Leechburg boys run away from St. Joseph
After experiencing some frustrating losses in Section 4-A play this season, the Leechburg boys basketball team put it all together Friday night before one of the largest crowds ever at St. Joseph's Walter Dlubak Center.
But the 57-42 victory wasn't enough to prolong the Blue Devils' season.
Trinity Christian's 45-40 victory over Winchester Thurston eliminated Leechburg from WPIAL playoff contention.
Leechburg (9-10, 3-7) came out on fire in third period, forcing seven St. Joseph turnovers and outscoring the Spartans, 25-5.
The Blue Devils' defense held the Spartans scoreless for a little more than eight minutes during one stretch of the second half, staging a 21-0 surge.
“We were more aggressive on defense,” Leechburg coach Damian Davies said. “We've been very focused in our efforts. We didn't want to be content just shooting 3s. We wanted to attack the hoop.”
Leechburg's seven section losses were by 12 points or fewer.
St. Joseph, in the WPIAL playoffs for the 12th straight season, slipped to 8-13, 4-6.
Despite the loss, St. Joseph still leads the all-time series between the local rivals 41-31.
With the Spartans ahead 21-19 at the half, Ryan McDermott hit a 3-pointer in the first minute of third-quarter play.
Bill Sadecky's 3-pointer gave St. Joseph a 26-25 lead. But Blue Devils junior Randy Smail answered with a 3, and Leechburg started to roll.
Things were going so well for the Blue Devils that Ritchie stole the ball, drove and missed a layup and went out of bounds.
While several players fought for possession, Ritchie came back in bounds, grabbed the ball and banked in a shot.
Leechburg didn't commit a third-quarter turnover until there were 19.5 seconds left in the period.
“We've been struggling over the last four games,” St. Joseph coach Kelly Robinson said. “It's just a uphill struggle when you have snow days, miss practices and have back-to-back games. I think the kids are pushing too hard, trying too hard, trying to get out of that hole.”
Robinson had to call two early timeouts in the third period to try to stem the tide.
“That's not good. I have to try and keep these kids loose,” the veteran Spartans coach said.
Ritchie led the Blue Devils with 18 points, 10 rebounds, six steals and five assists.
“At halftime, Coach Davies told us not to give up any easy shots and play defense like it was our last game,” Ritchie said. “We really needed this victory.'
Smail scored 12 for Leechburg, 10 in the third period.
“Randy's really been playing well taking it to the hole,” Davies said. “That third period, we really just played good basketball.”
Chris Gamble, playing his last game on the St. Joseph floor, scored 14 points, including four 3-pointers.
George Guido is a freelance writer.