EBENSBURG – Marrek Paola isn’t your average high school basketball player, as it has already been documented so many times. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth talking about.
Paola didn’t have to have a dominating night Tuesday for Ligonier Valley to carry away a 65-45 win over Bellwood-Antis at Central Cambria High School, but it’s hard to ignore a player that scores 30 points and pulls in 19 rebounds in the District 6 Class AAA semifinal game.
“He can do it underneath, he can shoot from outside,” Ligonier Valley coach John Berger said. “He’s got very soft hands, the way he can tip it back and forth to himself to get those rebounds. He played big. That’s what he does every night.”
Leading wire to wire, Ligonier Valley scored the first seven points of the game before forcing Bellwood-Antis to call a timeout. The Rams started the contest on a 9-0 run and led 22-7 after the first quarter, with Paola outscoring the Blue Devils by himself with 13 points.
“We put it on them pretty quick, and then we relaxed too much for a little bit and I had to keep on them,” Berger said. “They tend to lose focus.”
It could be hard not to lose focus when Paola dominated all facets of the game, commanding the paint at both ends of the floor. But the Seton Hill commit also stepped out into the perimeter and hit a pair of 3-pointers in the first half, finishing with 19 points in the first two periods, which still outscored Bellwood-Antis.
“The last two years it’s been one of my focuses to work on my outside shooting,” said Paola. “First two years I was mainly just inside, so I’m glad I was able to work on my game inside and out.”
It’s not like Paola was a man amongst boys on the floor Tuesday evening either. Bellwood-Antis’ Nathan Wolfe, who is also listed at 6-foot-5, drew the assignment. Wolfe finished tied with a team-high 12 points for the Blue Devils, but fouled out with 2:26 remaining. From there, Wolfe’s replacement was no match for Paola, who finished the night with seven points in the fourth quarter for good measure.
“He’s one of the taller opponents (I’ve faced) and they’re always going to be a little tougher when they’re taller,” said Paola. “But I think we handled him well tonight well and I’m glad we got the win.”
Ligonier Valley is more than just a do-it-all big man in Paola. The Rams have players that are capable to score throughout the lineup. Six of the seven main players in the rotation Tuesday found themselves on the scoresheet, and the team isn’t afraid to share the wealth.
“I would like to run some more plays, but we’re 20-2 so I guess we’re doing something right,” Berger said.
For Paola, he isn’t worried too much about changing anything for the championship game Friday against Richland.
“Our chemistry on the team is amazing; we always know where each other are going to be and when you move the ball like we do, I don’t think anyone can beat us, so we’re going to stick with that mindset and see where it takes us,” Paola said. “We’re going to get a strong practice in and see what happens.”