PUNXSUTAWNEY — From the very first day of practice this season, Punxsy head coach Dirk Neal said one of the Chucks' top goals was to protect their own house and win their home games this season.
Wednesday night, the Chucks played their final home game of the season and did just that, picking up a 49-37 victory over District IX foe Clearfield to finish the season 9-2 at home.
"It was great to win this final one at home," Neal said. "Our only two losses at home this season came against Bradford and Indiana. We didn't play well against Bradford the first time around, and Indiana was a nice, seasoned AAA team. We'd like to play them again where we are now and see how we'd do."
Punxsy seniors Daniel Triponey and Ian Miller, who has filled in as a starter for fellow senior Alex Fedigan after an injury, led the Chucks' scoring attack with 17 and 13 points, respectively.
Things didn't go as smooth- ly as Punxsy had hoped going into the contest, though, as the Chucks trailed for the majority of the first three quarters before a Brandon Mancuso three-pointer gave them the lead for good at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
The first quarter was a struggle for Punxsy's offense, but the defense played well enough to keep it in the game, though they were outscored 11-7.
Triponey had five early points for the Chucks, and senior Luke Janocha was the only other Punxsy player to score in the stanza with two.
Part of the slower start for Punxsy may have been taking for granted that Clearfield came without one of their starters, Christian Lezzer, who is among the team's top scorers.
Neal said he and assistant coach Darrin Kriebel warned the team before the game that other players often respond in those cases.
"We didn't shoot the ball very well," Neal said. "I'd like to think we didn't come out flat, but the kids were aware that Clearfield came without one of their starters. I'd like to think they didn't think, 'It'll be easier.' But sometimes, that can go against you, because it gives someone a chance who hasn't been starting all year."
Neal even made the connection between one of their players stepping in, with Miller starting for Fedigan.
"Look at Ian Miller for us," he said. "He plays hard and gets his body to the basket well. He still appears to play with some nerves early on, and that might just be because he's used to coming off the bench. But some kids are better coming off the bench. You can come off the bench, and the game has already started and is in the flow of things. But Ian has responded very well for us, and we knew the same might be the case for them."
While it wasn't one of their regular bench players who stepped up, one of the Bison's players certainly took the task of dominating on the offensive end, as Robbie Myers put up 23 of his team's 37 points.
The second quarter started with Punxsy junior Garrett Zimmerman hitting a pair of free throws to pull Punxsy back within two, but Clearfield went on a 9-0 run from that point until a Punxsy timeout with just over three minutes left.
Punxsy scored a pair of baskets, while Myers added one for Clearfield before Neal decided he had to make a change and show one of the cards he and his team held in their hand: A 2-3 full-court zone pressure defense.
With the Chucks' defense pressuring the Bison, they forced numerous quick turnovers and finished the quarter on a 7-0 run of their own to pull back within two at halftime, 22-20.
"We had some things up our sleeve that, to be honest, we had to pull out even though we didn't necessarily want to so quickly," Neal said. "We have confidence in these kids, though, and they're confident in their own abilities. So, when we called the defense out, we knew they'd execute."
Clearfield started the third quarter with the ball, and after a missed shot, Punxsy gained possession.
Punxsy's first basket of the quarter came on an inbound play from underneath the basket, where Miller bounced the ball off a defender looking the other way, picked it up himself and scored to tie the game at 22.
Unfortunately for Punxsy, though, the Bison answered with another 7-0 run.
"Ian made a good heads- up play," Neal said. "It looked like we'd get some momentum, but here they came again."
Punxsy continued the back-and-forth, though, by finishing the quarter on a 6-0 run to find itself back within one point entering the final frame.
Punxsy executed an inbound play perfectly on the opening possession, and Mancuso hit a three for his first points of the game to give Punxsy the lead — a lead it wouldn't relinquish for the remainder of the game.
"I told them in the fourth quarter, we couldn't let them dig us another hole," Neal said. "So, we came out, Brandon ran the play and hit a big hoop, and that was a huge momentum changer."
Punxsy went on to outscore the Bison 21-8 in the final quarter, with five of those Bison points coming in the last minute on a pair of Myers free throws and a late three by Seth Beardsley when the game was already far out of reach.
Punxsy's offensive style late forced the Bison out of the zone they typically play, and Triponey exploited the man-to-man defense by taking the ball strong to the hoop. Punxsy's other players followed suit, and the Chucks went to the free throw line seven times for 14 shots in the final quarter alone.
"When we got to that point, our intention was to pull them out of their zone," Neal said. "Coach (Forrest) Chapman has them very well-skilled in that zone, because it's what they always play. But when we got the lead, we pulled them out of it, and Daniel got to the basket. A little frustration set in for them, they were too aggressive, and we were able to get even more late foul shots out of it."
Punxsy was also strong on the glass again, led by Janocha, with 11 boards, and Miller with eight, four of which were offensive. Zimmerman also grabbed five boards for the Chucks.
Punxsy closes the regular season Friday at Bradford, a game that has no meaning in the seedings for the D-IX playoffs. But the fact that the game can't affect the standings doesn't mean both teams aren't eager to pick up a win.
Bradford wants to defend its home court, and the Chucks would love to avenge the Jan. 20 loss the Owls handed them.
"Sure, we want to win and give ourselves some momentum," Neal said. "It'd be great to beat them on their court. But it also might be one of those games where we might want to keep a few things up our sleeve. We don't want to show them everything, as we might see them again in the District Championship game.
In the JV game, Punxsy's defense played 28 solid minutes of pressure defense to hold the Bison to 18 points en route to a 49-18 victory.
A pair of Chucks, Tyler Young and Cory Geer, finished in double digits with 18 and 13 points, respectively, to lead the game.
Punxsy set the tone in the first quarter with a full-court pressure zone that Clearfield struggled to crack, and the Chucks put up 11 to take an 11-4 lead into the second.
The second was the Chucks' most productive quarter, when they put up 17, many off transition baskets from steals on the defensive end, to lead 28-11 at halftime.
The defense took center stage in the third quarter, as the Chucks allowed just two points, and they scored 12 to essentially put the game out of reach.
Things slowed down in the fourth quarter, and Punxsy outscored the Bison, 9-5, to finish off the 49-18 win.
After Young and Geer, junior Devin Nicholson finished just shy of double digits with eight.
Michael Klingensmith scored six for Punxsy's potent attack, and Will Curtis rounded out the scoring with four, all of which came on free throws.
With the victory, the Chucks JVs finished undefeated at home for the 2011-12 season at 10-0.