CLARION — If you have never felt something slip through your fingers, the Punxsy Chucks boys’ basketball team can tell you how it feels.
With control of the game throughout, Punxsy had the worst time to lose its mojo in the fourth quarter of the District IX title game and gave the championship to Bradford, 49-42, on Saturday at Clarion University.
On a Michael Klingensmith layup with 2:03 left in the third quarter, the Chucks enjoyed a 35-26 advantage. It would unfortunately be the last time of sheer excitement for the contingent of red and white Punxsy fans, who made the 40-mile trip to Clarion.
Following one of two free throws, the Owls’ Tyler Wilbur stole a Chucks’ pass and eventually found Mike Wilbur, who buried a triple with four seconds left to make it a 35-30 contest at the end of three frames.
The Chucks did continue to hold the lead for the first 4:54 of the final quarter.
After Bradford made two free throws to cut the margin to a point, Punxsy turned the ball over for the third-straight possession. Tyler Wilbur grabbed a missed shot and laid in the putback, with 3:05 to go for the Owls first lead of the day, 41-40.
Punxsy (14-9) committed an offensive foul on its ensuing trip and saw its deficit increase to four points, 44-40, on a Tyler Wilbur three-point play at 2:59 remaining.
Brandon Mancuso stole the ball in the backcourt and took it the length of the floor the other way for a 44-42 game with 1:50 left. The layup would be the final points scored by the Chucks.
The Owls converted five of eight foul shots in the final 1:08, while the Chucks misfired on their final four attempts for the eventual 49-42 final.
“The bottom line is we lost,” noted Punxsy head coach Dirk Neal. “Wilbur just shot lights out in the second half. We missed some layups, had too many turnovers, and the bench let us down today which was very surprising.”
Neal alluded to Bradford’s Mike Wilbur, who hit four of nine tries including three treys for 12 points in the second half. The Punxsy coach could have added in Tyler Wilbur, as well, who had 11 second-half tallies of his own. The two Wilburs finished the game with a combined 32 of the Owls’ 49 points as their only double-digit scorers.
With the win, Bradford claimed its second D-IX title in a row over Punxsy and a return trip to the PIAA AAA state playoffs.
On the day, Punxsy was paced by Mancuso’s 15-point total including six of six from the foul line. He handed out three assists, grabbed two rebounds and stole one ball.
Devin Nicholson drained two first half three-pointers for six points to go with three boards and a pair of assists.
Cory Geer and Tyler Young added five points apiece.
Geer pulled down a team-high six caroms and had an assist. Young contributed four rebounds, a steal and a block.
Despite being in foul trouble, Garrett Zimmerman banked home four points and grabbed four rebounds.
Will Curtis clutched five boards and netted five points.
Michael Klingensmith rounded out the contributors with two points and two rebounds. Ryan Sloniger had one assist.
The afternoon could not have started much better for Punxsy.
A Young jumper, two Mancuso foul shots and a Zimmerman layup gave Punxsy a 6-0 lead 1:45 into the contest.
Bradford scored the next six points, but Punxsy held a 15-11 advantage at the end of the frame following a Nicholson three-pointer.
After a three-point play by the Owls’ Mike Wilbur, the Chucks put in the next eight second period points. Nicholson grabbed an offensive rebound and dished to Zimmerman for the final two of the eight points to make it a 23-14 game with 2:27 remaining in the first half.
Bradford made two foul shots as the only points in the last two minutes for a 23-16 halftime tally.
Punxsy led by as many as the nine points, 35-26, before the tide of events went completely in Bradford’s favor.
“Klingensmith played a nice ball game, especially for us on defense,” added Neal.
The Punxsy coach continued, “It was a good year. The kids worked hard, but they were just not a big, hungry team, which is what you've got to do (to be a championship winning team).”