PUNXSUTAWNEY — The Punxsy boys' basketball team's 24-point fourth quarter and spirited comeback weren't enough to hand one of the best Class A teams in the state its fourth loss this season Friday night.
The Chucks (7-10, 1-6 District IX League) trimmed Elk County Catholic's 41-28 lead through three quarters to 51-49 with 33 seconds left, but clutch free throws and offensive rebounds carried the Crusaders to a 54-52 victory.
Elk County Catholic (15-3, 5-1), which the Patriot-News in Harrisburg ranked as the No. 9 Single-A team in the state Monday, has won 11-straight games and has lost its three games by a combined six points.
The Chucks saw their three-game winning streak come to an end and were swept by the Crusaders again this season.
"We've come off three wins in a row, and we can't hang our heads on this. That's a very good basketball team," Punxsy head coach Dirk Neal said. "They're a classy team year in and year out. They never rebuild — they just reload."
During a game the Chucks never led, Elk County's defense held Punxsy to just 28 points through three quarters. By then, the Crusaders were ahead 41-28.
"I think you have to credit Elk's defense," Neal said. "As a general rule, there's been teams in the 20s and 30s entering the fourth quarter."
The Chucks then started the fourth quarter on an 8-0 tear behind a three-pointer by Daniel Triponey, a basket by Corban Cressley and three foul shots from Logan Weaver.
"Our kids are conditioned, and they just don't give up," Neal said. "They're relentless. That's why we put 24 on the board. We won't quit against anybody."
Four-straight points by Weaver and five points by Triponey cut the deficit to 46-45, but Punxsy was unable to come any closer.
Key offensive rebounds by ECC doomed the Chucks, as nearly every time the Crusaders received a second chance, they would score.
ECC's Mitchell Haberberger went 1-for-2 from the free-throw line with 2:21 left, but an offensive rebound led to Haberberger scoring and pushing ECC ahead 49-45.
After a steal and basket by Weaver made it a 51-49 game with 33 seconds left, Luke Daghir went 1-of-2 from the free-throw line with eight seconds left, only for ECC's Ricky Pearsall to grab an offensive rebound and be fouled on the missed foul shot.
Pearsall made both free throws to create a two-possession game, as Weaver's three-pointer at the buzzer made it a 54-52 final.
Weaver led all scorers with 28 points, nailing two three-pointers and finishing 10-for-10 from the free-throw line. Punxsy went 10-for-13 on foul shots as a team.
Weaver added six rebounds, Triponey had 12 points, and Jordan Mesoraco had four points and six rebounds.
Haberberger tallied a team-best 14 points of the bench — all during the second half — while crashing the offensive boards hard for ECC. He was coming off an 18-point, 12-rebound game against DuBois Thursday.
"You have to know where he's at, get a body on him, and prevent him from getting to the basket," Neal said. "If he does get a shot, we have to anticipate that he's going to get miss, get a body on him and not give up those rebounds."
Pearsall had 12 points, Ben Daghir had nine, and Darren Simons totaled seven.