WESTOVER — After the Harmony Owls missed a buzzer-beating shot that would have given them a win over the Punxsy boys' basketball team last season, Punxsy head coach Dirk Neal pegged Harmony — a much smaller school in Westover — a scrappy school that will play a team hard until the end. And Thursday night in Westover, the Owls gave the Chucks a run for their money, especially in the first half.
Punxsy relied on another impressive offensive outing from senior point guard Daniel Triponey, who racked up 17 points, and a double-double by senior forward Luke Janocha, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds, to earn its fifth straight victory, 60-45. Alex Fedigan also scored 11, and Ian Miller added nine for the Chucks.
Although the final score shows a larger scoring disparity, the tale of the tape revealed otherwise, with Harmony fighting back many times throughout the game to narrow the gap to a point that made Punxsy uncomfortable.
"I've said this before, but if you let a scrappy team hang around, they'll be there in the end," Neal said. "Especially when they are learning and getting better and playing a bigger school. They were obviously ready for us tonight. They did a nice job defensively and made some adjustments they didn't make last time we took a look at them. They also did a good job against Daniel Triponey, as far as containing him goes. Instead of getting beat, they gave him a few steps and made him earn his points going to the basket."
Harmony struck first when senoir guard Joseph Leyo hit a quick jumper, but Punxsy answered with a 9-0 run to take a 9-2 lead behind a pair of baskets by Triponey, a hoop by Brandon Mancuso and a three by Fedigan.
The two teams traded baskets for the rest of the quarter, and after a three-pointer from half court as the clock expired in the first quarter by Harmony's Tyler Tiesi, the Chucks led 17-9 after one quarter.
The tide started to turn in the Owls' favor in the second quarter, as senior guard Cody Sral provided a spark off the bench with a basket and a free throw, and Leyo hit another three to cut the gap to just two.
Punxsy took a quick timeout to calm the nerves and answered with a basket, but the teams again traded hoops throughout the rest of the second quarter, and the Chucks led by seven at halftime.
"You hate to see situations like tonight," Neal said. "But it was a good lesson for us. You can't come in against a team like this and think they'll lay down for you. They just kept playing hard and were always hanging around."
Whatever Neal said to his squad at halftime must have worked, though, as the Chucks came out firing again in the third quarter and started the period with an 11-4 run to extend their lead — a lead they would maintain throughout the rest of the game despite miniature runs by the Owls.
"I thought in the third, we really did a good job of coming out and putting them away," Neal said. "They ended up scoring 12 in the third, but most of those came later after we had already pushed to that lead."
Miller was Punxsy's leading scorer in the third quarter with five, and Triponey followed with four. But Punxsy saw six different players score in the third quarter alone.
In the fourth, the battling Owls did all they could to cut into the gap, with Tiesi scoring five early points and big man Evan Novella taking over afterwards, but their efforts weren't enough as Punxsy's bigs turned up the heat.
Janocha scored six of his 13 in the fourth, and Miller and Fedigan each pitched in with four.
Although it was a bit scary at times, Punxsy did what it had to do to win its fifth straight and push its record to 8-2 on the season heading into a pair of difficult D-IX league games next week.
Punxsy will travel to St. Marys Tuesday night to take on the 6-5 Dutchmen before playing host to Bradford — the only other league team which hasn't suffered a loss this year — next Friday.
After watching junior forward Garrett Zimmerman notch a double-double Tuesday night against Elk County Catholic and Janocha do the same against Harmony, Neal hopes this is the beginning of a trend for his big men.
"Our hope is that now that they've both had back-to-back big games, we hope they can both put it together against St. Marys," Neal said. "We want one to feed off the other, and hopefully, that'll roll into confidence for both of them. Hopefully, they'll just keep crashing the boards and getting rebounds."
A number of Zimmerman's baskets Tuesday and Janocha's baskets came off offensive rebounds. Janocha had six offensive rebounds Thursday compared to four on the defensive end — a rarity that is welcomed by Neal and his coaches.
Miller — a tall shooter who's not afraid to take the ball to the hoop — also caught Neal's eye Thursday night with his aggressiveness and solid play at both ends.
"I thought Ian really contributed well off the bench," Neal said. "He's a really headsy player, and he just has a knack for the ball. He plays great defense and takes the ball to the hole well on offense. He shoots well outside, and when they pressure him, he knows to put it on the floor and has a really good first step."
Still another forward — Jesse Venturini — also stood out to Neal coming off the bench.
"Jesse gave us some good minutes tonight," Neal said. "He had a couple of key rebounds when we needed a stop. They missed a shot, he came up with the board, and he got it to Daniel or whoever was handling the ball for us. Those are big rebounds."
Harmony, which is a young, developing squad, showcased some of its shooters Thursday night as well, with three Owls also reaching the 10-point mark.
Leyo led the way for the Owls with 11, and Tiesi and sophomore Kamden Kruise each scored 10.
In the JV contest, the Chucks jumped out to an early lead and pushed that lead to 26-8 at halftime before Harmony rallied to win the third quarter 14-12.
Punxsy turned up the intensity in the fourth quarter, though, closing with a 14-6 run to close out a 59-35 win.
All eight players on Punxsy's bench scored in the game, with junior Devin Nicholson's 15 setting the pace and Will Curtis's 13 following closely behind.
Michael Klingensmith scored 10 points, including a pair of threes, and Tyler Young added eight.
Cory Geer (5), Clayton Dale (4), Matt Burkett (2) and Tanner Evans (2) finished the scoring for the Chucks.
Harmony's Logan Sral was the game's high-scorer with 23 points.
When Punxsy travels to St. Marys Tuesday, the JVs will tip off at 6 p.m.