DuBOIS— Defense was the name of the game Wednesday night at DuBois Central Catholic High School, as the Cardinals and the Johnsonburg Rams battled it out in a low-scoring, but defense-heavy District 9 match-up.

In a game that would be ultimately decided in the final minutes of the fourth quarter of action, the Rams had just a little more intensity and just a little more luck on the shooting range to edge out DCC 38-31.

While the Cardinals fall to a record of 3-15 on the season, the win places Johnsonburg back at .500 and back at a shot of a playoff birth.

“It was a big win. The kids were very happy with it,” Johnsonburg head coach Bill Shuey said about his team’s victory. “They needed it coming down towards the end of the year for any chance of going to the playoffs, of whether they’re going or not.

“The kids played hard tonight. They made the necessary passes when they had to in order to get the good shots. Our shooting wasn’t that good, but our foul-shooting was little bit better and not making as many turnovers was what won the ball game.”

The opening minutes of the night’s contest set a high-tempo pace for the action that would unfold.

Tyler Singer got the Rams off to a quick 2-0 start with a basket from the field, but DCC was quick to counter, and in two consecutive possessions, Justin Miknis and Thomas Grecco each sank a three-pointer to give the Cardinals the lead at 6-2.

A base-line power move off of Ram Kasey Raubenstrauch put Johnsonburg within two of DCC, and a give-and-go from Raubenstrauch to teammate Ryan Killhoffer tied it up at 6-6.

The Cardinals, however, were determined to retain the lead at the end of the quarter.

After a foul-shot from Grecco gave DCC back the lead at 7-6, a put-back from Austen Cogley and a converted steal off of Noah Pettenati ensured the Cardinals were up 11-6 heading into the second quarter.

Though the action and scoring was intense in the first period of play, the second quarter would see a noticeable decline in scoring.

After a quick three-pointer from the Rams’ Drew Akers put Johnsonburg within two of DCC at 11-9, the majority of the quarter saw hardly a basket made.

Though scoring opportunities were plentiful and the board action was active, the ball would be sunk only two times for the rest of the half.

Singer made a bucket from far in the field to tie the game at 11-11, while a successful trip to the free-throw line from Trevor Lobaugh gave the Rams the lead at 12-11.

Despite struggling to score in the second part of the first half, DCC had a strong defensive effort both on the floor and on the boards. In addition to limiting the Rams to only six points in the second quarter, the Cardinals out-rebounded Johnsonburg 19-16, with 11 of their rebounds coming from their opponents shots.

DCC head coach Dom Varacallo says that while his team’s offense struggled, their defense helped keep them in contention heading into the second-half.

“We executed our game plan defensively, which really slowed down some of (Johnsonburg’s) guards,” Varacallo said. “I thought we did a good job of executing our game plan. But then they took us out of the things we wanted to do offensively. So, it made for an ugly defensive battle, but I thought our team played pretty well defensively... Overall, I thought our guys played hard and executed the game plan defensively. They left it all out on the floor, and that’s all you can ask for. “

The Cardinal defense would continue to play a prominent role in the second-half of the game, as would Johnsonburg’s, but the two teams offenses also served critical roles in the finals minutes of the game.

Akers opened the half with a shot from the three-point line to make the score 15-11 in the Rams favor, while a put-back off of Raubenstrauch and a successful free-throw from Killhoffer extended Johnsonburg’s lead to 18-11.

But three-pointers from Cogley, Pettenati, and Miknis pulled DCC within striking distance, and by the end of the quarter, Johnsonburg led by a slim 23-22.

The fourth quarter started off slow, with neither team scoring in the first eight minutes, but a drive down the lane by Akers gave the Rams breathing room in a 25-22 lead.

Though three-pointers from Miknis and Pettenati gave the Cardinals hope for a comeback win, ultimately Johnsonburg would hold on to their lead, and by buzzer’s end, the Rams secured themselves with a 38-31 victory.

Raubenstrauch led the way for Johnsonburg with an 11-point night, while Akers finished with 10 and Lobaugh eight. But while the offensive burst in the second-half helped pave the way for the Rams’ win, Shuey says that his team’s defense and intensity were the key factors in ensuring their victory.

“We had to stay aggressive, both in the half-court zone press and back in the front court,” Shuey said. “We just had to stay aggressive and keep pressuring the ball. That was the main thing, as well as keep the turnovers down. It was big for us. Our turnovers have been high all year long. This was a very good ball game for us as far as turnovers, and that helped us get the win.”

For DCC, Miknis led all players with a 12-point performance while also grabbing seven rebounds on the glass.

Pettenati contributed with eight points of his own, while Grecco and Cogley each chipped in with five points each.

While the Cardinals seek a win against Venango Catholic (3-11) tonight, a victory tonight has more meaning and importance than usual. Three of DCC’s seniors, Pettenati, Cogley, and Michael Misiewicz, will be honored during the Cardinals’ Senior Night Ceremony, and Varacallo says that a win would be the perfect sending-off gift for his graduating players.

“Our three seniors have really put in a lot of work this year, and over the years to the game of basketball,” Varacallo said regarding his trio of seniors. “So, we want to come out with fire and with intensity to send them off the right way on their senior night, and we want to make it a night that they can celebrate and remember for the rest of their lives. They’re really good kids and I really enjoy being their coach and I’m happy that we get to play another game on our home floor to celebrate them.”

While DCC looks to take care of the Vikings tonight, Johnsonburg will try to keep its winning momentum going Friday when they play host to the Curwensville Golden Tide (3-12).

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