a steal and score by McDermott gave GCC a 57-48 lead. Derek Keglovits helped the Falcons creep within 60-55, but McDermott's extra pass to Eisaman led to a layup and GCC stretched it back to 11 (66-55).
“That's the best team we have played all season,” Furman said. “We knew we'd have to play our absolute best to beat them.”
Keglovits finished with 12 points.
Owen Chambers, who was limited to eight points with Liberatore on him, converted a three-point play for the Falcons with two minutes to go in the fourth to make it 70-63. Hertzog made two free throws for the final points, and GCC passed around to kill the clock with little resistance.
“I think we ran our offense all the way through (on sets) for the first time all year,” Hertzog said.