Iellimo's big night lifts Leechburg
Coming off a disappointing outing against Trinity Christian on Tuesday night, Leechburg was looking to get some momentum going into the WPIAL playoffs.
The Blue Devils realized that goal with an exciting 64-59 victory against longtime rival St. Joseph before a full house at Lewis Hicks Gym.
Senior Jake Iellimo, playing in his last home game, led the way with 26 points and 15 rebounds to pace Leechburg.
“We started off the season strong,” Iellimo said. “Then we had one game postponed (Union) and we feel that might have slowed down our momentum a little bit. We had a little slump, but this one feels real good.”
John Arcuri, the Alle-Kiski Valley's leading scorer going into Friday's action, led the Spartans with 21 points.
Despite finishing in fifth place in Section 4-A, the Blue Devils (8-12, 3-7) will be going to the playoffs for the 25th time in school history. That's because Imani Christian, despite winning the section title, is on WPIAL probation and can't compete in the postseason.
St. Joseph (9-13. 4-6) is in the playoffs for the 11th consecutive season and the 26th time since joining the WPIAL in 1975.
St. Joseph pulled out to an early 16-9 advantage, thanks to a pair of 3-pointers by Nick Chepkevich and one by John Ferguson.
But Iellimo got hot, scoring 12 of Leechburg's first 18 points. A perfectly-placed bounce pass from Taylor Oberdorf to Randy Smail beat the second quarter buzzer to tie the score at 24 after halftime.
The Blue Devils built a seven-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. But St. Joseph came roaring back, taking a 45-44 lead on Chepkevich's third trey of the night with 7:13 to go.
Iellimo's basket with 1:34 to go gave Leechburg the lead for good.
The Blue Devils secured the victory with four free throws in the final minute of play.
“Our seniors really led us tonight,” Leechburg coach Damian Davies said. “Joe Strellec had five assists and Chris Swank had 10 rebounds and Jake had a herculean game. This is a keystone victory that creates a lot of momentum for us.”
St. Joseph coach Kelly Robinson was hoping a win could give his team a better playoff seeding.
“It's disappointing,” Robinson said. “We're out here trying to go to the playoffs with a win and try to get a better seed. A loss like this really hurts.”
Sam Beaver pulled down 12 rebounds for the Spartans.
Both teams will receive their playoff brackets Tuesday night at the Green Tree Doubletree Hotel.
George Guido is a freelance writer.