BY RYAN COBB Sports writer
WESTMORELAND — The Westmoreland boys basketball squad shot over 40 percent from behind the three-point arch for nine treys and scored a season-high in points on Monday, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a physical Rome Catholic team, as they went on to win the Center State Conference crossover match 85-71.
The Redwings put on their best performance on the court in quite sometime by also tallying a season high in points, and also on foul shots, hitting 18-of-28 from the charity stripe compared to the Bulldogs’ 2-for-6. Five Rome players also hit double figures on the scoring chart.
The 6-foot-3, senior Josh Blair once again led the visitors with 24 points while grabbing 12 rebounds, the 6-foot-3 junior Dave Sblendorio tied his season-high of 17 points with seven rebounds and five blocks, and junior Caleb Blair added a season-high 15 points and contributed with five assists. The 6-foot-6 sophomore Conner Marchione also fired in 15 points, pulled seven rebounds and five blocks, and senior Mike Eisinger knocked in 10 points from off the bench.
"It was all offense. Tough on defense but it was enough," said Sblendorio. "This was a tough team, but we fought hard and got a lot of points. They got some big guys, but we have bigger guys, and we came out on top."
The Redwings got the Bulldogs in foul trouble early and used their bigger size to their advantage at the hoop to take a nine-point lead by the end of the first period and notching it more at 11 points by halftime.
However, the Bulldogs got a bit of momentum going in the third period and even cut the lead to two points after Erik Harris dropped in a three-pointer to make it 48-46 with under five minutes left in the quarter.
Though as soon as things were finally looking good for Westmoreland, it soon turned for worse as the Redwings continued to get the foul calls off the hosts and got the lead back to an 11-point advantage at the end of the third. Rome Catholic went on to shoot 12-for-15 on free throws in the second half to ice the game with Caleb Blair sailing in 5-of-6 in the fourth period.
"We didn’t think it was going to be a running game, but we had a lot of opportunities to run our transition," said Caleb Blair. "We made our foul shots more than usual, and we tried to have the game inside out starting with our big men Dave, Josh and Conner. It’s such a great victory for us."
He added that going to a 3-2 defense forced the Bulldogs to shoot from the outside.
"They ran in transition a lot and tried to get a lot of three-pointers," he said. "They couldn’t get the ball inside too well against us in the second half once we moved to the 3-2, so they were only looking for 3s, and they were knocking them in."
Rome Catholic head coach Steve Campbell said he was certainly pleased with the 7-3 overall Redwings’ performance over the 2-6 overall Bulldogs to capture their fifth straight victory.
"We knew it would be very tough," he said. "That team is a lot better than what their record indicates. They got some physical athletes. We got that lead and in the second half I knew they were going to make a run. We kept our composure and we finished the game out."
Senior John Becker paced the Bulldogs with 23 points and lately has been one Bulldog that first-year Westmoreland head coach Jeff Busch can count on.
"He gives everything he’s got on the court between the lines," said Busch. "He’s doing a nice job with learning some things, and he’s an instant offense. He’s been back with us for three games now, catches the ball and gets it to the net."
Fellow senior Ted Flint finished with a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds as well as four steals and four blocks, despite seeing limited time on the court while getting called on four fouls, John Gerace also had a career night with 12 points, including four treys and six assists, and Tyler Witter had 10 points.
Busch said even though it’s a loss, he’s seen much improvement from his group since the season started.
"We were really focusing on the offense to improve and we’ve improved it," he said. "Defensively, we got a long ways right now. We make two steps forward, we make one step back and hopefully we can improve a little bit by Wednesday."
The Bulldogs return to CSC Division IV action against visiting Waterville on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., and Rome Catholic hosts Morrisville-Eaton in another CSC crossover on Friday at 7:30 p.m.