By Pete Chiodo
After getting accidentally kicked in the face by a Cochranton player while diving for a loose ball in the fourth quarter, Shane Rigby’s nose was considerably flatter and wider than it was on Tuesday morning.
However, there was a big smile underneath that nose come Tuesday night, showing that all the blood, sweat and tears was well worth it. Rigby and the Panthers came out on top of an intense Region 3 battle with the Cardinals, 70-66.
“You’ve got to keep fighting no matter what,” said Rigby. “That was a great game. Probably one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of, and I’ve been in a lot of close games.”
The injury occurred with 2:39 left in the final quarter. And at the time, Saegertown and Cochranton were locked in a heated, neck-and-neck battle. The score was tied 61-61. The two sides had already traded the lead nine times up to that point, and would do so twice more before the game ended.
Rigby going out could have been a big blow to the Panthers, too. The 6-foot-4 senior was leading the Cats with 19 points and six assists before he went down.
“His foot came up and smacked me, like a full-on soccer kick,” said Rigby.
“Oh, he broke his nose,” said Saegertown head coach Greg Molnar. “It was just like the ‘Rocky’ movies. We tried to take him out. He said, ‘I’m not coming out.’ They pulled the tube thing out his nose, blood was going everywhere. And our trainer is the MVP, because she got him back into the game.”
Rigby missed about a minute and a half of action before returning to the fray. And he and the Panthers had a lot of work to do. Cochranton went on a 5-2 run after Rigby left, taking a 66-63 lead.
But with 48 seconds left, Rigby, now back on the court, found teammate Austin Scere at the post, fed him a quick pass and Scere was up and in for the layup, cutting the Cardinals’ lead to 66-65.
Then as Cochranton came back down the court, Saegertown was in a full-court press, and Dustin Pavlik picked off a Cardinals’ pass and brought it back for a lay-in, pushing the Panthers ahead 67-66 with 36 ticks remaining.
Cochranton then threw a pass out of bounds on its next trip down the court. Pavlik was fouled on the Panthers’ ensuing possession and made both to make it a 69-66 lead.
The Cards tried a 3 to tie it, but missed. Pavlik got the rebound and was fouled again. He made the first to make it a four-point contest, putting the game out of Cochranton’s reach with 6.5 seconds remaining.
“The press, we got a couple steals down at the end there, and that sealed the game for us,” said Pavlik.
The full-court press also paid dividends for Saegertown in the third quarter. The Panthers had a strong opening stanza, taking an 18-11 lead. But Cochranton opened the second with a 12-0 run to get on top 23-18. The Cards would end the half in front, 37-28.
“They came out on fire in the second quarter,” said Pavlik. “The game plan was to guard the 3. They shoot a lot. And they hit a lot. They showed what they were all about. They came out firing.”
However, Saegertown engaged its full-court defense to start the third. And that scheme forced eight turnovers from the Cardinals in the first four and a half minutes. And the Panthers used that to out-score Cochranton 18-4 during that span, taking a 47-41 lead.
“We saved the press until the second half,” said Molnar. “We put the 2-2-1 in out of desperation. I thought they’d blow through it. But Todd Schlosser, the guy who works with our press, he said, ‘It can’t hurt.’ And when it started working, I was wrong ... again. But it worked out. It was a pleasant surprise.”
Molnar wasn’t the only one taken aback by the effectiveness of Saegertown’s defense.
“A trap, a zone trap press has never given us trouble,” said Cochranton head coach Scott McCurdy. “So, that was a surprise that it would bother us. I knew Saegertown would do it. I didn’t expect it to hurt us. But we had some huge turnovers late in the game, not to mention we started the third with a bunch of turnovers.”
Even after Saegertown’s run in the third, the game was far from over. Cochranton would answer with a 9-0 run to take a 50-46 lead in the third. Then Saegertown finished the frame with a 5-0 run to take a 51-50 lead into the fourth. And that quarter was a slugfest, almost literally.
But the pressure — applied both on defense and on Rigby’s newly-expanded schnozz — saved the day for Saegertown.
After Rigby’s 19 markers, Pavlik added 17 points, Jeff Mattocks scored 14 and Scere scored 12. The bulk of those points were scored at close range as the Panthers leveraged their size advantage over Cochranton all night.
“Another big team gave us trouble,” said McCurdy. “And we’re struggling to find our rhythm exploiting our strengths against a team like that. ... We gave up way too many layups. Oh my gosh, way too many layups.”
For Cochranton, Nick Dickson scored a game-high 22 points.
“Dickson, we couldn’t stop him,” said Molnar.
Josh Vanderhoof followed with 15 points and Logan Herzberger scored 13.
The Cardinals hit nine 3-pointers in the game. Vanderhoof had three treys. Dickson and Garrett Adams both had two. The Cards were 5-for-7 from the arc in the second quarter.
With the win, first-place Saegertown improves to 5-4 overall and 3-0 in Region 3. Cochranton slips to 6-5 overall and 3-2 in the region.