Ligonier Valley boys finish just shy of berth in PIAA District 6 playoffs

| Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Bad news came early for the Ligonier Valley boys basketball team when double-double threat and 6-foot-7 University of Connecticut football recruit Alec Bloom suffered a knee injury that not only ended his football season, but basketball, as well.

With Bloom pushed to the sideline, where he cheered his teammates on and got them fired up before games, a young team fought its way through the District 6 Heritage Conference to finish with an overall record of 9-13, including 8-8 in the conference.

That record put them in fourth place in the conference and out of the playoffs.

The silver lining of losing a star player was that touches and space on the court was cleared for young guns like Jordan Jones and Collin Smith.

Jones, a 6-5 junior low-post threat, averaged 15 points to lead the team.

“He was a workhorse inside,” Ligonier Valley's first-year coach Todd Hepner said. “Every time he got the ball he was double teamed.”

Smith, a freshman point guard, was right behind Jones with an average of 14 points. He showed flashes of high-scoring potential, like the season-high 30 he put up against Saltsburg on Feb. 11.

“He's pretty electric,” Hepner said. “He's super quick and can do a lot of good things.”

Smith said he will spend the offseason working on his shot, especially his 3-pointer, and ball-handling. While playing as a freshman was intimidating at times and the speed of the high school game was a bit shocking, Smith said the experience will only help in the long run.

“I have a year under my belt,” he said. “I feel like I'll be more confident in my playing.”

With the new coach and young players, it took the Rams some time to get going this season, but they won three of their last five.

Included in that run were wins over Saltsburg and Purchase Line, two teams that beat the Rams earlier in the season. Hepner said his squad played its best basketball during that stretch, and his players agree.

“We came a long way this season from where we started off to where we finished,” Jones said. “We learned a lot and we progressed a lot.”

In addition to Jones and Smith, the Rams have plenty more returning next season. Of the 23 players on the roster, only three were seniors. Those returning will benefit from a full offseason with Hepner, including summer leagues, camps and workouts.

“Next year, I'm hoping we have a great season,” Jones said. “I know everyone's going to work hard and be ready to go.”

Ed Phillipps is a freelance writer.

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