Central Valley took the floor of the Warrior Gym Friday seeking its first win in the history of the unified program. After losing an early lead for the second time in as many games the search was prolonged.
In his varsity debut Blackhawk freshman forward Chandler Kincade made several key plays while finishing with 12 points, and junior guard Cory Ostach provided a steady stream of offense, adding 14 to help the Cougars (1-0, 3-1) overcome a rocky start and rally past the Warriors (0-1, 0-2) 64-57 at Central Valley High School in the Class AAA Section 2 opener for both schools.
"I practiced with these guys over the summer, so I already knew my role on the team," Kincade, who missed the team's first two games with a hip injury, said afterward. "I just tried to help the team as best I could."
Ultimately it was a balanced attack that broke the visitors out of their first half doldrums, as the hot hand of senior forward Tyler Damazo drained four three-pointers and ended with a game-high 22 points, making him one of three Blackhawk starters in double figures.
"If anything, we proved we can win against a good team in front of a nasty student section," Blackhawk head coach Andy Hedrick said afterward, smiling. "It was loud in there, but our kids used that adrenaline and fed off it."
"This is a tough environment to play at, so if we can play like this anywhere else, we should have a good season," Kincade added.
Both teams struggled to find a rhythm offensively in the early stages of the game, but Central Valley got going first and got that student section into it by storming out to a 7-2 lead that included one of three three-pointers on the night from senior guard Nick Delisio. Damazo helped Blackhawk quiet them with the first of his triples amidst a 7-3 run.
Delisio, who finished with 14 points, all of them in the first half and nine in the first quarter, was fouled on a layup and completed a traditional three-point play to give the Warriors a 13-9 lead, and after a missed free throw by Kincade, Damazo responded again by tying the game with a three-ball and moments later made a great pass from his knees to Ostach, whose lay-in gave the Cougars a 15-13 lead, their first of the evening. Delisio's second three-pointer gave Central Valley a one-point edge to cap off a hectic finish to the opening period.
Offensive fouls and mental mistakes had kept Blackhawk at bay through much of that quarter, and they continued to plague the Cougars in the second, as they went roughly half the frame without a field goal. Senior forward Lukas Turley, who would go on to lead the Warriors with 16 points, scored uncontested beneath the bucket to start a 7-0 run that gave Central Valley a 23-15 advantage midway through the second. It looked like the Warriors would have it made until Kincade drove baseline and scored at the 3:40 mark to stop the bleeding. However, it was, ironically, after a Central Valley timeout, not a Blackhawk timeout, that the tide really turned.
Another running layup by Kincade closed the gap further, and Damazo hit an open three in the far corner as part of an 11-3 run by Blackhawk that seemed to change the complexion of the game for good. A pair of free throws by Ostach capped the run, which gave the Cougars a 26-25 lead at the half, and all the while they turned up the heat on defense, clogging the passing lanes and ramping up their rebounding efforts.
"They just kept hustling, so we just kept playing hard," Kincade said.
"Damazo came out fired up [after Central Valley's timeout]," Ostach remarked. "That was a huge three."
Central Valley regained the lead on the first possession of the second half, but Blackhawk continued to build off their momentum from the second quarter with superior ball movement and superior execution by their front court. Damazo hit one more three-pointer, then, after a Central Valley turnover, hit a running layup that gave the Cougars a 31-30 lead they would not relinquish with five minutes to go in the third. Some good passing and more easy buckets by Damazo and Kincade helped give Blackhawk a game-best nine-point lead and a 41-37 advantage after three quarters, as the Warriors' Michael Kupper hit back-to-back shots en route to a 14-point night to stop the bleeding.
Nevertheless, the Cougars had answers ready throughout a fourth quarter that saw the teams combine for 43 points. Lukas Turley scored in the low post and again inside the paint, one of several occassions the Warriors pulled to within two possessions, but with two-and-a-half minutes left Ostach found Kincade cutting to the basket, and his running jumper ended a lengthy possession and made it 54-46 Blackhawk, effectively sealing the win. A handful of free throws by Ostach helped put it away, while the Cougars' defense continued to shut down Delisio.
"Delisio was hitting everything early, so we switched to a box and made their other guys beat us," Hedrick said.
"Last year there were lots of times when I'd only hit one of two, so Coach Hedrick's really been working with us on that," Ostach said of those free throws, which came two nights after going 10-for-10 from the foul line against Quad-A Upper St. Clair. "That's what wins you games right there."
Central Valley will try for win number one again--and try to even its section mark, for that matter--when the Warriors visit Ambridge Monday night, while Blackhawk hosts Hopewell Tuesday.
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