Conemaugh Township edges rival Windber for 4th consecutive District 5 Class 2A crown

Mar. 2—The Conemaugh Township boys basketball team only led Windber on three separate occasions in Friday night's District 5 Class 2A championship game at the Pitt-Johnstown Sports Center.

The Indians (21-5) took a brief lead in the first quarter, gained the advantage midway through the fourth, and then held the last lead of the game, 37-35, to capture the program's fourth straight District 5 crown.

"We played well enough to win the game and you give credit to Windber all you want, because they really played great and they played hard," veteran Conemaugh Township coach Chuck Lesko said after winning his seventh District 5 title with the school.

"We just kind of hung around long enough to stay in striking distance."

The Ramblers were looking to capture their first district title since 2001 and set the tone early with hard-nosed defense.

Windber brought the intensity, but never could really pull away despite looking like the better team for much of the night.

The Ramblers led 9-8 after one quarter, but then got the lead up to 18-10 in the early stages of the second period thanks to strong play on both ends by junior Evan Brady, who scored a team-high 10 points.

"We played hard enough to win," Windber coach Steve Slatcoff said after his team dropped to 15-9 on the year. "We absolutely played hard enough to win, but we we just didn't execute down the stretch when we had to."

The low-scoring nature of the game gave way to some tense late in the game. Jon Updyke scored a basket at the 1:43 mark to cut into the Windber advantage at 35-34, though he missed the free-throw for the conventional three-point play.

Later on, with Windber clinging to that one-point advantage with the ball, Stephen Stango came up with a huge steal. On the ensuing possession, Stango found Ethan Matera for a layup to put the Indians up by one with 14 seconds remaining.

Windber's Grady Klosky then got off a good look from 3-point range, but it fell off the mark.

Stango secured the rebound and made one of two free throws to set the final. Matera finished with nine points, but the game winner won't be a play he soon forgets.

"It was just kind of in the moment," the sophomore forward said. "Just go back to my roots and do what I normally do and get up there finish it."

The win gives the Indians their fourth consecutive crown, but for Updyke, the lone senior in the rotation, it was his just his third with Conemaugh Township. However, Lesko pointed out that he won a district title with Greater Johnstown as a freshman before transferring. Updyke has scored over 1,200 points with the Indians and grabbed over 600 career rebounds. He takes his role as a leader very seriously with four sophomores around him.

"You don't replace that leadership and that experience," Lesko said of Updyke. "Even though he might have had a turnover late, he was 'Mr. Rah Rah' in the huddle and gave the guys the confidence that we were going to pull this out and he never got down and he never got negative and that's what a good senior leader does."

Matera said he felt that as well.

"He coaches us through everything and shows us what to do and makes it a lot of fun to play with him," he said of his elder teammate.

Updyke and his teammates came up short in the Heritage Conference title game, falling to River Valley at the buzzer last month. The senior believed that experience benefitted his team on Friday.

"It matured the younger guys in the tougher situations," Updyke explained. "Myself, I've been around the block a few times. I think we got that experience and it really helped us come through with this one."

Updyke finished with a game-high 14 points, but he had to work for every one of them.

Brady and the rest of the Ramblers trailed him closely all game with a clear plan to make it tough on the Indians' star player. The defensive effort was there all game, but Windber only made four field goals in the second half and was unable to maintain its lead down the stretch.

"We felt like we outplayed them for most of the game, but you have to play disciplined, too," Slatcoff lamented.

The Indians and Ramblers will both move into the state tournament next Saturday. Windber will travel to the second-place finisher out of District 7, either Aliquippa or Greensburg Central Catholic. Conemaugh Township plays host to the fifth-place finisher out of District 7, Bishop Canevin.