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PUNXSUTAWNEY â€” The bad news for the Chucks boys' basketball team after their 47-45 loss at Elk County Catholic last Friday was they had fallen from a tie for first in the District-IX standings to a tie for fourth, but the good news was they still had three league games remaining. And with three wins, Punxsy would still find itself in good position to compete for the No. 1 seed entering the playoffs.
Tuesday night, Punxsy began that hopeful trek back to the top with a 47-40 victory over the Flying Dutch of St. Marys in Punxsutawney.
Perhaps the biggest concern for the Chucks was the fact that they jumped out to a big early lead, but allowed St. Marys to battle back at times throughout the contest.
"I would say at this point in time, that's a bit concerning," Punxsy head coach Dirk Neal said after the game. "We came in and got ahead early, but they just kept hanging around. We didn't play well defensively and offensively, in spurts. Things went really well, and then didn't go so well for periods of time. We just let them back into the game."
On a night where Punxsy paused before the game to recognize its seven senior basketball players and three senior cheerleaders, it was Punxsy sophomore Brandon Mancuso who lit up the scoreboard early for the Chucks with 12 points in the first quarter.
Off the opening tip, a pair of seniors connected on a fancy pass-and-score play from point guard Daniel Triponey to forward Luke Janocha. Triponey scored the next basket before Mancuso scored his first points of the night with a field goal to extend Punxsy's lead to 6-2.
After a free throw by Dutch forward Brandon Vollmer, the Chucks scored the next 10 points on a basket and foul shot by Triponey and seven straight points by Mancuso, pushing the lead to 16-3.
The teams traded baskets for the rest of the quarter, and Punxsy's lead was 14 points at the first break.
St. Marys chipped away in the second quarter, though, behind 10 points by Justin Quiggle, and by halftime, the Chucks lead was narrowed to just eight.
"We need to come back to talking about that in practice," Neal said concerning letting the leads slip away. "When you get ahead of them like that, you have to get after them and just not let them out to breathe. Tonight, we let them get some good looks at threes, and Quiggle isn't afraid to shoot. He lit it up on us."
St. Marys kept its foot on the gas pedal coming out in the second half, and after a quick basket by Vollmer, the Dutch were within six.
Janocha answered with a basket, and Punxsy junior Garrett Zimmer- man traded baskets with Vollmer, but Quiggle scored five unanswered to cut Punxsy's lead to three.
Mancuso answered with a three, though, â€” his only second-half points â€” and Triponey took over, scoring seven points over the last two minutes of the third quarter to put Punxsy ahead by ten after three.
"It's definitely nice to have a one-two scoring punch connecting like that," Neal said, but he didn't dwell on the scorers' success too long. "But we definitely want some more points inside, too. We had a lot of good looks inside that we just couldn't finish. Our bigs played hard, but they just struggled to get the ball in the basket. And when other teams start focusing on our guards, we need those baskets underneath. We had some good offensive rebounds, but we just need to put those back in. We'll work on that, though."
Punxsy's offense stumbled again in the fourth quarter, looking a bit sluggish and not being able to convert on any shots until nearly six minutes into the quarter when Zimmerman hit the front end of a pair of free throws.
But Punxsy's defense proved to be up to the task, holding the Dutch to just eight points in the final frame to secure the 47-40 victory.
"We just keep on these kids, before and during the games, that we are where we are because of our defense," Neal said. "When we run into bad times, we need to get a defensive stop or a good trap. Maybe we don't cause a turnover, but we can at least force a bad shot or get them out of position for rebounding."
St. Marys had one last breath of life with 35 seconds left on the clock, when an attempted long pass downcourt on an inbound play hit the ceiling fixtures, and St. Marys had a shot with the ball in Punxsy's end.
The Chucks forced a quick turnover, though, and senior Alex Fedigan put the finishing touches on the win with a layup at the other end.
Punxsy's difficult league schedule continues Friday at DuBois. The Beavers will be riding a high going into the contest after defeating the Bradford Owls on Bradford's home court Tuesday night.
Punxsy's trek back to the top of the D-IX standings is on its way, but Neal said the main focus for his squad is playing one game at a time and hitting its stride going into the playoffs.
"Obviously, our number one goal isn't so much the league title, but the No. 1 seed in AAA going into the playoffs," he said. "But, we're taking it one game at a time, and we want to win our non-league games just as much as we want to win our league ones. We just want to go into the playoffs playing at our absolute best."
Based on the first five minutes, the junior varsity contest looked like it would be a low-scoring affair, but the teams heated up in the final two minutes, and Punxsy exploded for 18 in the second quarter to open things up on its way to a 48-28 victory.
Punxsy had a pair of hot-handed shooters leading the way in scoring, with Devin Nicholson scoring 18 and Tyler Young putting up 13, including three from behind the arc.
Punxsy's defense im- pressed the entire game but was especially stellar during a seven-minute stretch that covered parts of the second and third quarters where the Chucks shut St. Marys out to extend its lead.
The only player Punxsy's defense didn't have an answer for was junior guard Matthew Kronenwetter, who scored six unanswered points for the Dutch to close out the game.
Michael Klingensmith followed Nicholson and Young with seven points, and Cory Geer was right behind him with six. Matt Burkett and Will Curtis rounded out the scoring for Punxsy with two apiece.View more articles in: