PUNXSUTAWNEY — With the winter weather finally hitting Punxsutawney just after Christmas, the weather seemed fitting for the opening day of the 17th-annual Carl A. Truance Holiday Classic.
Truance was an original member of the Booster Club and was known for his support of Punxsutawney athletics.
The Punxsutawney Jaycees originally ran the Holiday Tournament for 26 years be- fore the Booster Club took over in 1995. In 1996, the tournament expanded to include the girls' bracket, as well.
This year, Punxsy's boys' basketball team relied on a balanced scoring attack and solid defense to open its bracket with a 50-20 win over Curwensville Wednesday night.
"It was a really nice win for us," Punxsy head coach Dirk Neal said. "It was a really nice game where everyone had the opportunity to play, and everyone contributed. The kids were very enthusiastic coming off the break, and they were ready to get back. You can only beat up on each other so much in practice."
The Chucks wasted no time jumping out to an early 11-0 lead in the first three minutes of the game before making a large-scale substitution to bring in five bench players.
"Curwensville is a scrappy team," Neal said. "The last thing you want to do is allow a team like that hang around, because they're the ones that find ways to beat you. I thought we set the tone well. We gained control of the ball, ran our sets and did well throughout the game."
Punxsy's Brandon Mancuso opened the scoring with a three from the corner, and after senior point guard Daniel Triponey hit a two-pointer, Mancuso struck again from behind the arc.
Another three by senior Alex Fedigan extended the early lead to 11 and sent the starters to the bench for a breather.
Curwensville answered with a basket by Tanner Elansky — who finished the game's high-scorer with 13 points — and a free throw by Trevon Pennington, but Punxsy's defense settled back in, and Jesse Venturini scored a pair of baskets to lead the Chucks to a 17-3 first period.
Punxsy's starters played the majority of the second quarter, and Curwensville hung with them, evening their second-quarter score, 9-9.
But Punxsy poured it on in the second half, outscoring Curwensville 24-8 to cruise to the win and earn a berth in tonight's championship game against the Clarion Bobcats.
"I think it was a good tune-up game for tomorrow night," Neal said. "But there are things we need to do better. Clarion's a nice team. I don't doubt that we'll be ready to play, because I know for a fact, these guys are looking forward to that game, as they would have if it were Marion Center or Clarion. But we definitely have to prepare ourselves for the task."
Punxsy's balanced scoring attack was led by Mancuso, who had eight points, and Triponey, Fedigan and Garrett Zimmerman, who each scored six.
Venturini, Cory Geer and Tyler Young each had four points for the Chucks.
Will Curtis, Clayton Dale, Luke Janocha, Devin Nichol- son and Michael Klingensmith rounded out the scoring with two each.
Earlier Wednesday, Clarion defeated Marion Center 53-39 to earn its shot at the championship behind 29 points from junior point guard Roland Shannonhouse.
"Shannonhouse scored 29 (Wednesday), and we know we need to watch out for him," Neal said. "He's like Zane Hackett from Brookville. You know he's going to score against you. You just have to find ways to slow him down and limit the rest of the squad."
Neal's squad did just that against Hackett in a Dec. 16 win over Brookville, and he said his team's defensive play has just continued to improve over time.
"With each game, we get better defensively," Neal said. "We're a pretty good defensive team overall, but there's always room for improvement. We did a better job tonight stepping out and making their guys go back door, but we weren't finding those guys, and they had a few easy baskets in the second quarter because of that. We just have to keep improving and pressing forward."
Tip-off for the boys' championship game is scheduled for 7:45 p.m. tonight, immediately following the girls' championship game between Westmont Hilltop and the Marion Center Lady Stingers, which tips off at 6 p.m.
To earn their berth in the girls' championship, the Lady Stingers defeated the Lady Chucks in what turned out to be a down-to-the-wire game Wednesday night.
Punxsy trailed 27-14 at halftime, but fought back in the second half to tie the score at 38 before Marion Center pulled away with a clutch shot by sophomore Kearsten Brocious and a free throw by Jennifer Irvin to seal the deal.
"We came out a little timid and back on our heels in our first home game," Punxsy head coach Randy Reitz said. "We rebounded well in the second half, and we tied it up. But we just missed a couple free throws that could have put us ahead."
After playing overly-reserved offense in the first half, Punxsy battled back in the second half, and many of its shooters started to gain confidence.
"We only took six shots in the first quarter and passed on a lot of looks," Reitz said. "In the second quarter, we had the confidence to shoot the ball, but they didn't start falling until the second half. Once they started to fall, you could see the confidence building. In a young squad, the more they play and gain experience, the more confident they'll become."
Trailing by 13 at the break, Punxsy battled back to win the third quarter, 15-8, and the fourth, 9-6. The comeback wasn't enough, though, as the Lady Stingers had just enough fight left in them to hold off Punxsy.
Punxsy's scoring was led by senior Alex Magill, who scored 14 points to match Marion Center's Megan Ruddock for the game's high-scorer.
Punxsy's Taylor Newcome came in right behind Magill with 12 points on four three-pointers, three of which came during the Lady Chucks' comeback in the second half.
Freshman Nicole DiPietro earned five hard-fought points, and Ashley Reitz scored four for Punxsy, including a pair of late free throws to tie the game with two minutes remaining.
Sophomore Lauren Gia- vedoni had two points, and Shaina Painter had one to round out the scoring for Punxsy.
Although another close loss kept his team out of the win column, Reitz said he's not worried about the direction his team is going.
"The kids played hard, and we are going to get there," he said. "They're improving with each game and each practice. These kids want to win, and they motivate themselves. They're used to winning, and it will come. We just have to keep working on some things and keep getting better to build that confidence."
One area his team is usually strong in which Reitz saw room for improvement was its first-half defense.
"We have to do a better job defensively at times," he said. "We're a better defensive team than we showed in the first half. We gave up 27 points. We didn't get back a couple times, and then we didn't rebound well, which allowed them two or three shots."
The Lady Chucks will take on the Lady Cougars of Hazleton today at 1:15 p.m. in the consolation game.
"To beat Hazleton, we'll have to handle their pressure defense," Reitz said. "They'll be all over us full court for the entire 32 minutes. We'll have to move the ball up the court, or they'll have a lot of easy layups. If we can manage that, though, we match up pretty well with them."
Hazleton was defeated, 57-39, by Westmont Hilltop in the opening game of the tournament Wednesday.
Westmont will play Marion Center in the girls' championship game at 6 p.m. tonight.
The tournament action begins with a pair of junior varsity games between Marion Center and Punxsutawney.
The boys' JV game tips at 10 a.m. and the girls' game will follow at 11:30 a.m.