Cougars knock off section champ
Technically, Friday's game between Charleroi and California was meaningless. Many figured the Trojans and Cougars would decide the section championship when this game rolled around, but the Trojans locked up the Section 5 AA title earlier this week.
It didn't matter, as both teams were ready for battle. Even the crowds came to play, with the Trojans' faithful matching all the quips of the Charleroi student section with their own “section champs” chant.
But the Cougars were out to prove they could hang with the champions. They overcame some adversity and took advantage of the Trojans' lackluster and uncharacteristic play and knocked off the section champions, 71-66, in their season finale.
“This game definitely meant something to us,” Charleroi coach Bill Wiltz said. “We wanted to show that our two section losses weren't indicative of our team. That wasn't us and we wanted to prove it.”
The Cougars (14-6, 12-2) were able to overcome three rolled ankles and foul trouble to pull out the win, which sent the student section storming onto the floor to celebrate.
“Jimmy (Diaz) rolled his ankle and we weren't sure we were going to get him back at all,” Wiltz said. “(Matt) Indorante rolls an ankle ... it was a total team effort and that's what we needed.”
With the game tied at 31-31 at halftime, it was big Brandon Bowman who was the difference maker for the Cougars, which dominated the Trojans on the board.
The junior forward led the Cougars with a team-high 15 points.
“We're used to getting outrebounded, but tonight was bad,” Trojans coach Phil Pergola said.
While they were getting beaten on the boards, the Trojans were beating themselves just as bad on the free throw line, shooting only 8 of 23 (34 percent).
“Free throws killed us,” Pergola said. “Tanner really struggled; he shoots nearly 80 percent. He was 1 of 7. As a team we're right around 75 percent.”
Behind a quick start by junior guard Demetri Clements, the Trojans raced out to a 16-10 lead after the first quarter. Clements scored eight of his 16 points in the frame.
Leading scorer Tanner Huffman, held scoreless in the first, scored the first basket of the second quarter for the Trojans as they opened an eight point lead.
On the next possession, Diaz went down for the Cougars.
Huffman took a nifty feed from Clements to make the score 27-19 in favor of California, but the Cougars rallied. Eric Johnson scored four straight points, which were matched by Clements. But back-to-back 3-pointers from Dakota Moorer and Indorante tied the game at 31-31 at halftime.
Johnson scored 14 points for the Cougars.
The game remained close throughout the third quarter. Huffman nailed a 3-pointer to give the Trojans a one-point lead with 25 seconds remaining, but an offensive rebound and putback by Bowman gave the Cougars a 49-48 lead heading into the fourth.
After the teams exchanged baskets and free throws, Moorer nailed a trey from the wing to put the Cougars up by five, 60-55, with just over five minutes to go.
Huffman, who led the Trojans with a game-high 19 points, nailed two 3-pointers on consecutive offensive possessions to pull the Trojans within two, 66-64, and Trojans' reserve guard Jake Columbus made a driving layup to tie it at 66 with 1:55 left.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, that was their last basket, which allowed the Cougars to close on a 5-0 run and seal the win.
But the Trojans had their chances.
Brian Fisher, who scored 14 points, missed two shots from under the basket and Huffman turned it over to the Cougars with an errant pass in the lane in the late going.
“We would have liked to had the undefeated section record,” Pergola said. “I told the kids that they know what we need to work on now ... definitely working on our free throws.
“They made just as many mistakes as we did, they just came out and were ready from the start.”
The Trojans (18-3, 13-1) will host Neighborhood Academy in an exhibition game Monday, while the Cougars will take some much needed time off.
“Man, we really need to heal,” Wiltz said. “We'll give them the weekend off and come in for a light workout on Monday. We'll see where we're seeded Tuesday and come back to prepare on Wednesday.”
Wiltz thinks his team made a case for a better seed Friday.
“We knew it was going to be a three-team race for the section,” he added. “California, you have to take your hat off to them. I think we made a good case and showed what we're capable of. We're a good team and I think this is one of the biggest wins we've had here in a long time.”
GAME NOTES: All nine Cougars players who saw action scored ... Cougars' senior Sheldon Lynnaman returned to the starting lineup after suffering a health scare two weeks ago ... Diaz and Indorante each scored nine points for Charleroi ... Evan Patterson (8) and Austin Wingo (7) combined for 15 points for the Trojans.
Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-684-2667.