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Greensburg C.C. boys down Penn Cambria in PIAA first round

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Greensburg Central Catholic's Christian Highland scores off of a steal as Penn Cambria's Nathan Keagy trails Saturday, March, 9, 2013, at Altoona High Fieldhouse. (Jason Sipes)
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Saturday, March 9, 2013, 8:00 p.m.

ALTOONA — Greensburg Central Catholic was reliving the past and feeling uncomfortable.

Fortunately for the Centurions, the latest scenario Saturday took a different turn.

Zach Herman and Brian Graytok scored 21 points apiece, and GCC avoided a replay of their four-point, overtime loss to Burrell two weeks ago in the WPIAL boys basketball playoffs by beating Penn Cambria, 66-56, in a PIAA Class AA first-round playoff game at Altoona High School.

The Centurions, the sixth-place team from the WPIAL despite a No. 4 ranking in the Patriot-News of Harrisburg state poll, will meet Lakeview (District 10) in the second round.

GCC (23-2) wasted a 16-point halftime lead against District 6 champion Penn Cambria (20-5) before recovering in the fourth quarter, something the Centurions couldn't do after losing a nine-point lead late in regulation against Burrell on Feb. 23.

“The guys lost their composure a little there in the second half,” GCC coach Greg Bisignani said of his team's latest effort. “We kept reliving the Burrell game, but we didn't want that to happen again.”

Penn Cambria trailed GCC by as many as 18 points in the first half but fought back to take a 51-50 lead with 6 minutes left in the fourth quarter on a 3-point shot by A.J. Leahy, a Pitt-Johnstown recruit who scored 22 points to lead the Panthers.

Herman's jumper then put GCC back in front for good and igniting an 8-0 run by the Centurions, who relied on free-throw shooting down the stretch.

GCC was 12 for 18 from the line in the fourth and 23 for 37 overall compared to just 3 for 6 overall for Penn Cambria.

“You never want to spot a team 16 points,” Penn Cambria coach Jim Ronan said. “Especially a team with the strength and speed of Greensburg Central. But we had 'em, 51-50, even after spotting them that big lead in the first half. We had momentum, and if we could've just kept it up for just one more minute, we might have gotten them.”

Penn Cambria twice tied the score early in the fourth quarter after closing within 46-42 at the end of the third. A layup by Devin Lawhead, who added 14 points for the Panthers, knotted it at 48-48. But after being fouled on the play, Lawhead missed the free throw and a chance at a three-point play that would have given Penn Cambria its first lead.

Ty Swan's two free throws gave GCC a 50-48 advantage before Leahy's 3-pointer put Penn Cambria ahead. Swan capped GCC's 8-0 run with a pair of free throws and a layup off an ally-oop pass to push the Centurions in front, 58-51.

“There was definitely some panic in the huddle during a timeout,” Herman said. “We just told each other to stay calm. We've been here before.”

That, though, seemed to be the problem facing the Centurions. That Burrell game was still a fresh thought.

“It definitely felt like the same situation,” Herman said.

After GCC's fast-breaking guard trio of Herman, Graytok and Christian Hyland shredded the Penn Cambria defense, the Panthers started the second half with a full-court press that stymied the Centurions.

Herman and Graytok, who combined for 31 first-half points to help GCC to a 37-21 halftime advantage, did not score in the third quarter when GCC made just two field goals — both from 3-point range.

“We got away from our fast break,” Bisignani said, “partly because Leahey was making shots and they were able to get into that press.”

Herman wasn't surprised that the 6-foot-7 Leahey heated up for 14 second-half points and finished with four 3-point shots. The two played on the same Johnstown-based AAU team in a tournament in Myrtle Beach, S.C., during the past summer.

“He's a great player,” Herman said. “I got to see that when we played together. I'm glad I don't have to play against him anymore. They have five seniors. They're a good team.”

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