PUNXSUTAWNEY — In most likely the best boys’ basketball game to date this season, the two opponents gave the Senior Night crowd an intense and hard-fought affair.
In the end, Bald Eagle Area proved its mettle with a strong finish to prevail over Punxsy, 61-53, on Wednesday night in Punxsutawney.
Leading by only two points with six minutes left, the Eagles’ center, Dennis Fisher, who had a game-high 24 points, netted the next five points and 10 of his team's final 12 points to double up the Chucks, 12-6, for the win.
“Bald Eagle is 19-2 for a reason. They have a nice ball team,” pointed out Punxsy head coach Dirk Neal. “We just had a bad spurt at the wrong time. We were down two but missed a 10-foot jumper that would have tied the game.”
Neal continued, “The kids played with a lot of emotion. The effort was there. It was just a couple bad shots and have to wonder what if they would have went down.”
The home club produced a balanced scoring night for its 53 points.
Brandon Mancuso led all Punxsy (13-8) scorers with 13 points. The point guard dished out five assists, grabbed six rebounds and stole three passes.
The two senior starters, Garrett Zimmerman and Devin Nicholson, combined for 23 points with 10 made field goals. Zimmerman hit for 12 points, while adding five rebounds and a blocked shot.
Nicholson contributed 11 points of his own.
Tyler Young chipped in nine points. He netted Punxsy’s first five points and the final four points. The junior pulled down five boards, while handing out three assists and swiping a pair of balls.
Cory Geer fought for seven points on the inside. He finished with a team-high nine caroms. Geer also had three blocked shots, an assist and one steal.
Michael Klingensmith added a made free throw. The Chucks final senior Zach Minich was held without a point.
“The guys talked with each other tonight and had good chemistry, which we had not been getting. There was team unity. What we got tonight, we did not have in other outings,” added Neal.
Along with Fisher’s 24 points, the Eagles received 11 points from Bryan Greene and 10 points by Tyler Schall.
The first half of the contest was very well-played between the two teams, which have totaled 32 victories between them.
Young gave the Chucks what would be their only lead of the night 31 seconds into the evening. He took a pass from Mancuso and drained a right corner triple.
Bald Eagle answered back with the next nine points over the following four minutes. The visitors tied the game with a trey of their own. The Eagles added three layups by three different people, as they took advantage of three Chucks’ misfires and a turnover to run to a 9-3 advantage.
Jump shots by Young and Nicholson pulled Punxsy back within three, 10-7.
Punxsy’s Geer soon banked in a layup to make the tally 14-10. Bald Eagle’s Bryce Greene stole the ball and laid it in the bucket, and Fisher added a basket for an 18-10 visiting lead at the end of the first frame.
The two clubs were just heating up. The foes produced 39 points in the second eight minutes of action.
Punxsy struck first with a Mancuso fading jumper and a pair of Geer free throws. Bald Eagle answered with two consecutive buckets from Bryan Greene.
The Eagles lead grew to double digits, 26-16, midway through the second period.
The Chucks turned the momentum to their favor, starting with a Zimmerman fastbreak lay-in from Geer. After a Bald Eagle turnover, Mancuso drove in for a score to make it 26-20.
Trailing 34-27 after the second of two Eagle three-pointers in a row, Mancuso lofted a baseline driving layup. After a long rebound, the Punxsy guard found Zimmerman for another layup for a 34-31 tally with six seconds in the half.
Bald Eagle made the second of two foul shots with 1.8 seconds to go. Nicholson fired the ball the length of the court on the inbounds pass, where he hit Geer in stride, who was fouled as he charged to the hoop at the buzzer. Geer hit one of two from the charity stripe to cut the margin to three, 35-32, at intermission.
The third quarter gave images of two talented fighters exchanging punches.
Bald Eagle opened the second pair of quarters with a bucket, only to be met with a Mancuso driving layup and an offensive rebound and reverse layup by Geer for a one-point game, 37-36.
The Eagles pushed in front by five points, 43-38, with 3:54 in the third quarter only to be met by another jab from the home Chucks.
Mancuso and Zimmerman put in back-to-back drives into the lane and for the third time of the period the difference was but a single point, 43-42.
The 6-7 Fisher, who netted 17 of his 24 points in the second half, started to truly make his presence felt in the final nine minutes.
Off a Punxsy turnover, the ball fell into an Eagle’s hands off a scramble, who promptly found a cutting Fisher for the lay-in and foul. The center converted the three-point play for a 46-42 score.
Klingensmith was fouled on an offensive rebound and made his first free throw.
On the final offensive trip of the quarter, Bald Eagle’s Fisher gave his team the momentum heading into the final period with a turnaround 12-foot jump shot in the paint right before time expired to make it 48-43.
After a scoreless opening minute of the fourth quarter, Punxsy called a timeout. The talk worked, as Nicholson drove hard into the lane for the two points to cut it to 48-45.
Bald Eagle made one of two free throws on the next trip before Mancuso cut the difference further with another driving layup, 49-47, with 6:08 showing on the clock.
Mancuso stole the next Eagles possession, but the Chucks could not convert it into points. A missed shot was rebounded by Punxsy, but Bald Eagle picked the pocket and the result was a Fisher dunk on the other end.
The dunk proved to be the turning point of the final five minutes and game-changer.
Punxsy missed a three-pointer on the next trip. Bald Eagle pulled in the long missed shot and found Fisher for his second conventional three-point play to make it 54-47.
Young gave the Chucks one last gasp with a steal and assist to Nicholson for a 54-49 score with 4:14 left.
It would be the last home basket for the next three minutes. Bald Eagle netted the next seven points, with five of them coming on a layup and trey by Fisher, for a 61-49 contest with only 1:59 on the clock.
Young made the final two baskets of the night for Punxsy but it was not enough against the strong Bald Eagle finish for a 61-53 final.
The junior varsity tilt proved to be an exciting undercard as well.
Trailing 38-31, Klingensmith and Clayton Dale pumped in back-to-back triples before four points by Will Curtis tied the game at 41 at the end of three frames.
The JV Chucks enjoyed four two-point leads in the fourth period. The final advantage came when Brandon Blose made a bucket in the paint amidst traffic to make it 51-49 with 2:06 to go.
The Blose two-pointer would be the final points by Punxsy. Bald Eagle answered on the next trip with a top-of-the-key three-pointer to jump in front, 52-51.
After three fouls had to be committed by Punxsy to reach the penalty, Bald Eagle made two of four free throws to make it 54-51 with 8.5 seconds.
The Chucks rushed the ball to midcourt for a timeout. The potential game-tying three-point attempt fell short for the home team to give Bald Eagle the 54-51 JV win.
Curtis powered in a season-best 22 points to pace the JV Chucks.
Ryan Sloniger chipped in nine points. Andy Fedigan added six points.
Ruben Taylor downed four points while both Klingensmith and Dale had their one three-pointer.
John Matthews and Blose had two points each.
Punxsy will complete its regular season on Friday night against Bradford with the JV contest starting at 6 p.m.