CRESSON, Pa. – There are enough signature wins on the Penn Cambria boys basketball team’s resume over the past couple of years by now to fill the bottom of the Declaration of Independence.
That said, Saturday’s 61-53 victory over Yough in the PIAA playoffs might be the most defining.
The Panthers were down nine, standout senior forward Garrett Harrold had four fouls with six minutes left in their season against a District 7 foe with which they didn’t match up particularly well with. All they did at that point was, through some mix of immeasurable determination and unconscious shooting, score 21 of the last 25 points – including the final 13 – in the second game of a doubleheader at Mount Aloysius College Athletic Convocation and Wellness Center and advance to the Class 3A second round.
“I’ve said it before. These guys fear nobody. They’re special,” Penn Cambria coach Jim “Scooter” Ronan said amongst a mob of Panthers fans after his team improved to 22-5 and earned a meeting with Steel Valley on Wednesday at a site and time to be announced. “They believe in each other and they hate losing.
“For whatever reason, you were nervous, but you felt we were going to make a run.
“We knew if we withstood their punches the first quarter or so, we’d have a chance to win, and we did.”
It took a little longer than a quarter, though. Penn Cambria only led for the final 92 seconds, when Harrold shoveled a pass to junior point guard Easton Semelsberger for a dagger from deep that put Penn Cambria ahead for keeps, 56-53.
The Panthers’ top scorer and rebounder all season, Harrold finished with a game-high 24 points to go along with eight rebounds and five assists. It was Semelsberger, though, whose points resonated most loudly in crunch time.
Semelsberger finished with 18 points on six 3-pointers.
Three of those came in the final five minutes as the Panthers tried to claw themselves back into the contest.
It was about 10 points above his average and the most he’d scored since having 20 in the second game of the season. In fact, it was only his second double-figure scoring performance in the past eight games.
What a time to have a game.
“Honestly, I’ve had a rough last couple of games. I haven’t been playing my best,” Semelsberger said as he got a warm hug from his grandmother, Doris Noll. “I needed a game with some confidence in it. I just said to myself before the game, ‘I needed to make a couple of big shots for us to win,’ and I was finally able to do that.”
“Vinny (Chirdon) was struggling for most of the game and we needed someone other than Garrett to score points. Easton just came up huge,” Ronan said.
Chirdon also had a triple during the rally. Battling foul trouble, the senior made three treys in the second half for all nine of his points. Penn Cambria finished 11-for-29 behind the arc, but was 4-for-9 in the fourth quarter.
“I’ve never seen a game with a team shoot the ball the way they did in the fourth quarter,” Yough coach Jim Nesser said. “They shot the heck out of it when they had to. We knew they could shoot, but wow. I thought most of them were contested.”
One of the best scorers in District 7, guard Terek Crosby fronted Yough (17-10) with 20 points, while 6-foot-5 center Austin Matthews landed with 15 points and 10 boards for the Cougars.
Much of the game was Yough stretching out a lead, Penn Cambria reeling the Cougars back in a bit and Yough opening it up again.
Penn Cambria got to within one in the third quarter on consecutive Chirdon 3s, but Yough went on an 8-0 run after the Panthers came up empty on three possessions when they could have taken the lead.
Matthews’ post bucket at 6:35 of the fourth quarter made it 49-40 and the Cougars seemed ready to move into the second round before Semelsbrger hit his first 3-pointer of the frame and Harrold followed with a short shot on the baseline to give Penn Cambria life.
Crosby drove for two with 3:40 left to apparently stem the tide, but Zach Grove assisted on another Semelsberger trey to get it down to a two-point game. Then Harrold wound up with the ball and hit a short jumper to tie it at 53 after a scramble on the floor for a steal.
Chirdon got a steal near the foul line on the next play, setting the stage for Semelsberger to put the Panthers ahead. After a timeout, Grove drew a charge on Crosby and Harrold scored the final five points of the game at the line.
“Just talking about this gives me chills,” Harrold said. “There wasn’t a point in the game where we thought it was over.
“We kept battling. We’re confident and we play together as a team and all the guys contributed to this.”
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