BERLINPa. – The Conemaugh Township High School boys’ basketball team showed depth and resilience Wednesday night in the WestPAC Semi-Final.
With a trip to Pitt-Johnstown for Friday’s conference title game on the line, the Indians had to play long stretches without senior leader and 1,000-point scorer Jackson Byer, who faced issues. fault much of the night against the winner of the southern section, Berlin Brothersvalley.
But the Indians, runners-up from the North, produced four double-digit scorers in front of a raucous, standing crowd on the Mountaineers’ field.
Junior Tanner Shirley had 23 points, with five 3-pointers, and second Jon Updyke had 17 points, 11 rebounds and a blocked shot in Conemaugh Township’s 68-57 win.
“When your guy is sitting on the bench, you hope other guys pick him up,” Conemaugh Township coach Chuck Lesko said of Byer, who finished with four fouls and two points, but provided key minutes late in the game. “It was more than one or two. A bunch of them did. Thank God.
“It’s a hostile environment. Coach (Tanner) Prosser and his team, I can’t say enough. I think of the world of what they do with their teams year after year. It’s a victory of quality for us at the right time.
Juniors Ethan Black and Anthony Gregory each had 10 points for Conemaugh Township, which will go 19-2 in its third game of the season against North Section winners Portage.
The Mustangs (22-1) beat South runner-up Shanksville-Stonycreek (9-13) in Wednesday’s Other Boys semifinal.
The teams split the regular-season series, as Portage won 65-61 at Conemaugh Township on January 29, and the Indians beat the host Mustangs 64-60 on February 8.
The WestPAC Men’s Championship Game will take place at the Sports Center at approximately 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“Give Conemaugh Township a lot of credit,” said Berlin coach Tanner Prosser. “They played with a lot of discipline, took advantage of some of our mistakes and hit big shots when they needed it.”
Sophomore Craig Jarvis led the Mountaineers (15-7) with 22 points, including six 3-pointers. Sophomore Pace Prosser and junior Ryan Blubaugh each had 12 points.
Conemaugh Township got off to a good start to build a 14-8 lead in the first quarter. The Indians extended the lead to 29-19 at halftime.
“Just lock down the defense,” Shirley said. “We have protected the perimeter well. We forced a few bad shots on them, went out in transition and scored.
“Thanks to their shooters. They make it really difficult.
The Indians took a 13-point, 46-33 lead on a Black field goal in the third quarter.
But the Mountaineers surged as junior Blubaugh scored 11 points in the third. His basket with 6.5 on the clock shot Berlin to 48-42 in the last quarter.
In the fourth, the Mountaineers brought the home crowd into the game by shooting 49-47 on a 3-pointer Jarvis at 6:53.
“I can’t say enough about how they hung on there,” Lesko said of his team. “Their resilience paid off tonight.”
The Indians outscored the Mountaineers 17-10 the rest of the way.
“It was just our coach calming us down,” Shirley said of Lesko. “He’s a great leader for us. We had young children who came forward like Jon Updyke. He calms us down.
Updyke had six points, three rebounds and a block in the fourth quarter. He went 3 for 4 from the free throw line down the stretch.
“We missed a great opportunity tonight, having the opportunity to play this game at home,” coach Prosser said. “We didn’t go out and play the way we would have liked. But I think in a week from Friday we will probably play a District 5 semi-final here and have the same opportunity. Earn this and you can go play in the UPJ to play for a district championship.
“Hopefully we treat this as a second chance and take advantage of the great break we have here, improve and be ready for it.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports journalist and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.
Mike Mastovich is a sports journalist and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.