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CRACKING THE KSAC CODE: Karns City Takes Guesswork Out of Conference Tourney Field With Win Over Union

KARNS CITY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Zach Kepple was like a mad scientist as he attempted in the last few days to make sense of the Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference tournament scenarios.

The Karns City boys basketball coach was mostly at a loss to crack the intricate and sometimes mysterious KSAC code.

“You never know how the tiebreakers are going to be interpreted,” Kepple said. 

(Pictured above, Karns City coach Zach Kepple talks with his team during a timeout)

A loss to Union on Friday night in the conference finale would have thrown the tournament fate for three teams — Karns City, Union and Clarion-Limestone — into chaos.

But Kepple’s senior point guard, Taite Beighley, set his mind at ease.

“Don’t worry, Kep,” Beighley said. “We’re not losing.”

He was prophetic.

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.

Luke Cramer scored 11 of his team-high 19 points in the first quarter to get the Gremlins out of the gate quickly and Beighley took over late to help the Gremlins hold off hard-charging Union in a 51-39 home victory. 

The win secures a spot in KSAC tourney next week for Karns City. It also took all the guesswork out of it with Redbank Valley, Clarion, Clarion-Limestone and Karns City vying for the title beginning Feb. 16 at Tippin Gymnasium.

“The tiebreakers themselves weren’t very clear,” Kepple said. “I told the guys we control our own destiny. A win and we seal our fate (in the tournament).”

Karns City (15-6, 9-2) did just that thanks to the hot hand for Cramer in the first quarter. 

The senior hit three of his five 3-pointers in the first eight minutes and then hit two more in the second quarter as the Gremlins led 29-11 with just three minutes remaining in the first half. 

Cramer had been in a bit of a shooting funk lately. 

Not on Friday. 

“It feels good when I get in a zone like that,” Cramer said. “It seems like the hoop is as big as a barrel.”

Karns City’s 18-point lead was its biggest of the game.

Union (12-10, 7-4) certainly didn’t go down quietly.

The Golden Knights trimmed the lead to 13 by halftime and then trailed by just four at 38-34 with 25 seconds remaining in the third. 

Hayden Smith, a two-time defending PIAA high jump champion, erupted for 13 points in the third. He ended the night with a game-high 20. 

But Beighley hit a jumper at the third-quarter horn and then drained two free throws just nine seconds into the fourth to put Karns City back up by eight. 

Union could get no closer. 

“We couldn’t get over that hump,” said Union coach Eric Mortimer. “It was there, but for whatever reason, we just couldn’t get over it.”

Karns City maintained a double-digit lead for much of the final eight minutes.

Beighley, who was held to one point in the first half, scored 11 in the final two quarters and senior Colson Ritzert was 4-for-4 from the free throw line in the closing minutes to help secure the victory. 

“They guarded Taite well and you have to give them a lot of credit,” Kepple said. “But he has such a quick first step. When I need him to step up, he steps up every time. He didn’t let getting shut down in the first half bother him.”

Karns City also seemed unbothered by Union’s run to get back into the game. 

The Gremlins have played a lot of tight games this season and some staunch opponents down the stretch. 

Kepple believes that has made his team battle-tested heading into the postseason.

“That’s what allowed us to stay calm in a moment where, hey, they just made a run at us,” Kepple said. 

For Union, while it will not get a chance to play in the KSAC tourney, the Golden Knights still have the District 9 playoffs to prepare for. 

Dawson Camper also had a strong game for Union with 12 points and 18 rebounds.

“We have more basketball to play,” Mortimer said. “Hopefully a whole lot more.”

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.