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Mar. 23—LANCASTER — Nativity has two big men in junior Marquis Ratcliff and senior Kegan Hertz, 6-foot-6 players who each have cleared 1,000 career points.
La Academia Partnership Charter also has tall players in 6-foot-7 Jamal Lebedev and 6-6 Issac Fadlemoula.
But only one team has Cody Miller.
The junior guard posted a season-best 23 points, including six 3-pointers, as the Hilltoppers defeated District 3 champion La Academia Charter 73-64 on Monday night in a PIAA Class A boys' basketball state semifinal at Lancaster Catholic High School.
The Hilltoppers overcame a shaky third quarter and a rough final seconds of the fourth to score 12 of the overtime's 15 points and advance to the PIAA state championship for the first time in school history.
Nativity will face District 5 champion Berlin Brothersvalley, a 78-52 winner over District 9 titlist Clarion Area, at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at the Giant Center in Hershey.
"I didn't know when, but I knew some day we'd get there," Nativity head coach Mike Walborn said.
"Oh my God, it feels amazing," added Hertz, the senior team captain who tallied 21 points and 10 rebounds. "I thought we were going to lose it, but we fought back and made it, man."
Nativity trailed the second-year La Academia squad 52-47 entering the final period after a frightful third quarter in which the Hilltoppers committed eight turnovers and were held to just eight points.
Nativity led by as many as 12 points in the second quarter and 39-32 at halftime before LAC went on a 20-6 run.
"I said, 'Relax, you've got a quarter. You're fine,' " Walborn said he told his team. " 'Everything's good.' "
It was particularly good for Miller, whose previous season-high in points was 21 against Mahanoy Area on Jan. 30.
With the Hilltoppers trailing 56-54, Miller canned a triple with 3:21 left in regulation to complete Nativity's comeback for a 57-56 lead. Then, with 48 seconds left, he broke away for a layup that gave Nativity a 61-57 edge.
La Academia battled back, using two free throws by DeMajh Salisbery with 11.8 seconds left and a layup by Issac Fadlemoula with 4 seconds remaining to produce a 61-61 deadlock after regulation.
The Hilltoppers' Keegan Brennan then made sure that would be the Lancaster school's last hope. He opened overtime with his third three of the game from the right corner for one of Nativity's 11 triples. That began a streak of 10 straight points for the Hilltoppers, including another trey from Miller, to set his season best in single-game scoring.
"I haven't been making as many threes for the past couple of games, but my teammates found me in open spots and I just knocked down the shots. They gave me great passes," Miller said.
Added Walborn: "That's the best thing about our team. I don't know who's going to do what ever, and we don't have one guy that scores 25. It's open for people to step up."
Armed with the 71-61 lead, Nativity surrendered only a trey by Salisbery the rest of the way while junior guard Julius Walborn, senior forward Jacob Hoffman and Hertz each contributed foul shots toward the final score.
At the buzzer, the Hilltoppers joyously gathered at midcourt and joined head coach Walborn in a chant of "Hershey" as he danced around in a circle.
The team then gathered as a banner was unveiled honoring Ratcliff for his 1,000th career point, scored on a 3-pointer with 4:22 left in the first half, after which Nativity held a 39-32 lead.
La Academia did not go quietly. After Ratcliff scored a putback to put Nativity up 41-32, the District 3 champs scored nine straight points to tie the game. Brennan sank a 3-pointer to put the Hilltoppers back ahead, but La Academia answered with five straight points to take a lead that grew to the five-point bulge after the period.
But this was Nativity's night. In addition to the points by Miller and Hertz, Ratcliff produced 15 points and 10 rebounds.
That overcame a balanced attack from La Academia, which lost a six-game winning streak to finish at 13-8. Jvon Collazo had 16 points, Kevin Polite added 14, Fadlemoula had 11, Salisbery had 10 and Lebedev added 10, all in the second half.
As parents gathered around the Hilltoppers, first in the gym lobby and then in the gym for photos, La Academia's team received hearty applause when it emerged from the locker room.
But its season is over.
Nativity now prepares for the final step toward a much desired state championship.
"I know they're fast. They like to push the ball. They're good shooters," Walborn said about Berlin Brothersvalley. "I'll get into it when I get home tonight."
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