CLARION, Pa. — Early in the second half of Tuesday night\’s PIAA Western Region Class A final in Clarion University\’s Tippin Gym, it appeared the end of the season for the DuBois Central Catholic High School boys basketball team was only minutes away.
Instead, the Cardinals staged an unbelievable comeback in the third quarter and then survived a hectic duel with District 10 kingpin Kennedy Catholic in the final period to pull out a 51-50 win on reserve forward Andrew Welch\’s leaner with 2.2 seconds left.
So, the team that defeated 2006 state champion Elk County Catholic twice during the regular season to secure the top seed for the District 9 Tournament, only to stumble and finish fourth, will have one more game, the school\’s first appearance in a state championship game.
Coach Mike Nesbit\’s Cardinals (27-3) will meet District 3 champion Reading Central Catholic (28-4) Friday at 2 p.m. in the Penn State\’s Bryce Jordan Center for the PIAA Class A crown.
Reading CC, also the Cardinals, defeated Scotland School 67-36 in the Eastern Region final Tuesday night. When the teams met in the D-3 title game three weeks ago, Reading CC prevailed 49-43. The rematch was pretty much settled in the first quarter as the Cardinals hit five three-pointers to build a 23-8 cushion. Colin Naugle, a 6-6, 225-pounder, and Matt Ashcroft scored 15 points apiece and Nick Rossignoli added 14.
DuBois Central Catholic\’s win was one which will be talked about by players, coaches and fans for years to come.
Down 35-17 after Kenney Catholic opened the second half with a 12-0 run, the Cardinals came to life when Nesbit asked his players to turn on the pressure defensively.
Incredibly, the Allegheny Mountain League champions scored the next 19 points, wiping out their deficit in just 3:46 for a 36-35 lead with 1:21 left in the third period. Seven turnovers led to 13 of those points. Dom Varacallo scored the last eight in the run after Cody Wilson had netted seven and Christian Spilman four.
Youngstown State recruit Blair Rozenblad, a 6-3 senior who starred with 24 points and 14 rebounds, reclaimed the lead for Kennedy Catholic with a putback, setting the stage for a see-saw fourth quarter, in which the score was tied twice and the lead changed hands seven times. The Golden Eagles led by three on two occasions, the second at 50:47 with 1:04 remaining.
Varacallo found Welch on a backdoor cut that produced a layup to make it 50:49 with 44 seconds left. The Cardinals were forced to foul, and Marsell Holden missed both free throws with 27 seconds to go. Chris Wulderk pulled down the crucial rebound to give DuBois CC the possession it needed.
The Cardinals were unable to execute the backdoor play to Welch that Nesbit called during a timeout with 16.7 seconds remaining, but Varacallo somehow escaped the Golden Eagle defensive pressure to find Welch inside for the winning basket.
Varacallo topped the Cardinals with 17 points, while Wilson had 10 and Spilman nine to go with five assists. They won without a point from Wulderk, the 6-3 transfer from Moshannon Valley who had averaged 19 points in their first three playoff wins over WPIAL teams.
Kennedy Catholic, which lost 6-4 senior forward with a knee injury 59 seconds into the game, outrebounded DuBois CC 30-15.