ST. MARYS— St. Marys Area High School was rumbling with playoff fever Thursday night, as the District 9 Class A quarterfinal matchup between the Johnsonburg Rams and the Cameron County Red Raiders proved to be quite the thriller for all in attendance.
With close-knit scoring, high-octane battling and a couple hot-hands at the three-point line, both Johnsonburg and Cameron County pushed the other to the limit. But, thanks to some timely baskets and a handful of successful outings at the free throw line, the seventh-seeded Rams came out on top and defeated the No. 2 Red Raiders by a score of 52-44.
The victory was as hard-fought as one could get, and it took contributions from the Johnsonburg bench and a shift in defense to get the job done.
Those were evident in the first quarter of play, where Adam Shaffer’s layup immediately after the tip-off gave the Red Raiders the early 2-0 lead.
But, as would be a theme throughout the night’s contest, the Rams retaliated when Ryan Killhoffer sunk a bucket from deep in the field to tie the score at 2-a-piece.
Cameron County, however, had a red-hot scorer in the form of Marcus Brown, and after getting the ball on the left wing of the offensive zone, the Red Raider sophomore easily sunk the three-pointer to put his team ahead at 5-2.
Though Kacey Raubenstrauch eased the Rams’ bleeding with a quick layup to make the score 5-4, another three from Brown saw Cameron County extend their lead to 8-4.
After some back-and-forth basketball that saw both teams exchange leads, the quarter would end with the Rams and Red Raiders tied 12-12. However, a quick bucket from down low by Killhoffer in the early moments of the second quarter saw Johnsonburg take the initiative.
Receiving three-pointers from Drew Akers and Austin Green, the Rams’ offense, which had been cold for the better half of the first quarter, suddenly came to life, and with a combined total of 16 points in the quarter, Johnsonburg was able to end the half with a 28-25 lead.
Though the Rams held the lead entering the second-half, adjustments were still needed in order for the blue-and-gold to come away with the win. One such adjustment was on the defensive end, where Johnsonburg’s zone-defense had allowed the Red Raiders a total of five three-pointers in the half, four of which that came off the fingertips of Brown.
Enter the third quarter, however, and the Rams were in full man-on-man mode, and though Brown scored from the key to tie the game at 28-28 in the opening moments of the half, Johnsonburg’s defense was a much tighter and more aggressive unit that limited their opponents scoring and opportunities.
With Tyler Singer sinking a three to put the Rams back up 31-28, Johnsonburg continued its offensive attack, receiving a baseline drive from Jake Sheldon and a timely power-move by Killhoffer to end the period leading 39-35.
The nullification of Cameron County’s three-point shooting paid dividends for Johnsonburg, as the Rams were able to limit their opponents to only three buckets in the entire this quarter, and head coach Bill Shuey says that a switch in ‘D’ was all that his team needed to click on all cylinders.
“We got out of our zone and into a man (defense) in the second-half, “ Huey said. “ (Brown) killed us in the first-half and even part of the third quarter. But, Trevor (Lobaugh) did a nice job on ‘D’ on him. And everyone else, we just pressured the ball and were able to keep them from shooting that three-ball, as that was hurting us.”
That defense continued to thrive in the fourth and final quarter of the game, where the Rams were able to limit the Red Raiders to a mere two points in the first four minutes of the period.
Aside from a pair of free-throws by Raubenstrauch to extend the Johnsonburg lead to 42-37, the majority of the quarter was scoreless, with the Rams’ focus strictly aimed at moving the ball and running the clock.
The strategy proved fruitful for Johnsonburg, as its style of play forced Cameron County to foul them in order to receive the ball back in their court.
But unfortunately for the Red Raiders, the Rams went 15-for-16 at the free-throw line, enabling them to take a solid 52-44 lead.
Though Cameron County tried one last time at pulling within the Rams’ lead, it wasn’t enough, and by the end of four, Johnsonburg had claimed the hard-fought 52-44 victory as their own.
Though the Rams received help from several players on their roster, none may have been as timely as the input from Raubenstrauch, where his 13-for-14 outing at the foul-line and 15 total points allowed Johnsonburg to take control of the game.
Killhoffer was also a force throughout the four quarters of play, netting 13 points during his team’s winning effort. Akers added in another eight points to seal the deal for Johnsonburg.
With the win, Johnsonburg now advances to the D-9 A semifinals, and perhaps a chance at the all-coveted district-title. Though seeded at only seventh in the district standings, the Rams have all the momentum going forward, and Shuey says that the important thing now is for his team to build upon their victories and their confidence.
“It’s been a while, not necessarily for the program, but we need something for these seniors and these juniors,” Shuey said. “It was our goal coming into this year, and we played some games and lost some games that were very close this year against some good, talented teams. We’re below .500, but we could have easily been .500 or better if the ball would have bounced our way in some of those games earlier in the season. I think their starting to feel confidant now that they can compete, and hopefully that confidence can carry us into the next game.”
Johnsonburg advances to the Class A semifinals with the win and will play the winner of tonight’s Oswayo Valley (6)-Otto-Eldred (3) game next week at a site to be determined.