By: Jerin Steele
Wednesday, March 13, 2019 | 10:29 PM
For a half, Pine-Richland controlled the pace with a slow down offense and shot well enough from beyond the arc to go into halftime down only five to Class 6A’s No. 1 team, Kennedy Catholic.
But eventually the size advantage and overall strength of the Eagles, led by 6-foot-9 West Virginia recruit Oscar Tshiebwe, proved too much to overcome.
Tshiebwe had 14 of his game-high 24 points in the second half, and Kennedy Catholic pulled away for an 82-63 victory over the Rams Wednesday night at Slippery Rock’s Morrow Field House.
“We battled,” Rams coach Jeff Ackermann said. “Our guys didn’t give up or back down, and they gave it everything they had.”
Playing at a size disadvantage at every position, Pine-Richland slowed the game down for the majority of the first half and relied on 3-point shooting, but once the Eagles established a double-digit lead midway through the third quarter, their length took over.
Pine-Richland (22-4) was within 42-35 with five minutes remaining in the third quarter, but Tshiebwe and Duquesne recruit Maceo Austin fueled a 10-4 run for Kennedy Catholic (23-3) to close out the quarter, and the Rams never got within 10 points again.
Austin had 20 points for the Eagles, and Toledo recruit Mattia Acuzno had 16 points.
Kennedy Catholic started four players 6-5 or taller, and Acuzno, who came off the bench, is 6-8.
There was a sequence in the fourth quarter where Kennedy Catholic missed four shots right around the rim and rebounded all of them before Tshiebwe got the ball and dunked it. It was a microcosm of the advantage the Eagles had on the boards all game. Tshiebwe finished with four dunks and Austin had one.
“We had a mismatch there, but it’s not just Oscar; we had a mismatch on all the sizes, so when teams try to play gimmick defenses, we go over stuff like that and we have guys that can shoot the ball,” Kennedy Catholic coach Rick Mancino said. “If we’re cold the other team can hold the ball and play that tight zone, but once we make some shots and get a lead on you, you have to come out of it.
“They were working so hard for every basket, and when you’re playing a team that had to work, work and work for every basket, that slowing down stuff makes it a little bit harder.”
Pine-Richland made six 3-pointers in the first half, including a pair from Dan Petcash, who led the Rams with 15 points. The game was tied 28-28 with a minute remaining in the first half, but Ike Herster canned a 3-pointer to give the Eagles the lead, and Acuzno made a layup in the final seconds to make it 33-28 going into the break.
Pine-Richland connected on 13 3-pointers for the game, but Ackermann said the Rams needed even more if they were going to upset the state’s top-ranked team.
“If you’re going to beat a team like that you have to shoot really well, and we just didn’t shoot as well as we would of liked to,” Ackermann said. “We were 40 percent on our 3-pointers, and we needed to be about 55 percent.”
Pine-Richland sharpshooter Logan Murray and Greg Shulkosky scored 14 points apiece, and Pat Shanahan scored 10.
The loss brings the end to the careers of Petcash, Shulkosky and Colin Luellen. They were a part of two WPIAL championship teams in their four years and played in the state title game last year.
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to play for a WPIAL championship this year and that we fell short here, but we won 21 games in a row at one point, and here we are finishing at 22-4,” Ackermann said. “We didn’t quite achieve everything that we wanted to, but it was still a pretty remarkable season.”
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer