Mustangs prepare for another tough test during historic season

Mike Mastovich, The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.
·3 min read

Mar. 21—At the outset of this scholastic boys basketball season, Portage Area High School coach Travis Kargo knew his players had the potential to accomplish something special.

"We talked about having a chance to make some history this year," Kargo said after his team did exactly that by earning a spot in the PIAA Class 2A boys semifinal round with a 65-57 win at Kennedy Catholic on Saturday afternoon.

"We weren't sure what that meant exactly. We knew we had a solid squad. Last year, the kids had a little bit of a taste of success locally and statewide. I think that helped propel us into a run like this. They're unfazed by situations and the magnitude of the game. We have a lot of experienced players. We're excited and ready to get back to work."

The District 6 and WestPAC North champion Mustangs (21-2) will have their chance to add to an historic resume on Tuesday. In the boys program's first state semifinal appearance, Portage will play District 7 champion Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (22-0) at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The game is a rematch of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart's 84-56 victory over Portage in the 2020 PIAA Tournament's second round.

"We played them last year. We're fairly familiar," Kargo said of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, a team coached by Mike Rodriguez, the former Windber boys head coach and Forest Hills assistant coach.

"They returned a lot of players," Kargo said. "We returned everybody. We're hoping we can make some improvements and changes. We're going down there and we're going to compete.

"We went in at the half down seven and I didn't think we played particularly well," Kargo said of last year's game against the Chargers. "The third quarter, they came out and made a run and played really, really well. That snowball effect, we didn't get a stop quick enough. If they go on one of their runs, we have to be able to answer it."

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart has won three straight WPIAL (District 7) 2A boys hoops crowns and is the first to three-peat since Sto-Rox in 1991 to 1993.

The closest margin of victory this season was six points, 80-74, over North Catholic in the opener.

Jake DiMichele averaged 30 points a game entering the playoffs. Dante Spadafora is another key player.

Portage is led by senior Preston Rainey (15.6 ppg), junior Kaden Claar (15.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg), sophomore Mason Kargo (8.8 ppg, 3.8 apg), senior Demetri Miller (8.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg), sophomore Andrew Miko (8.4 ppg) and senior Koby Kargo (4.1 ppg).

"It's difficult to put in words," Coach Kargo said. "The way the community continues to rally, the school, everybody. The players have worked so hard for so long. It's great to be a part of it."

The semifinal winner will play the winner of another semifinal between District 12 Constitution and District 2 Old Forge at 2:30 p.m. Friday at the Giant Center in Hershey.