CLARION, Pa. – A 26-point effort from Hunter Craddock helped to fend off a late Bishop Carroll comeback in Clarion’s 61-54 win in the opening round of the PIAA Playoffs.
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Clarion took a 12 point lead into the half and looked poised to secure a straightforward win, but Bishop Carroll came surging back in the second half, taking the lead late in the fourth quarter. Craddock and Beau Verdill helped turn the tide in favor of the Bobcats, using their height to recapture momentum and secure the narrow win.
Craddock scored 26 points to lead Clarion, while Verdill provided a 14-point night for the victorious Bobcats. Cal German scored 10 points as well for Clarion. Bishop Carroll was led by Spencer Myers, who scored 19 points. Luke Repko scored 15 for the Huskies, while Evan Amigh added eight points.
Bishop Carroll slowed down the game’s pace immensely out of the gate, possessing the ball for most of the first three minutes. The Huskies came up empty in these possessions but got on the board first via two Thomas Heinrich free throws with 3:30 left in the opening period. Clarion responded by scoring seven straight points, including five from Verdill. Bishop Carroll scored twice to cut the lead to one, but Christian Simko finished the quarter with a bucket and two free-throws to boost Clarion’s lead to 11-6 after the first quarter.
The two sides exchanged scores to begin the second quarter, which took a similarly slow pace, with buckets coming few and far between. Midway through the quarter, the game jolted to life, with both teams breaking each other’s full-court press and the game becoming chaotic and stretched. The tempo change favored the Bobcats, who went on a 6-2 run to increase their lead to eight. Verdill had a big slam dunk in the stretch, which swung the momentum in favor of Clarion. Clarion further extended their lead in the back half of the quarter, with Craddock and Verdill each connecting down low to give Clarion a 31-19 lead at the half.
The Huskies came out firing in the third, starting the quarter on a 9-2 run to cut Clarion’s lead to five. After a score by Craddock, the second three of the half by Repko made the deficit four points with 3:45 to go in the quarter. The Bishop Carroll defense was solid in the quarter, jumpstarting the comeback by forcing numerous turnovers out of the Bobcats. Buckets from Craddock and Verdill held off the Huskies during the remainder of the quarter, with Clarion hanging on to a 40-37 lead after three quarters.
Craddock was Clarion’s feature player early in the fourth, scoring seven early fourth-quarter points to bring Clarion’s lead back up to eight with 5:30 to go in the game. The Huskies quickly tightened up the game, with scores from Heinrich and Myers cutting Clarion’s lead back down to four. A Repko three with 3:00 to go pulled the Huskies within two, but another big Craddock layup regained the Bobcats’ two-possession lead. A clutch three by Ameigh narrowed Clarion’s margin to one, and a Myers runner with 1:45 gave Bishop Carroll their first lead of the second half at 54-53.
A Simko bucket on the next possession put Clarion back ahead by one, and a pair of defensive stops gave the Huskies possession down by one with 45 seconds remaining. After trying and failing to find an open shot, the Huskies eventually turned the ball over to Verdill, who cruised in with a breakaway layup to up the Bobcats lead to three with 15 seconds to go. A mishandled inbounds pass immediately gave the Bobcats the ball back, and after being fouled, German knocked down both free-throws to make it a two-possession game. A pair of blocks by Verdill and Craddock sealed the deal for the Bobcats, who added a final bucket to escape with a 61-54 victory.
Clarion will advance to face Berlin Brothersvalley in the PIAA Semifinals on Monday at a time and place to be determined.