LV's Marinchak looks to take ball to basket

Ligonier Valley’s Michael Marinchak looks to take the ball to the basket against Luke Lamb of Cambria Heights during last Friday’s District 6 Class AAA quarterfinal-round playoff game. School.

Check this out — 6-foot-2, 220 pounds; 6-2, 210; 6-2, 210; 6-3, 185; 6-2, 180 and 6-0, 170.

No, that’s not Penns Valley’s offensive line.

That’s its top six players in basketball.

“Yeah, they certainly look more like a football team than we do,” Ligonier Valley head coach John Berger quipped.

So, like Ligonier Valley’s first playoff game, today’s (7:30 p.m.) District 6 Class AAA semifinal-round matchup against Penns Valley at Hollidaysburg Area High School could come down to which team is able to do what it does best.

“It’s like watching the movie ‘Hoosiers.’ They just work the ball around until they get a good shot,” Berger said of the “other” Rams.

“We can’t let them do that. We’ve got to try and pick up the tempo and get out and run.”

Ligonier Valley ran into that same thing in last week’s quarterfinal playoff game against Cambria Heights. The Highlanders were able to play their game — in a word, deliberate — more than what LV did in trying to speed it up.

But the No. 1-seeded Rams (22-2) found a way to win that kind of game in spite of scoring 16 points less than what they were averaging going in. They prevailed over No. 8 seed Cambria Heights, 59-50, at home last Friday.

“That’s kind of what happened our first playoff game,” Berger conceded, referring to the Highlanders slow-down tactics. “We have to do everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

“I should’ve had us pressure the ball more. I’ll take the blame for that.

“We’re not going to make that mistake this time. We’re going to come out and pressure them right from the start.”

If Berger and the Rams thought Cambria Heights was a half-court team, wait until they get a load — in every sense of the word — of Penns Valley (15-8). The No. 5 seed averages even less a game than Cambria Heights and scored only 50 in its three-point victory over No. 4 West Shamokin in the quarterfinals.

Without a doubt, Penns Valley will have the size advantage — in more ways than one — on Ligonier Valley. And the biggest of those players, senior forward Logan Snyder, the one who stands 6-2 and 220, is also the team’s leading scorer and has more than 1,000 career points

The others are senior Aaron Tobias (6-2, 210), sophomore forward Zach Braucht (6-3, 185), and juniors John Aston (6-2, 210) and guard Caleb Narber (6-0, 170). And first off the bench for Penns Valley, which finished in fifth place in the eight-team Mountain Conference, is junior Aidan Brinker (6-2, 180).

“They’re definitely not as quick as we are,” Berger noted. “If we can play our game, I’m not really worried about their size. But we have to get to our game.”

That’s getting out and going with the ball. There’s the defensive part of it, too.

And LV, which has now won 19 games in a row, very much has the personnel to play that way. Led by the 1-2 combination of Michael and Matthew Marinchak, the Rams are a guard-oriented team.

A 6-foot senior, Michael Marinchak averages 17.5 points and now has 420 this season for 1,664 for his career, which is second all-time in school history, trailing only Marrek Paola (1,912). Matthew Marinchak, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, is next at 14.3 points (345 this season).

What also helps the Rams is that they also play three guards — at least — at all times. The other one is 6-foot-2 senior Jaxon Ludwig (6.7 points).

And don’t be surprised if Berger puts out four guards at the same time with Ligonier Valley wanting it fast-paced. That fourth one would be 5-10 sophomore Jaicob Hollick, who has emerged as the season has gone on and had a huge hand in the Rams’ win over Cambria Heights with 11 points.

In addition, Hollick could be called on even more against Penns Valley. Two days ago, Ludwig tested positive for the flu.

“He’s going to do everything the doctor said. Hopefully he’ll be able to go,” Berger said of Ludwig.

“They’re both pretty good defensive players. I’d like to get them both on the court at the same time with our pressure. but we’ll have to wait and see.”

That means someone else would have to sit, and — with Penns Valley’s size — LV is going to need its two forwards inside. They are 6-foot-3 junior Isaac Neidbalson (9.6 points, 11 rebounds), in particular, and 6-foot-3 senior Cooper Mills (3.3 points).

“Other guys are going to have to help them out by getting to the boards,” Berger remarked. “We can’t rely on just them.”

That’s especially significant since the Rams, unlike the regular season, don’t have Kyle Silk. A 6-foot-2 senior, Silk was averaging 16.5 points and eight rebounds, along with five assists and three steals, but was ruled ineligible for the district playoffs — and beyond — by the PIAA because of state rules that require a player to sit out the postseason for one year if they transfer after 10th grade.

Regardless of the outcome of today’s semifinal, Ligonier Valley has at least two more games left with four teams in District 6-AAA qualifying for the PIAA playoffs. The district championship and consolation games are scheduled for Friday with the state playoffs getting underway March 7.

“It’s nice to get there,” Berger said of the state playoffs, “but you have to try and go as far as you can in the district playoffs. There are a lot of good teams out there, so you want to try and win the district if you can.”

A win over Penns Valley puts the Rams into the district title game Friday (7:30 p.m.) at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson. The other semifinal pits No. 2 seed Westmont-Hilltop (19-4) vs. No. 3 Richland (15-7).

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