PUNXSUTAWNEY — Defense and a career-high night by junior Alex Fedigan helped the Punxsy boys' basketball team earn a 55-42 victory over Penn Cambria Monday night that will go a long way toward solidifying a home playoff game for the Chucks.
Fedigan scored a career-best 17 points, and Punxsy held the Panthers to 21 points during the first quarter to win their eighth game this season. Punxsy not only doubled last year's win total with the victory, but it nearly clinched the No. 2 seed in the District IX Class AAA playoffs.
All four District IX Class AAA teams will compete in this year's playoffs, including top-seeded St. Marys (16-6) versus No. 4 Clearfield (4-17). Punxsy (8-12) is likely to host Bradford (6-14), but the Chucks have yet to officially clinch the No. 2 seed and a home playoff game against the Owls.
Punxsy stymied Penn Cambria Monday night at the start of each half, allowing five points in the first quarter and three in the third quarter. The Panthers didn't make a field goal during the first nine minutes of the second half.
"We've been playing very good defense, and that's definitely been our cup of tea," Punxsy head coach Dirk Neal said "Coach (Darrin Kriebel) and I try to stay positive, and whenever things start to go south, that's one of the points we always bring up — where our defense has got us to."
While Punxsy's defense was slowing the Panthers — who started four sophomores — Fedigan was warming up. He had eight points and nailed two three-pointers by halftime before scoring nine points during the second half.
It was a standout game for the junior, who received more playing time while Logan Weaver and Jordan Mesoraco played limited minutes as they battled foul trouble.
"We know he can play (based) on what we've seen him do in the past at the other levels. It was just a matter of time where he had a breakout game," Neal said. "He was certainly one of the ones that stepped forward."
Daniel Triponey followed with 12 points, including 8-of-8 from the free-throw line. Punxsy was 8-of-17 from the charity stripe when Triponey wasn't at the foul line.
Weaver added nine points, and Darren Pifer had a solid game, tallying nine points.
Punxsy built an 11-3 lead before a late basket by Penn Cambria made it an 11-5 contest entering the second quarter. Weaver got hot during the second frame, scoring eight points, while the Panthers kept pace and trailed 26-18 at halftime.
Punxsy scored just three points during the first 5:54 of the third quarter, but during the span, the Panthers made just three free throws. After that, the Chucks closed the quarter on an 8-0 run and led 37-21 after three quarters.
"They know that when the offense isn't clicking, they'll still play good defense," Neal said. "Teams will score, but they're going to earn their points."
Punxsy's lead billowed to 40-21 a few minutes into the fourth quarter before a 17-3 run in Penn Cambria's favor made things interesting and cut the deficit to 43-38.
Neal took the blame for Punxsy's ineffectiveness during the Panthers' 17-3 surge.
"Instead of coming down, penetrating and making things happen like we had been doing, it almost seemed like we were playing not to lose," he said. "Whenever they started catching up a little bit, we started panicking and trying to hold the ball ... instead of attacking the rim."
But after the score was 45-40 in favor of Punxsy, the Panthers would never come any closer. Punxsy finished by scoring 10 of the game's final 12 points.