ST. MARYS— St. Marys Area High School has played host to a number of exhilarating and thrill-filled games this past season, but none may have compared to the high-stakes matchup Tuesday night.
After being down 47-32 at the end of the third quarter, the seventh-seeded Johnsonburg Rams staged one of the most thrilling comebacks this year, scoring seven uncontested baskets and 19 total points to overtake third-seeded Otto-Eldred and win by a final of 51-50.
The hard-fought victory advances the Rams to the District 9 Class A championship game this weekend at Clarion University, and, as head coach Bill Shuey notes, the effort and hustle his team exhibited to earn the win was one of the more impressive moments of his coaching tenure.
“We’ve come back against Ridgway in the District 9 final,” Shuey said on the Rams’ previous comeback attempts. “We were down by 15 at the half, and we came back, and, in overtime, we lost. But, this is probably the first time we came back and won ... The boys hustled.
“They wanted (the win). They didn’t give up. They could have easily said ‘This game’s over,’ but they believed. They believed that they were going to win.”
Doubts surrounding a Johnsonburg victory were abundant in the first half, where the Rams found themselves trailing 19-8 after one quarter of play.
Though Jake Sheldon got Johnsonburg on the scoreboard off the Rams’ tip-off win, the Terrors’ offense immediately went to work, and thanks to timely three-pointers by Sawyer Drummond and Juan Alonso, Otto gained firm control of the game at 19-8 after the first eight minutes.
The Rams didn’t fair much better in the second quarter, where they were outscored 15-12, and by the end of the half, the Johnsonburg found itself down 34-20.
Though the Rams kept pace with the Terrors in scoring in the third quarter, Otto still held a sizable 47-32 lead heading into the final period of play. But, the Rams refused to give up.
Ryan Kilhoffer got the Rams started with a quick putback to make the score 47-34, and immediately went back to work with another putback to lessen the Terrors’ lead to 47-36.
The Johnsonburg offense-machine kept building steam, and a three-pointer by Drew Akers and a jumper from Kacey Raubenstrauch brought the Rams within six points of Otto’s lead at 47-41.
A couple of foul shots by Austin Green and a converted steal by Raubenstrauch saw Johnsonburg come within two points of the lead at 47-45. A power move down low by Kilhoffer finally brought the Ram even with Otto at 47-47.
Otto countered back with an Alonso layup to retain their 49-47 lead, but a costly turnover by the Terrors saw Johnsonburg tie the score back up again at 49-49.
However, a foul on Alonso late in the quarter saw the Terror take to the foul-line, where, he sank 1-of-2 to give Otto the advantage at 50-49.
With only 33.7 seconds remaining in the game, the Rams’ next, and final, possession would decide their fate.
With the ball in the offensive zone and only 5.5 seconds left, Kilhoffer pulled up in the middle of the lane and scored on a jumper to finally pull Johnsonburg ahead and give the Rams the 51-50 victory.
The night’s win received many contributions from the Rams’ roster, though none were as noticeable as Kilhoffer’s input.
In addition to his game-winning basket, Kilhoffer finished the night with a game-high 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Austin Green also had a productive night for Johnsonburg, netting 10 points in the winning effort. Akers added in another nine points to round off the scoring.
The Rams now head to the District 9 title-game as unlikely contenders, having opened the postseason as the No. 7 seed. But, as Shuey notes, heading to Clarion University has always been his players’ mission.
“They’re really excited to be playing at Clarion University,” Shuey said. “That was one of the goals we had at the beginning of the year. We knew that we played and lost some games early on that could have went our way.
“We could have easily been, maybe no higher than sixth, but our competition out there was pretty stiff, and I think that our league helped prepare us for a game like tonight’s.”
The game time for Saturday’s title game between Johnsonburg and ECC has yet to be determined.