Central Valley's plan slowed in PIAA semifinals


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ALTOONA, Pa. -- Though screams from the crowd were directed his way -- ones accusing his team of mutilating the game of basketball -- things were going exactly the way Central Valley coach Brandon Ambrose hoped.

The Warriors were controlling the pace, making it as deliberate as possible to counteract what their coach saw as a Susquehanna Township team with superior talent and athleticism.

Even after the game, Ambrose believed the plan worked, except in one area -- the final result.

Despite his team being unnaturally slowed down for much of the game, Nehemiah Mack had 14 points and keyed a decisive third-quarter run to lead Susquehanna Township past Central Valley, 42-31, in the PIAA Class AAA semifinals Tuesday night at Altoona High School.

"Watching them on film, we sort of felt it would be a tough matchup for us to play a regular game, so we wanted it to be as low scoring as possible," Ambrose said. "We had them where we wanted them in the first half, but that early run in the second half was just the difference."

The 31 points were the fewest in a game in Central Valley's four-year history, falling below the 32 the Warriors (25-4) scored in a January 2013 loss against Ambridge.

The game plan was one the Indians (22-7) were not expecting, though they were ultimately able to break it, scoring 20 points in the game's final eight minutes.

"I saw that before, several years ago in a district semifinal game, and that really hurt us," Susquehanna Township coach Vince Rogers said. "It's unfortunate that the state of Pennsylvania doesn't have a shot clock like New York and New Jersey because then I think you'll see a true form of basketball. But they definitely took the air out of the basketball and there was nothing we could do about it."

The pace reflected in the final score was seen in the game's opening minutes. Central Valley took nearly two minutes on its first possession, one that ended with a traveling call, and it did not score its first points until Jacob St. George made a 3-pointer 4:54 into the first quarter.

Despite making only three shots in the first half, the Warriors went into halftime down just one, 11-10. Once the second half began, the Indians offense awakened while Central Valley remained stagnant.

Buoyed by four points from Mack, Susquehanna Township began the half on a 9-0 run, giving it an advantage that wouldn't budge for the remainder of the game. The Warriors missed 12 of their first 13 shots in the third quarter and, by the time it was over, they were staring at an eight-point deficit.

"I told our kids to be patient on defense and everything else would come," Rogers said. "We came out at halftime, the shots started falling for us and everything opened up. Everything just fell in place after that."

St. George had a game-high 18 points for Central Valley, which lost to a Class AAA opponent for the first time this season.

"I thought one of those guys would find a matchup that worked for them and we found it with Jake, and the kid went through as much as he could," Ambrose said. "He scored 18 of our 31. You've got to find other ways to score and we just didn't do that tonight."

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.

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