Matt Shaffer certainly did his part to update the décor at the Richland High School Sports Center.
The 6-foot-2 Rams senior had a monster effort in Richland’s 59-43 victory over Central in the District 6 Class AA championship game at DeGol Arena on Saturday night.
Shaffer had 24 points, 12 rebounds, a blocked shot and a steal. Those numbers helped Richland earn its first district title in boys’ basketball since 1975. A banner commemorating the milestone soon will hang in the Rams’ gym.
“It feels good to be able to get redemption and put a banner up,” said Shaffer, who quarterbacked the Richland football team that lost to Central in the 6-AA title game in November. “I love every single one of these guys and we all love playing together. After all of those pick-up games and practices, it paid off and it feels good.”
District 6-AA top-seeded Richland (20-5) advances to play the District 7 sixth-place team on March 8. Central (17-8), which entered the tournament as 6-AA’s seventh seed, will face the WPIAL third-place squad.
“We were looking at the banners in the gymnasium,” Richland coach Greg Burke said. “It’s been since 1975. We had an opportunity to do something that hasn’t been done in a long, long time. The football team had the opportunity the last couple of years to do things that hadn’t been done in a long time. We wanted to take advantage of our opportunity.”
Richland’s football team won a 6-AA title in 2012 and advanced deep into the state playoffs.
Burke hopes the basketball team – which made its second 6-AA final appearance in four years
– will start its own run.
The Rams broke open a tight game with the combination of Shaffer and 6-4 sophomore Ryan Ball in the paint; the hot outside shooting of Aaron Miller and Jacob Lushko; and Kyle Flick’s role as a floor general.
“We told them we wanted to get the ball down low first and be able to kick out to our guards,” Burke said.
“When you get the basketball down to Matt Shaffer and Ryan Ball, and (Central) has to collapse in the lane, and you’ve got people like Aaron Miller and Jacob Lushko who can stand on the outside and shoot with anybody in this area, it’s pretty hard to defend.”
Miller hit four 3-pointers and scored 15 points. Lushko made three 3-pointers for nine points.
“All these years, Lushko and me, all we do is work on 3’s,” said Miller, a senior. “Shaffer worked really hard inside the hole. Ryan Ball is key in rebounding. Flick, he pushes the ball so well and finds everybody on the corners. He found me and Jake a lot in this game and we were pretty effective from the 3-point range.”
Richland’s defense held Central without a fourth-quarter point until Zach Slegenweit’s free throws at 4:10. Central only had two fourth-quarter field goals, both in the closing minutes.
“It was our whole game plan,” Shaffer said of the defense. “We owe it to coach, watching film. Obviously it’s a great team over there. Austin Cunningham is one of the best players on the court. We stuck together. We played as a team and it showed.”
Cunningham, the quarterback on the Scarlet Dragons’ football team, had 12 points. Slagenweit had 13.
“I think our defensive pressure showed, and our intensity and willingness to get up and down the court,” Burke said.
Richland led 12-7 after one quarter as all five starters had a field goal.
Shaffer worked the boards in the second quarter, grabbing six rebounds and scoring five of his seven first-half points. His conventional 3-point play with 43.6 seconds gave Richland an 11-point lead, 26-15, that stood at intermission.
“That was one of his best all year,” Burke said of Shaffer. “Day-in and day-out, from the first day of practice to today’s shoot-around, Matt is the hardest worker in practice. His strength and his ability to share the basketball is big. He gives it and he gets it back.”
The Rams led 38-25 after three quarters.
The final quarter, especially the last 3 minutes, resembled a NBA game. It took approximately 30 minutes to finish the stretch run due to timeouts and fouls by both teams.
Shaffer’s conventional three-point play gave the Rams a 22-point advantage, 47-25, with 4:29 remaining.
Central got within 11 points late in the game, but Richland never really was threatened.
“No words come to mind to describe this feeling. I’ve never had an experience like this before,” Miller said. “It was against Central-Martinsburg, the team that beat us in football. It was so rewarding to win it against them.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.