CLARION, Pa. – Outstanding fourth-quarter free-throw shooting helped District 9 champion Elk County Catholic avoid an upset bid by Eden Christian, the fifth-place team out of the WPIAL, with the Crusaders gaining a 52-44 win over the Warriors Friday night at Clarion University’s Tippin Gym.
Eden Christian (22-5) had upset on its minds when it forged a 34-all tie with the unbeaten Crusaders (28-0) after three quarters.
But in the fourth quarter, ECC hit 14 of 18 free throws to pull away for the win.
Gabe Kraus was 6 of 8 from the line in the quarter and scored eight of ECC’s 18 points in the frame on his way to a team-high 19 points.
Kyle Huff was also nearly automatic from the line in the frame hitting 5 of 6 free throws in the fourth quarter on his way to a 13-point, seven-rebound effort.
Huff’s charity shot early in the quarter gave ECC a 35-34 lead, and the Crusaders then basically took the air out of the ball.
That strategy became more pronounced after a basket by Kraus gave ECC a 37-34 lead with 4:49 to play and two more Huff free throws pushed the advantage to 39-34.
And despite a pair of 3-pointers and eight total points in the quarter from David Ritchie, who finished with a game-high 21 points for Eden Christian, the Warriors never were able to get the momentum back in their favor the rest of the way.
The Big Mo wasn’t a problem for Eden Christian in the third quarter until the referees took some of it away from them late in the period.
Trailing 29-22 midway through the quarter, the Warriors went on 9-3 run that brought them within a point, 32-21, on a Ritchie free throws with 43.2 seconds left in the quarter.
But that free throw, the second of a two-shot foul, should have actually been an and-one situation with the game tied for the Eden Christian sophomore guard.
That’s because Ritchie had made the shot on which the foul was called on. But the referees somehow missed the ball going into the hoop and called it a two-shot shooting foul instead.
After a short – really too short – of a discussion after Eden Christian head coach Todd Aiken questioned them on the shot not counting, the two off-the-ball officials whose call it should have been said they didn’t see it. In addition, instead of asking the scorers table, which they can do, for help. They just went with the call of no basket. So instead of the game being tie or Eden having the lead, the Warriors were still down one.
And, because the shot wasn’t granted, the game was tied at the start of the fourth quarter instead of Eden being up one which allowed ECC to stall once they got the lead on the Huff free throw, which in reality should have only tied the game at best.
The fact Eden was in position to have the lead after three quarters was a testament to their ability to weather and early ECC storm.
The Crusaders looked unstoppable in the first quarter using a quarter-ending 9-0 run to grab a 14-4 lead at the end of the quarter. Kraus scored five points in the first quarter and Nate DaCanal, who finished with nine tallies and 10 rebounds, added four points.
ECC then pushed that lead to 12, 22-10, with 3:16 to go in the first half on a 3-pointer by Kraus, one of three triples by the junior.
But at that point, Ritchie took over going on a personal 8-0 run to bring the Warriors within four, 22-18, with 1:15 to go before the half.
A DaCanal bucket in the final minute of the half pushed the advantage back to six, 24-18, at the break, and another three by Kraus in the third quarter got it to seven at 29-22.
But a Ritchie three started the run that helped Eden close the quarter tied at 34.
ECC will now face District 10 runner-up Farrell, a 44-37 winner over Monessen, Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.
ELK COUNTY CATHOLIC 52, EDEN CHRISTIAN 44
Score by Quarters
Eden Christian 4 14 16 10 – 44
Elk Co. Cath. 14 10 10 18 – 52
EDEN CHRISTIAN – 44
Blake Carpenter 3 0-0 7, Kenny Scott 0 0-0 0, Chase Haring 2 0-0 4, Josias O’Brien 3 0-0 6, Drew Aiken 1 0-0 2, Ben Porter 2 0-0 4, David Ritchie 7 4-8 21. Totals 18 4-8 44.
ECC – 52
Benji Hoffman 2 1-2 6, Brad Dippold 0 0-0 0, Jake Wolfe 0 0-0 0, Dan Stauffer 0 5-6 5, Gabe Kraus 5 6-9 19, Jared Braun 0 0-0 0, Kyle Huff 3 7-10 13, Nate DaCanal 4 1-2 9. Totals 14 20-29 52.
THREE-POINTERS – Eden Christian 4 (Ritchie 3, Carpenter). ECC 4 (Kraus 3, Hoffman).