PUNXSUTAWNEY — In an intense preview of the District IX AAA championship game in two weeks, the home Chucks held serve on Friday night.
With a stroke of irony, Punxsy proved to be a second-half and fourth-quarter team to hit for 50 points on head coach Dirk Neal’s 50th birthday in besting Bradford, 50-46, in Punxsutawney.
“It was beautiful,” smiled the birthday-celebrating Chucks coach. “The kids responded just like we asked. Bradford is a scrappy team. It’s getting to be a real rivalry between the two schools 90 miles apart.”
The victory evened the season series between the two clubs.
In Bradford on Jan. 18, the Owls (10-11) prevailed in overtime, 57-49, over the Chucks (14-8).
The two clubs will have their third meeting two weeks from today on Mar. 2 at Clarion University’s Tippin Gymnasium. The third affair will be a rematch of last year’s District IX championship contest, which Bradford won by a single point, 36-35.
“Tonight’s win was huge with the rubber match coming up,” pointed out Neal. “Both teams are even heading into a one-game showdown. I expect it to be the same type of close game the others were, down to the wire.”
Friday night, the Chucks had to overcome a rough second quarter, as they stormed back to outscore the Owls, 32-21, in the second 16 minutes of action.
Trailing 25-16, Punxsy continued its knack of taking momentum into the half of its games.
With five seconds left, Devin Nicholson swiped the ball just across midcourt and raced it the other way for the layup to end the first half, 25-18.
The Chucks rode the momentum, again, into the third frame. With a strong last two minutes of the third quarter, Punxsy made it a one-possession game, 34-31, after a Will Curtis layup from Nicholson and a driving layup from Brandon Mancuso.
Despite making only seven of 17 free throws, Punxsy pushed ahead in the opening two minutes and hustled its way to the 50-46 victory.
Mancuso led a very balanced scoring line by the Chucks with 12 points. The junior added eight rebounds and three assists.
The beast of the fourth quarter on the glass was Garrett Zimmerman. The senior pulled down a team-best 11 boards while netting eight points and grabbing one steal.
The forward also took a key charge with 50.6 seconds left in the game, scored four points and had four rebounds in the final period.
“We challenged Garrett to do a couple things, and every time he steps up and knows what to do and does it,” noted Neal.
Cory Geer cleaned seven rebounds off the glass while having 10 tallies and blocking one shot.
Tyler Young chipped in eight points.
Nicholson added four points while handing out three helpers, stealing four balls and hauling down six caroms.
Off the bench, Michael Klingensmith and Curtis each produced four points. Klingensmith had two assists with Curtis showing some late boardwork.
“Our bench points, once again, were important for us. Klingensmith with two of three free throws in the fourth and Curtis’ two buckets,” said Neal.
Bradford received 13 points from both Mike Wilber and Anthony Zimbardi as its top scorers.
The two rivals played to a 10-10 tie after the first period, after Bradford’s Mike Wilber drained a triple right before the buzzer.
Punxsy went cold after an opening basket by Zimmerman in the second frame. The home team missed its next seven attempts from the floor.
While the Chucks went cold, the Owls reversed their two-point deficit into an 11-point lead, 23-12, with a 13-0 run over five minutes of clock time.
The Punxsy scoring drought ended when Ryan Sloniger found a cutting Cory Geer in the lane with 1:36 left in the first half.
A Young offensive rebound and putback began the third-period scoring with 1:17 elapsed.
Punxsy was able to cut the difference to two points, 27-25, on a step back triple by Mancuso, only to see Bradford net the next five points.
After the Mancuso drive to make it 34-31, Nicholson drew a Bradford charge to maintain the same score at the end of the third.
Geer started like a madman in the opening two minutes of the fourth quarter for Punxsy. The junior grabbed a board and laid the ball in from behind the backboard 52 seconds into the quarter.
Geer tied the game at 35 on the next trip before hitting on one of four free throws on the next possession for a 37-36 Owls' lead with 6:15 to go.
After a long three-point Bradford miss, Punxsy went in front for the first time since the opening quarter. Nicholson found Klingensmith on an inbounds pass at the left block for the layup and foul. Klingensmith completed the three-point play for a 39-37 advantage with 5:53 showing.
The Chucks held on the rest of the way for the win behind Zimmerman’s hard rebounding work and making just enough free throws (five of 12) for the 50-46 win.
“We played hard with a lot of emotion and intensity, especially in the fourth quarter. We weather some spurts where we didn’t play very well, but it is nice to win when you miss 12 free throws (in 24 attempts),” finished Neal.
The first game of the evening was just as exciting.
The two junior varsity clubs took an extra three minutes to decide their affair.
Down 44-41, Punxsy’s John Matthews dished over into the right corner to Clayton Dale, who drained the long triple with six seconds left to force overtime tied at 44.
Sloniger hit a baseline floater with 56 seconds in the extra period, but Bradford answered with a trey 21 ticks later. The JV Chucks missed on their two remaining three-point attempts for the 48-46 loss.
Sloniger finished with 18 points for the JV Chucks.
Curtis and Dale had eight points apiece.
Matthews added five points. Andy Fedigan chipped in three tallies, and Matt Burkett had two.