ARMAGH — Brad Felix scored 23 points and United held off a late fourth-quarter rally en route to its second win in three nights over Cambria Heights, claiming a 71-65 victory Monday and punching its ticket to the Heritage Conference championship game Friday night at the KCAC.
Both teams had their moments early on, taking turns connecting on 3-point field goals for much of the first quarter. Both United and Cambria Heights were successful on three 3-pointers to fuel their first-quarter scoring.
The Highlanders held a two-point advantage late in the quarter before Felix found teammate Ben Tomb under the basket for an easy layup, beating the first-period buzzer and knotting the score at 15.
The Lions emphasized their defense over the second period, holding the Highlanders to just eight points.
Johnny Muchesko and Felix took care of the offense, scoring all 11 of United’s points in the second period to take a three-point advantage into halftime, 26-23.
Muchesko’s speed proved to be a little much for the Highlanders in that second period.
“He has a motor that doesn’t stop,” United coach Matt Rodkey said. “He hit some big shots and found some open teammates in that second quarter.
“We were able to work our offense a little more in the first quarter. Cambria Heights sat in that 3-2 zone, so we tried to work the ball around a little bit.”
United put together a 12-3 run to start the second half highlighted when senior guard Jacob Boring connected on a 3-pointer and then swiped the ball from Cambria Heights guard Quin Mazenko on the next possession and finished with a layup to put United ahead 38 -26.
The Highlanders had trouble getting through United’s full-court press early in the second half but eventually settling in as junior forward Carter Lamb went coast-to-coast to cut the lead to eight with less than one minute in the period.
Felix struck again at the third quarter buzzer nailing a 3-pointer to put United back up 49-35.
Cambria Heights finally put their offense together over the final eight minutes. Caleb Whiteford took a charge on defense and then converted on a slashing layup at the 2:05 mark to bring the Highlanders to within six points, 58-52.
Carter Lamb helped cut the United lead to just three points, draining a 3-pointer at 1:23 to put the score at 62-59, but that’s as close as they would get.
United was successful on 16 of 20 free throws in the fourth quarter alone, and Muchesko was 6 of 7 late in the quarter, helping the Lions earn a trip to the conference finals for a second straight year.
“Our kids persevered and battled tonight,” Rodkey said. “The free throws have been a major focus for us the last two weeks. Two weeks ago, we were shooting about 56 percent, and I have seen a steady increase over that period, and it really showed tonight.”
The Lions, the West Division champs, will square off opposite fellow division rival and runner-up West Shamokin, which took care of their business as well on Monday night with an 18-point victory over Penns Manor, setting up a rematch of last year’s Heritage Conference final that the Wolves won.
“It’s a rematch of last year’s title game,” Rodkey said. “They beat us pretty handedly two weeks ago and we beat them early in the year. It’s going to be a battle. Coach McCullough is a great coach and runs a great program. Bo Swartz is a great point guard and Trevor Smulik is likely player of the year. We will have our hands full with them on Friday but we will be up to it.”