Ligonier Valley boys basketball coach Tim Gustin has seen this film before.
East Allegheny knocked down a couple three-pointers and raced out to a hot start — just like Kiski Area and Apollo-Ridge in the past, just like South Park one night earlier.
Then, Matthew Marinchak took over and flipped the script.
Marinchak powered the Rams to victory with a career-best night, as Ligonier Valley scored a 75-58 victory against visiting East Allegheny during a WPIAL Class 3A, Section 3 game played Wednesday.
“If Matthew Marinchak is going to play like that, we can play with anybody,” Gustin said. “We can ride him a long way if he’s going to play that well.”
Marinchak, a standout junior, poured in a career-high 36 points for the Rams. Marinchak connected on 14 total field goals, including a three-pointer, and a 7-of-8 effort from the free throw line for his personal best night.
“He’s been taking the same shots all year,” Gustin said. “They’re just going in at home right now. I don’t know if being in front of our fans and his family picks him up, but he’s been in the groove.”
Marinchak’s older brother Michael Marinchak tied the school’s single-game scoring record with 44 points during the 2018-19 season. Matthew Marinchak was just eight points off sharing the mark with his brother on Wednesday.
In the Rams’ previous home game, Matthew Marinchak nearly willed his team to victory with 25 points, as the junior standout helped Ligonier Valley hang with first-place, one-loss Shady Side Academy before SSA pulled away late for an eventual 10-point win.
“He had a fantastic game against Shady Side Academy and we were right there at the end,” Gustin said. “He’s bringing a lot to the table at home, and it’s fun to watch. He’s taking good shots and when they go in, it’s pretty nice to see.”
Ligonier Valley (3-4, 3-7) couldn’t get much to fall early in the game.
East Allegheny (1-9, 1-10) used a pair of three-pointers and a turnover, followed by a fast break to open an early 16-6 lead. The Wildcats knocked down a trio of treys in the first eight minutes and held a 22-11 lead through one quarter. The start was reminiscent of losses earlier this season against South Park, Apollo-Ridge and Kiski Area — the South Park loss came on Tuesday — in which the Rams allowed 29 combined three pointers.
“After the second (three-pointer) went in and we weren’t scoring at the other end, I was thinking, ‘What can we do here? Just stop giving up threes to everybody.’” Gustin said. “I don’t know how many threes they shot after the first quarter, but I feel like our defense really stepped up after that.”
Marinchak and the offense stepped up, too.
A conventional three-point play at the end of the first quarter helped, as Ligonier Valley carried momentum into the second quarter and drove to the basket offensively.
“We tried to spread the floor and give guys a chance to attack the hoop for some high quality shots,” Gustin said.
The Rams also shifted their defensive strategy in the second quarter.
“We extended our man-to-man a little bit to put more pressure on the ball,” Gustin said. “I don’t know how many threes they shot after the first quarter, but I feel like our defense really stepped up after that. We put a lot of pressure on them and made everything difficult.”
Ligonier Valley scored seven of the first nine points of the second quarter, turning the 11-point deficit to a six-point hole, 24-18. East Allegheny responded with a three-pointer — the Wildcats’ final triple of the game — but Ligonier Valley had an immediate answer.
East Allegheny led by nine points, 29-20, but the Rams ended the period with 16 of the final 20 points for a 36-33 lead at the break. The Rams went on a 10-2 run before another 6-0 spurt closed the half, as Ligonier Valley outscored East Allegheny, 25-11, in the second quarter.
“The start wasn’t what we wanted, but we bounced back,” Gustin said.
Ligonier Valley held a 51-48 advantage to begin the fourth quarter, as the teams played on even terms, 15-15, in the third.
Then, the Rams pulled away for good.
Ligonier Valley opened the fourth with nine of the first 13 points of the period to take a 60-52 lead. The Rams continued to pour it on, outscoring East Allegheny by a 24-10 margin in the fourth.
“We played a great three quarters,” Gustin said. “We played like we’re capable of for three quarters. We have to do something about the first quarter. We come out giving those teams 10-to-15-point leads and then we have to battle back. We can’t keep doing that.”
Indeed. But for one night, the Rams reveled in another victory.
Marinchak led the charge with his career-best 36 points, but Isaac Neidbalson followed with 16 points on six field goals, including a trey, and a perfect 3-of-3 effort from the free throw line. Jaicob Hollick was also in double figures with 10 points, while Wesley Smykal scored six points, as he and Neidbalson were recognized on senior night.
“I’m excited for Isaac and Wesley,” Gustin said. “I’m glad they got a chance to play this year and I’d like to thank the administration for making it possible for these guys to have their senior year.”
It’s not finished yet. The Rams are scheduled to host Apollo-Ridge, 7:15 p.m. today before traveling to South Allegheny, 7:30 p.m. Friday, in a pair of section games. The Rams are also scheduled for a home section game against Steel Valley next week and an exhibition at Greater Latrobe on Wednesday.
Gustin said the Rams are still refining their game with one week to go before their return trip to the WPIAL playoffs.
“Are we the team that showed up for three quarters (on Wednesday) and played Shady Side Academy close?” Gustin said. “Or are we the team that played Kiski and South Park and got our doors blown off? I’m not sure where we fall, if we’re somewhere in the middle of that, or what, but we have to find our identity in the last week before we get into the playoffs.”
EAST ALLEGHENY (58)
Smith 8-1-18; Pugliano 7-1-17; Locke 3-1-8; Lucky 6-0-12; Goggin 1-0-2; Ruteledge 0-1-1. Totals, 25-4(12)—58
LIGONIER VALLEY (75)
Neidbalson 6-3-16; Marinchak 14-7-36; Rhoades 1-0-2; Hollick 3-4-10; Higgins 2-1-5; Smykal 3-0-6. Totals, 29-15(18)—75
Score by Quarters
E. Allegheny 22 11 15 10 — 58 Lig. Valley 11 25 15 24 — 75
Three-point field goals: Marinchak, Neidbalson; Pugliano-2, Locke, Smith