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ANOTHER TITLE: Elk County Catholic Uses Big Third Quarter to Pull Away From Clarion for Third Straight D9 Class A Crown

CLARION, Pa. (EYT/D9) — The Clarion boys basketball team trailed two-time defending District 9 Class A champion Elk County Catholic by just one point early in the third quarter and seemingly had momentum.

Seemingly the operative word.

When it comes to the Crusaders, nothing is as it seems. Not much can rattle seasoned ECC.

With a 24-8 run over the rest of the third, Elk County Catholic seized full control and cruised to a 75-54 win over the Bobcats at Tippin Gymnasium Saturday afternoon.

“I’m really proud of our guys and proud of how hard they worked to get to this point,” said ECC coach Aaron Straub. “Really proud of how hard they worked to get to this point. We have a great culture and excellent chemistry.”

Clarion was coming off an impressive and dominating victory over Johnsonburg in the Class A semifinal.

Straub and his staff were there. They left impressed.

Johnsonburg, after all, had beaten ECC to win the Allegheny Mountain League championship game.

Clarion Area High School sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Redbank Chevrolet and DuBrook.

“We were really fortunate that we had an opportunity to see Clarion firsthand on Tuesday night,” Straub said. “They were outstanding. Johnsonburg is a really good team. They caught Johnsonburg probably on a night that Johnsonburg wasn’t at their best, but they made Johnsonburg look pretty bad in that game.”

Clarion was hoping its playoff surge would continue. For a while, it looked as if the Bobcats could.

But Lance O’Neil hit a big 3-pointer for Elk County Catholic during the big third-quarter run and Wil Wortman, who scored a game-high 24 points, was a handful all afternoon for Clarion.

(Elk County Catholic’s Wil Wortman was named the Hager Paving Incorporated Player of the Game.)

“Wil has a knack for being in the right place at the right time,” said ECC guard Jordan Wasko. “You know he will always make the right play.”

Wasko, too, came up big with 21 points.

It was quite a difference from last year when Wasko was recovering from a torn ACL and didn’t play in the Crusaders’ D9 title win.

“Jordan a year ago at this time was preparing for ACL surgery,” Straub said. “And to see the way he came back and to see how hard he rehabbed and basically lead our team is really amazing. I think if you would survey the crowd and ask which one of the Crusaders is coming back from eight, nine months ago having ACL surgery, I guess you would have a tough time picking him out.”

Except for maybe the gnarly scar on his right knee, which actually split open against Clarion.

“It’s a nasty one,” Wasko said, smiling.

Straub and his team are also careful not to take wins like this for granted.

It’s the third straight district crown for the Crusaders, who have had a stranglehold on Class A for many years.

“I just think sometimes people have the tendency to if you win a couple to take them for granted,” Straub said. “You never take a district championship for granted, especially this year. There were a lot of great teams in Class A.”

One of those teams was Clarion, which will stay head to the PIAA playoffs despite the disappointing loss.

Bryce Brinkley and Gabe Simko each scored 11 to lead the Bobcats. Devon Lauer added 10.

“We had some tired legs in there,” Brinkley said of the struggles in the second half. “Devin had a little slight injury yesterday in practice, which didn’t help.”

Clarion is hoping to learn from this loss.

“We need to realize that we worked really, really hard to get here and we should be proud of that,” Brinkley said. “I think we need to build off this and learn how to play a whole game, I’d say, because we had a good first half. We’re gonna look to make a run here and just try and keep doing what we’re doing.”

Clarion Area High School sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Redbank Chevrolet and DuBrook.