Top-seeded Richland brought plenty of playmakers into the District 6 Class AA boys basketball postseason.
As coach Greg Burke sees it, the key is how effectively the Rams utilize all of those tools.
Richland’s 73-59 victory over No. 9 West Branch at Central Cambria High School on Friday night backed his assessment.
“We’ve had balanced scoring all year long,” Burke said after the Rams improved to 18-5 and earned a spot opposite No. 4 Penns Valley in a 6-AA semifinal game. “With the kids we have, as long as go with the theory of, ‘I don’t care who scores, as long as we score,’ we’re too tough to defend generally on the basketball court. I think tonight proved that point.”
Three Rams players scored in double digits, while two others netted nine points.
Senior Kyle Flick had 17 points using a combination of hot outside shooting and his ability to drive to the basket. Matt Shaffer, a 6-foot-2 senior, had 16 points and eight rebounds working in the paint. Ryan Ball, a 6-4 sophomore, had 12 rebounds and nine points inside. Senior Aaron Miller added another weapon, with three 3-pointers among his 11 points.
“We have a bunch of good shooters, Jake Lushko and Aaron Miller can shoot 3’s,” Flick said. “We’ve got Ryan Ball, a big 6-4 down low. Shaffer is a big guy. We can score inside.
“We just outran them,” Flick added. “We were a lot faster and we kept pushing the ball and were able to get up on them.”
Richland held a slim 14-10 lead after one quarter, but the Rams used an 8-0 run to start the second and led 22-10 on a Ball tip-in.
Burke’s team outscored West Branch 22-13 in the second quarter and led 36-23 at intermission.
“We wanted to come out and put some pressure on their guards and get up and down the court,” Burke said. “We wanted to get the playoff atmosphere out of us by running and playing hard. We did that at the beginning of the game.
“We got that 15-point lead most of the game. We couldn’t get anymore. It would get down to 11 or 12.”
West Branch (16-8) was led by 6-1 sophomore Austin Crise’s 30 points, including 11 of 12 on the free throw line.
“Austin Crise is very good,” Burke said. “We put our better defenders on him. He’s a playmaker but he’ll also look to score. You have to defend him for the pass, the dribble-drive and the shot. He did all three very well. He’s going to be a great player.”
West Branch’s Kody Trude had 13 points. The Warriors were efficient on the line, making 23 of 28 attempts.
“We had them at 36 points in the halfcourt set,” Burke said. “Playoff basketball you have to play with your feet and not your hands. We gave them 28 opportunities to go to the foul line, and they made 23 of them.
“We made 11 of 25. That’s not good enough in playoff basketball. We have to be better.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81