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Strong 2nd half leads Pine-Richland boys past Carlisle in PIAA semifinals

| Tuesday, March 21, 2017, 11:21 p.m.

ALTOONA — Andrew Petcash and Phil Jurkovec ignite Pine-Richland. Evan Luellen and Andrew Kristofic don't hurt, either.

WPIAL champion Pine-Richland received double-figure scoring from those four, and withstood a belated rally to oust Carlisle, 65-60, in the PIAA Class 6A semifinals in front of a capacity crowd at Altoona Field House on Tuesday night.

The Rams play Reading, a 57-51 winner against Archbishop Ryan, in the state championship game at 8 p.m. Saturday at Giant Center in Hershey. Saturday will mark the second state championship coaching appearance for Jeff Ackermann, who previously coached Moon to the PIAA final.

“We're going to give it our all,” Jurkovec said. “But we know that Monte Walker is a special talent. He's a very good player. We'll be ready for them. Coach will give us a good game plan.”

Jurkovec scored 22 points, Petcash added 16 points, Luellen 15, and Kristofic tallied 11 for the Rams, who have not lost since Jan. 11, a 69-57 loss against Seneca Valley.

“(When) we get four guys in double figures, we're really tough to beat. There are not a lot of teams that can put four guys in double figures,” Ackermann said. “When we can do that, I like our chances because we defend well, we guard hard, we guard aggressively and physically, but not with fouling.”

The Rams led by as many as four at the outset, 14-10 at the 2:29 mark. Deshawn Millington, a 6-foot-1 blend of speed, quickness and physicality, scored 13 of the Thundering Herd's 17 points, however, as Carlisle assumed a one-point lead at the end of one quarter.

Millington led the Thundering Herd with 22 points.

“We knew he was their best player,” Ackermann said. “It seems as if every time he gets to the basket, he gets an ‘and-1.' I told our guys, ‘We are not fouling this kid.' I want him to make his shots. I want him to shoot difficult shots.”

“He's quick. He's a good player. He's hard to guard. He gave us some work,” Petcash said.

Carlisle's size gradually took its toll as 6-foot-6 Ethan Houston and 6-3 Nate Barnes dominated the inside. Pine-Richland, meanwhile, struggled to find the hoop against the Thundering Herd's big men.

“We came out a little flat. The shot wasn't there. But I knew they would start falling,” said Petcash, who recalled a similar start and finish in the WPIAL championship game March 4. “I think in the first half we were a little stagnant. We didn't exactly know what we were doing. We were kind of trying to force stuff.”

“In the first half I was overplaying some of (Houston's) post moves; so he got me on some nice post moves,” Jurkovec said.

The Rams stayed within five before it yielded 3-pointers by Millington and Houston over the last three minutes before halftime. Carlisle led 28-22 at the intermission.

“I think they got the best of us in the first half,” Jurkovec said. “We weren't playing how we usually play.”

Carlisle coach Andre Anderson agreed neither team played its best basketball in the first two quarters.

“I thought both teams lacked some energy in the first half, for sure,” Anderson said. “I thought we were content going back and forth.”

Pine-Richland managed to cope with its disadvantage in size and quickness, but continued to struggle from the field. The Rams, shooting mainly from the outside, managed to hit only 9 of 33 from the floor, including only 1 of 11 from 3-point range.

“We just needed to see a couple go in,” Ackermann said. “Once we saw a couple go in, we started to play with confidence.”

Ackermann wasted little time informing his team what it needed to do.

“I just cut to the chase and told it like it is. (I said) Phillip and Andrew are our best players, and they weren't playing very well,” he said. “And we're not going to beat too many teams when they're not playing very well. We need them to be at their best.”

The Rams started the third quarter strong as they used a 13-4 rally to capture a 35-32 lead at the midway point. Petcash scored Pine-Richland's first five points, and Jurkovec began to assert himself from the inside as he scored six points of his own.

“In the second half we just played our game; that's how we play,” Petcash said.

“Those two turned it on,” Anderson said. “Petcash turned it on in the third quarter; he's a good player. They handled the ball really well.”

Petcash hit two more 3-pointers, and Jurkovec tacked on four more points to stake Pine-Richland to a 45-39 lead entering the final eight minutes. Petcash also changed the way he played defense against Houston.

“In the second half I just tried to limit what he did on the post,” he said.

“Phil is such a competitor,” Ackermann said. “He hates to lose. He despises to lose. He's all about being aggressive and winning. He doesn't care what he does. He just wants to win.”

The Rams continued their second-half domination as they led by 16 on two occasions. Carlisle staged a furious rally in the last two minutes as they pared the difference to 61-55 entering the final minute. Gavin Barnes' 3-pointer with 17 seconds remaining drew the Thundering Herd within three at 63-60 and brought their rabid fans into a frenzy.

Kristofic countered with a basket that restored the five-point difference that stood up to the final horn.

Rick Weaver is a freelance writer.

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