Playoff Preview: Curwensville Begins 9-A Playoff Trail Against Cameron County

CURWENSVILLE — Having locked up the school\’s first winning season since 2001 with four wins down the stretch, the Curwensville Golden Tide cagers begin their first trip to the District 9 Playoffs in four years with a Class A opening round test against Cameron County at Emporium Wednesday.

Coach Matt Wassil\’s team, seeded 11th in the 12-team field, will take a 14-9 record into the 7 p.m. game. The host Red Raiders, seeded No. 6, check in with a 17-7 log.

Awaiting the winner is Northern Tier League champion and No. 3 seed Coudersport (22-1), which carries a 19-game winning streak into Friday\’s 7 p.m. quarterfinal at home.

First, Curwensville must contend with a young, but improving Cameron County team that is 12-4 since the holidays, the losses 61-42 and 61-33 to Coudersport, 77-74 in double overtime to Class AA top seed Smethport 77-74 last Thursday and 73-59 to Johnsonburg Friday. The Red Raiders, who tied Smethport for second place in the Northern Tier League at 11-3, reeled off seven consecutive wins between the defeats by Coudy in January.

Jordan Crane, a 6-2 junior guard, leads first-year coach John Barnhart\’s Red Raiders in scoring with 464 points to rank No. 6 in District 9 with a 19.3 average. He poured in at least 25 points in each of the last three games.

Daniel Sullivan, a 6-1 sophomore guard, has 337 points and a 14.0 average that is tied for 18th in the district, while 5-11 junior guard Charles Holjencin has 226 (9.4), 6-0 sophomore guard Jarek Holjencin has 121 (5.2) and 6-3 sophomore forward Mike Malizia has 106 (4.8). Jason Sestina, a 6-5 forward, is the Red Raiders\’ lone senior; he has tallied 44 points in 14 games.

Cameron County, which is averaging 60 points a game, is 3-4 against 9-A entries, sporting two wins over No. 12 Northern Potter and one over No. 9 Allegheny-Clarion Valley and pairs of losses to Coudersport and No. 8 Johnsonburg.

Because eight of the 9-A hopefuls are from the NTL or the Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference, Curwensville has played only three of the teams in the field and is 0-4, bowing 59-41 and 66-56 to top seed DuBois Central Catholic, 63-43 to No. 2 seed Elk County Catholic and 52-47 to Johnsonburg.

The Golden Tide, which finished behind Allegheny Mountain League champion DuBois Central in the South Division with a 6-4 record, and the Red Raiders have three common opponents in addition to Johnsonburg.

Curwensville swept Ridgway 52-46 away and 43-41 at home and Brockway 42-16 away and 76-43 at home and split with Kane, winning 63-56 at home and losing 67-58 on the road. Cameron County beat Ridgway 50-43 at home and 54-30 away and Brockway 46-30 away and lost to Kane 64-56 in the Sheffield Holiday Tournament.

The Golden Tide, averaging 59.4 points a game, has more of a balanced offense than the Red Raiders, with six players over 100 points and the four seniors averaging eight points or more.

Philip Michaels is high with 340 points and a 14.8 average, No. 15 in the district. Craig Bartlett has netted 244 (10.6), followed by Shawn Sopic with 191 (8.3), Brandon McDonald with 183 (8.0) and reserves Joey Palmer with 151 (6.6) and David Kalgren with 105 (2.5).

Sophomore guard Ben McGary (66 points) is the other starter. Palmer is a junior and Kalgren a sophomore.

Curwensville is 1-1 in each of its last two playoff appearances, 2001 when the school\’s last winning team finished 14-12 and 2003 when the Golden Tide entered with a losing record and wound up 11-15 after upsetting North Clarion 55-53 and falling to No. 2 seed DuBois Central Catholic 63-45.

Curwensville\’s only District 9 championship was won by the 1996-1997 team in Class AA. The Golden Tide lost in the Class AA finals three times in the 1990s.

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