WINDBER – The all-underclassman Portage Area High School boys basketball team took another significant step forward on Tuesday night.
With a WestPAC semifinal round berth at stake, the Mustangs combined long-range success and an often stifling defense to defeat host Windber 74-58.
Portage earned the North’s second seed and will travel to South top-seed Shade on Wednesday. Windber needed to win to claim the second spot. Now, the Ramblers must wait 10 days until the District 5 playoffs begin for their next action.
“We came out and our kids were really excited for the opportunity,” Portage coach Travis Kargo said. “These guys have worked so hard since last May. To get to this point where everything is on the line, I couldn’t be prouder for a group with no seniors.
“We’re finding leadership from the juniors. I thought our kids really followed everything we wanted to do game plan-wise. It really helps when you’re shooting the ball well.”
Portage (18-4 overall, 9-3 WestPAC North) was led by junior forward Preston Rainey’s 27 points, including a pair of 3-pointers and a 7 of 9 showing on the free-throw line.
Sophomore guard Kaden Claar had 16 points. Junior guard Koby Kargo launched four 3-pointers for 12 points, most of those from well beyond the arc.
“Credit Portage. They’re a very good basketball team,” Windber coach Steve Slatcoff said after his team finished the regular season 15-7 with four conference losses.
“You’ve got to be able to defend on the ball. If we can’t defend on the ball, they’ve got guys in spots that can knock down shots. They knocked down a lot of those. They shot the lights out.”
Portage made 10 3-point field goals, with seven of those in the first half. The Mustangs led 24-19 after one quarter and 40-26 at halftime.
Portage had a 10-0 run late in the second quarter until Windber sophomore guard Keith Charney launched a buzzer-beating, half-court shot that was all net.
The Ramblers (15-7, 8-4 WestPAC North) had only three second-quarter field goals (one on the buzzer beater) and four in the third quarter as Portage led 60-37 entering the fourth.
“We talked a lot about communication and just follow what we’ve been working on defensively from Day 1 of the season,” Coach Kargo said. “The points in the second quarter (16-7), three of which were on the half-court shot at the buzzer. We talked about how we couldn’t allow that momentum to snowball for them after the half-court shot. It was imperative that we set the tone early with some defensive stops.”
Keith Charney and senior Chase Vargo each had a team-high 15 points for Windber. Senior Kobe Charney had 12 points.
“We’ve got district playoffs to start to get prepared for,” Slatcoff said. “We’ve got quite a layoff – 10 days. We talked about using this as motivation for us. Move forward and use that to energize us as we prepare to get better each and every day.”
Portage will get right back to work.
“We played (Monday) night, we played (Tuesday),” Coach Kargo said. “I think (Shade has) been off since Friday so I’m sure they had a little more time to prepare. We will burn the midnight oil and see what we can do.
“I promise you one thing. Our kids are going to show up and play as hard as they can.”