PUNXSUTAWNEY — On a night when Punxsutawney Area High School announced the annual Winter Sports Queen and Princess, the Bradford Owls rained on Punxsy's processional, as the Owls pulled away in the third quarter to earn a 50-42 District-IX league win over the Chucks on their home court.
"It's especially tough to lose at home," Punxsy head coach Dirk Neal said after the game. "We've talked about protecting our house and winning here, and now, we have made things interesting in league play."
Although Neal is confident in his team and its abilities, he also conceded that his squad was simply outplayed Friday night.
"The bottom line is the better of the two teams on the floor tonight won," he said. "We just didn't play well. We picked a bad night to not shoot it well. We didn't look to attack, and credit their defense, but we went into a shell. We know that for every actions there is a reaction, and every action they made, we were tentative and sluggish to react. We were just too hesitant tonight."
In the first five minutes, it appeared the contest might be a blowout, with Bradford pouring on early to jump to an 11-2 lead.
Bradford's Forrest Works started the game with a quick basket, and senior point guard Randy Ruffner followed with another basket to give the Owls a 4-0 lead in the first minute.
Punxsy's Garrett Zimmerman put the Chucks on the board with a bucket, but Bradford scored the next seven unanswered with a pair of free throws by Works, a two by Colton Holzwarth and a deep three by senior forward Danny Rinfrette.
Punxsy missed a shot on the ensuing possession, and the Owls quickly transitioned into their breakout when Punxsy's Alex Fedigan took a charge that would prove to shift the first-quarter momentum.
"Even at the beginning of the game, when we went down 11-2 to start, there are a lot of teams that would hit the panic button," Neal said. "But this team just keeps battling back and does the little things like take a charge. A charge just changes the momentum. Maybe a basket gets waved off, and you're going the other way with another offensive chance."
After the charge call with two minutes left in the first, Punxsy finished the quarter on a 7-1 run and held Bradford to just six points in the second quarter.
Unfortunately for the Chucks, they managed to net only seven points in the quarter, and the Owls took a two-point lead into halftime.
In the third quarter, after the Winter Sports Queen ceremony, Punxsy came out a bit flat, and Bradford's shooters heated up, including junior forward Brandon Teribery, who scored each of his eight points in the frame.
"That was the big thing," Neal said. "We came out a little flat and sluggish. Those are words to explain our play tonight. We didn't play like we're capable, and that shocks me that it happened here at our house. Coach (Darrin) Kriebel and I need to sit down and see how we can better react to things. We just didn't do that tonight."
Overall, the Owls outscored Punxsy 18-8 in the third, all but putting the game out of reach at 36-24.
Punxsy's offense flipped the switch in the fourth quarter in a back-and-forth with the Owls. But despite outscoring Bradford 18-14 in the final stanza, the Chucks fell victim to their division foe.
Despite the outcome, Neal was pleased with his defense's performance, especially in the first half.
"Overall, our defense played well," he said. "We lost track of some guys a few times, but over the length of a game, that'll happen. I was pleased with our overall performance."
Punxsy sophomore Brandon Mancuso came off the bench to lead the Chucks with 10 points, while Zimmerman pitched in with eight, and Luke Janocha and Daniel Triponey each added seven in the Chucks' balanced attack.
Punxsy earned many extra opportunities on the offensive end with offensive rebounds, a stat the Chucks have been making a habit of this season.
Zimmerman led the team in boards with nine, three of which came on the offensive end.
Fedigan had seven rebounds for the Chucks, and Triponey, Mancuso and Janocha each grabbed six.
After a day off today, Punxsy will return to practice Sunday heading into a busy week that includes a road game and a pair of home games.
The Chucks will battle their rival, the Brookville Raiders, whom they defeated in a thrilling 45-40 game Dec. 16, 2011, in a road game Monday before hosting Keystone and D-IX rival DuBois Wednesday and Friday, respectively.
"We talked in closing after the game that next week is no easier," Neal said. "We have Keystone sandwiched between Brookville and DuBois — two hard league games. We just need to come back and get that shooting confidence back. That's all shooting is, really, is confidence."
Neal knows the road ahead is a difficult one as Punxsy heads into what he called "the meat" of the league schedule.
"Keystone's a really nice team, well-coached by Greg Heath, who's been there over 25 years," he said. "And we know what Brookville and DuBois are like, so we just have to be ready."
On a positive note, Punxsy's junior varsity team kept its perfect season intact Friday night, holding on for a 38-35 victory over the Bradford JVs.
Punxsy led by eight with two minutes remaining, but Bradford closed the gap to as few as two before Michael Klingensmith put the Chucks up by three with a free throw with 17 seconds left.
A Bradford steal and timeout with three seconds left gave the Owls one last chance to tie it, but a buzzer-beater by Ryan McCammon was just long, clanging off the iron and icing Punxsy's win.
Punxsy's Devin Nicholson scored nine points in the third quarter alone en route to his game-high 19.
Cory Geer came in next highest with eight points, and Tyler Young and Will Curtis each scored four.
Matt Burkett hit a pair of free throws for two points, and Michael Klingensmith and Clayton Dale finished the scoring with one foul shot each.