JOHNSONBURG, Pa. – Clarion gritted out a 58-56 overtime victory in a hard-fought contest with Johnsonburg to win the Class A D9 title.
(Photo by: Kendra Craddock)
Clarion outplayed Johnsonburg through the first two quarters, with the Bobcats using their tough defense to hold a six-point lead at the half. Johnsonburg came storming back in the third quarter, taking a four-point lead of their own. The fourth quarter was tight throughout, with a clutch Eric Cristoff three for Johnsonburg tying the game with 30 seconds to go to force overtime. After Clarion took a late overtime lead, two Johnsonburg free-throws tied the game at 56. On Clarion’s final possession, Hunter Craddock took the ball inside, was fouled, and hit both free throws to clinch the win.
Cal German led Clarion with 30 points. Christian Simko scored 10 for Clarion, while Beau Verdill also added 10 for the Bobcats. Cam Stelene powered Johnsonburg with 20 points, while Gabe Watts added 19 for the Rams.
Clarion stormed out to a hot start, taking an early 7-2 lead. Clarion’s strong defense created problems for Johnsonburg, producing turnovers and fastbreak points to expand their lead to eight. German, Verdill, and Simko all got in on the act, powering Clarion ahead early. Cristoff had the final bucket of the period, with his second three of the quarter cutting Clarion’s lead to 13-8 after the first quarter of play.
Clarion continued to have the upper hand early in the second quarter, with two quick buckets by Simko boosting the Bobcats’ lead to nine. Clarion would maintain the lead through most of the quarter, with German and Craddock offsetting Watts’ two buckets. A Verdill free-throw kept Clarion’s lead at eight, but the quarter’s final basket was scored by Stelene, setting the score at 25-19 after the first half of play.
Johnsonburg’s offense caught fire in the third quarter, beginning the period on a 12-2 run to surge into the lead. Cristoff scored a two-pointer to take the Rams’ first lead of the game at 28-27, and a three from Cristoff on Johnsonburg’s next possession expanded the lead to four. The back half of the quarter was dictated by German and Stelene, who exchanged tough shots to keep the game tight. Stelene struck last, connecting inside to give the Rams a 37-33 lead headed into the final quarter.
The fourth quarter started with a heated exchange of buckets, with German using his speed to score in tight, while Watts used his height and power to finish down low. Clarion went on a mini-run halfway through the quarter, with buckets by Verdill and Simko tying the game at 45 with 3:00 to go. After three free-throws from Verdill and German gave the Bobcats a 48-45 lead with 2:00 remaining, both teams tried and failed to score. With the clock running under 30 seconds, a huge long-range three from Cristoff tied the game at 48. Clarion had the final possession with a chance to win the game, but Simko’s shot was off the mark, sending the game to overtime.
Stelene started the overtime period with an old-school three-point play, and Clarion answered with two free throws from German to cut the lead to one. A Johnsonburg free-throw built the lead back up to two, but another bucket by German re-tied the game at 52. After Johnsonburg took a one-point lead, a huge three from German gave Clarion a 56-54 lead with just under a minute to go overtime. Johnsonburg called a timeout on their next possession but failed to inbound the ball, with the five-second violation giving the ball back to the Bobcats. Verdill was quickly sent to the free-throw line but came up empty-handed, keeping it a one-possession game with 38 seconds to go.
The Rams took the ball inside to try to tie the game, with Ethan Wells taking a shooting foul. Needing both free-throws to tie the game, Wells hit both, giving Clarion the ball again with a chance to win the game on their final possession. With time running down, Craddock found himself with the ball inside and had his shot blocked, but he was fouled, giving him two chances to win the game with .6 seconds to go. Craddock hit both free throws, and a last-second desperation attempt by Johnsonburg failed, giving Clarion a 58-56 victory and a District 9 title.
Clarion will advance to the first round of the PIAA playoffs, where they will face Bishop Carroll.