Chucks are No. 1 seed, but Owls claim sweep, mental edge for playoffs

BRADFORD — Entering Friday night's contest with the Bradford Owls, Punxsy had the advantage of already knowing it was the No. 1 seed entering the District IX playoffs.

But the Owls had the advantage of picking up a road win at Punxsy Jan. 20, and Friday, Bradford made it a season sweep, setting up an interesting potential D-IX Title Game Mar. 3 at Clarion University with a 53-38 win over the Chucks.

But Punxsy has a bye in the playoffs and won't play again until the championship game, and the Owls have to defeat Clearfield to earn the right for the rematch.

Friday night's game was all Bradford, though.

"I think a lot of it is a mental block," Punxsy head coach Dirk Neal said after the game. "I hope we don't have it in our heads that we can't beat Bradford. At home, I thought we may have just had a bad game, but tonight was the same scenario. We played the same as we did at home up there. In fact, it was almost the exact same performance."

Neal said the problems were multi-faceted, but narrowed it down to one major problem: The Chucks just didn't seem to want the win as badly as the Owls.

"We weren't attacking, and we weren't trying to get the ball in the low post," he said. "Guys just didn't look hungry. We were too tentative. It's not a panic thing. We just need to get over the mental block and work over the hump. Bradford played well, and the last few games, it seems we've been bringing out the best in other teams. But we need to be more intense and play better defense to stop teams."

The defense was problematic for the Chucks in the first half, as they allowed 31 points and scored just 21 to trail by 10 at the half.

Unfortunately for the Chucks, when they turned up the defensive pressure in the third quarter, their shooting hands also went cold, and they scored just two points while holding the Owls to nine.

"We played some decent defense in the third quarter," Neal said. "But in the same breath, we were not attacking or pushing to make things happen. When we did score in the second half, we didn't pressure them and get back on defense. Hopefully, we'll work through some of those issues in some scrimmages next week."

Forrest Works was the star of the show for Bradford, scoring 21 points in all areas: Seven twos, a pair of threes and a foul shot.

One other Owl — Dan Rinfrette — was in double digits with 10.

Punxsy's offense was led by Ian Miller, filling in for Alex Fedigan, who usually starts but has been sidelined with an injury. Miller put up 14 points and went to the foul line four times for eight tries.

Typically hot-handed shooters Brandon Mancuso and Daniel Triponey were stifled by the Bradford defense and managed six points each as next-highest scorers.

Punxsy's Luke Janocha and Garrett Zimmerman each picked up six boards inside to lead the Chucks in the ever-important category.

Punxsy knows it has its work cut out for it, but the Chucks have two weeks to work through their issues and try to find a way over the mental block they're facing.

"All we can hope for is that we bounce back after this," Neal said. "We'll go back to work Monday."

Prior to the varsity game, Punxsy's JV squad grabbed a hard-earned 29-27 victory over the Owls' JVs to finish the season 19-1 — with the only blemish on their record a road loss at Elk County.

Punxsy JV coach Darrin Kriebel said it is "always an impressive feat to go on the road and beat Bradford."

"We had a great season," he added. "I'm really proud of the way these guys played all year."

The Owls had a chance to tie the game at the end, but the Chucks forced a deflected ball and held on for the victory.

The game was close throughout, but Punxsy's rugged defense held the Owls to just seven points in the entire second half to claim the win.

Punxsy junior Devin Nicholson scored 11 points to lead the Chucks offensive attack.

Geer and Tyler Young each put up six points.

Clayton Dale finished the game with three points, matching his total from the varsity game, and Michael Klingensmith matched his total with three.