PUNXSUTAWNEY — The seventh- and eighth-grade boys' basketball teams kicked off their seasons this week with a pair of games each — Monday against DuBois Central Catholic and Wednesday against Brockway — and so far, there is no shortage of close games at the junior high level.
One of those close games came Monday in the eighth-graders home opener against DuBois Central Catholic, when the Chucks earned a come-from-behind 34-30 victory over the Cardinals.
Despite trailing 19-17 at halftime and by an even greater deficit, 28-23, entering the final period of play, the Chucks outscored DCC 11-2 in the final stanza to earn their first victory of the young season.
"We picked up our intensity in the second half and were able to pull out a win," Punxsy eighth-grade head coach Glenn Good said after Monday's contest. "Winning by four after starting down by five in the fourth quarter is a nice accomplishment. However, we want to put ourselves in a better position heading into the fourth quarter."
Good hinted that his team displayed a bit of a lack of focus in the first half, which led to the need to win from behind, but he saw some strengths in the first half, as well.
"We didn't play with enough focus in the first half," he said. "We did rebound well the entire game, but couldn't convert on easy baskets in the first half, either."
John Matthews led the way for Punxsy on the offensive end with 15 points, and Brandon Douthit followed suit with 10 points for the Chucks.
Braxton Giavedoni added five points, and Dylan Huey (2), Noah Magill (1) and Peyton Graham (1) each added points for the home team, as well.
"For our first game of the season, we played OK," Good said. "As a team, we found areas where we need to improve. That is where our focus will be the rest of this week."
The rest of Punxsy's week is also a busy one, with a three-game schedule slated for the opening week.
The second of those games took place Wednesday, as the Chucks hosted the Brockway Rovers.
Punxsy showed no lack of intensity in the first half of Wednesday's game, jumping out to a 32-11 lead at halftime en route to a 44-19 victory thanks in large part to an aggressive defensive style.
"We took advantage of some turnovers created by our full-court pressure," Good said. "We were aggressive with that."
With the win, the Chucks improved their record to 2-0 on the season.
Aggressiveness was the name of the game for Punxsy on the offensive end, too.
"Offensively, we were aggressive looking to the basketball," Good said. "I would like to see us get better at getting the ball in the low post. It was open tonight, but we would be late with the pass."
Overall, Good was pleased with his team's performance, but as any good coach knows, there's always room for improvement.
"Overall, we improved over the last game," he said. "We displayed a better game tonight, but we still have a lot of work to do. Positionally, we were not where we should be a lot of times on defense. We need to keep working and improving each day."
Monday, the seventh-grade squad lost a heart-breaker in the last minute, falling to DCC, 23-21.
"The home opener came right down to the wire," Punxsy seventh-grade coach Rodney Thompson said after the game. "It was a pretty well-played game for the first of the season. The kids kept their poise and overcame an eight-point deficit in the first quarter, in which it was 10-2. We tied it in the fourth quarter and had our chances to win."
After DCC jumped out to a quick 10-3 lead, the Chucks bounced back in the second quarter, outscoring the Cardinals 7-2 to cut the lead to two at halftime.
DCC rebounded to win the third quarter, and although Punxsy outscored the Cardinals 6-4 in the fourth quarter, it was a late DCC basket with less than 30 seconds remaining that sealed the deal for the 23-21 victory.
"The bottom line is that we played OK, but we missed too many easy shots inside," Thompson said. "We will be working on that (Tuesday) before our next game Wednesday versus Brockway at home. The boys did a good job running the offense and found openings, so I was proud of them for that."
This early in the season, any improvement is good to see, but Thompson did see some areas for improvement on the defensive end.
"Defensively, we will be working on positioning and seeing the ball at all times in addition to communicating and calling out the picks," Thompson said. "We did better defensively, but we're still not where I want to see us. I want to be more aggressive, because we have such a deep bench and have no excuse for not going all out for all 24 minutes of the game."
Punxsy's scoring attack was well-balanced, with 10 different Chucks notching points in the opener.
Lucas Burkett led the scoring for Punxsy with four, and Jacob Weaver and Tanner Zimmerman followed closely with three points apiece.
Jacob Horner, Patrick Fedigan, Brady Snyder and Sky Anderson all knocked down two points, and Josh Godo, Nick Constant and Devin Kelly rounded out the scoring by each adding a free throw.
Wednesday, the seventh-graders hosted the Brockway Rovers, and the Chucks were unable to overcome high-scoring first and fourth quarters by Brockway, which won 41-33 on the Chucks' court.
After the game, Thompson was pleased to see many positives despite the disappointing outcome.
"One positive that stands out is that we did better from the free throw line," he said. "We went 7-for-13 with Patrick Fedigan leading the way, going 4-for-6 from the charity stripe."
Fedigan was also the Chucks' high-scorer with seven points on the afternoon, with Lucas Ambler following closely with six.
Anderson, Nick and Horner all notched three points for Punxsy, while Josh Godo and Brady Snyder added three.
Jacob Weaver rounded out the Chucks' scoring with two points.
Although the Chucks' record fell to 0-2 after Wednesday's loss, Thompson and his team have their heads held high, and he really likes what he's seen from them so far this season.
"These are really a good group of kids, and they're learning every day in practice and when we play games," he said. "As long as we work hard, play aggressively and keep learning, the Ws will come. We were a little more aggressive, but we still have work to do with positional defense on low and high posts, as they had too many easy baskets because we were on the wrong side.
"We'll also keep working on breaking the full-court press and being aware of what is going on around them."
The Chucks will have another opportunity to showcase the improvements they've been working on today when the seventh- and eighth-grade squads host Brookville, with the first game beginning at 4 p.m.