Chucks come up big in the clutch

PUNXSUTAWNEY — The Route 36 Rivalry has seen its share of close games in every sport the schools participate in for years, and the latest chapter — Friday's boys' basketball game between the Chucks and the Raiders — was no disappointment, as Punxsy defeated Brookville 45-40 behind 24 points from Daniel Triponey and a three-pointer from Alex Fedigan that put the Chucks up for good with 13 seconds left.

"Alex had kind of struggled on the shot before that, yet he comes down and on this occasion, he did exactly what he had to do," Punxsy head coach Dirk Neal said of Fedigan's shot after the game. "That's the sign of a good, confident shooter. The ball came to him, and there was never a thought of passing. He went right into his motion, had a beautiful release and followed through nicely. We've been trying to keep his confidence up, and that shot could just go a long way as far as that goes. It could be exactly what he needed."

In each team's first league game of the season, it actually looked a bit dismal for Punxsy early, as Brookville jumped out to a 10-2 lead in the first five minutes, including eight points by Brookville's dominant six-foot-six center, Zane Hackett.

Punxsy's defense buckled down, though, holding Hackett to just eight points throughout the remainder of the game, and the Chucks gradually chipped away at the Brookville lead.

"In my opinion, Hackett's going to get 20 against most teams," Neal said. "It's very difficult to stop him, and when I say stop him, I mean if you can hold him under 20, I think you're doing something, so I thought we did well defensively."

Punxsy trailed the entire game until Triponey hit a three immediately following two blocks by Hackett with just under three minutes to play in the fourth quarter to put the Chucks ahead 37-36.

Brookville quickly regained the lead with a pair of free throws, one each by Sebastian Kerr and Seth Connor, but a foul shot by Punxsy junior Garrett Zimmerman tied the score at 38 with a minute-and-a-half left to play.

On the ensuing inbound play, the Raiders tried to call a timeout, but Triponey stole the ball and scored a quick basket just before the whistle to give the Chucks a 40-38 lead.

Connor answered back quickly for the Raiders on his next trip down the floor, hitting an 18-foot jumper to tie it at 40.

"When they tied it and immediately took that timeout, the first thing out of our guys' mouths was, 'Fellows, that tied the game, but we have the ball. Now, Brookville has to stop Punxsy,'" Neal said.

Unfortunately for the Raiders, stopping Punxsy wasn't in the script Friday night.

The Chucks tried to cash in on a quick basket on the next possession, but after a miss, Punxsy senior Luke Janocha stepped up with a big offensive rebound against Hackett.

Punxsy quickly called a timeout, and the Chucks were back in business, or so it seemed.

The Chucks had the ball on their own baseline, but a miscommunication between Triponey and Fedigan saw the inbound pass soar out of bounds, giving the Raiders possession with 43 seconds still on the clock.

Fedigan refused to hang his head, though, and playing with four fouls — one away from fouling out — he turned up the pressure on Kerr as he brought the ball upcourt, forcing him to dribble the ball off his foot and out of bounds.

Punxsy inbounded the ball to Triponey, and after some movement to throw off the Raiders' defense, Triponey found Fedigan in the corner for the shot that gave Punxsy the lead for good.

Even though there were only 13 seconds remaining when the ball fell through the bottom of the hoop, the game was far from over.

Brookville was called for a quick travel on its offensive end, and on the pass in, Triponey was fouled, sending him to the line with a chance to seal the victory.

In what seemed to be the only shot he missed in the fourth quarter, Triponey's free throw was off the mark, but it was another Chuck's turn to play hero, as Zimmerman came down with an offensive rebound and outletted the ball to Triponey, who was again fouled with three seconds left on the clock.

"I think their guys (the Raiders) thought, 'Hackett's going to get this,' and they started to release and transition down the floor," Neal said. "It went a little over Hackett's head, and there was nobody there but Garrett to grab it. That was a huge rebound."

Given a second chance to put the Raiders away, Triponey cashed in, knocking down a pair of free throws to solidify game-high 24 points and put the Raiders out of reach.

The Chucks' locker room was a high-energy place after the game, but Neal noted that it wasn't just excitement, but excitement for the guys who came through in the clutch that resonated out into the gym.

"I've been saying it all along, but the energy level of these kids is great," he said. "They probably thought they were the underdog, and they just came together. Coach (Darrin) Kriebel and I stayed out of the locker room for a bit after the game to let them celebrate, and when we came in, it was all game talk, and you could hear it 60 feet out of the locker room."

Neal also said after the game that it wasn't just one player who displayed confidence Frdiday, as the Chucks shot well all night, especially behind the three-point arc.

"Brandon Mancuso, one of our younger players, and the veteran players want the ball in their hands," he said. "We don't have anyone who's afraid to shoot it. We do a lot of shooting drills in practice trying to build confidence, and I thought that showed, and we shot the ball very well tonight."

From strong shooting, to solid rebounding on both ends of the court, to shutting down a dominant force in the middle, everyone contributed to the Chucks' victory Friday, Neal said.

For as much excitement as the varsity game had for the fans who packed the stands, the JV game was not lacking in that department, either.

In what looked like it would be a defensive slugfest after a 4-2 first quarter in Punxsy's favor, the opening game of the night turned into a 46-42 shootout with the Chucks coming out on the winning end.

The Chucks were outscored in both the third and fourth quarters, but thanks to a strong offensive second quarter, during which Punxsy scored 17 points to Brookville's 10, the Chucks held on for the victory to improve to 3-0 on the season.

Devin Nicholson shot lights out and racked up 19 points, with 13 in the second quarter, while Cory Geer did the dirty work inside to earn 16 points, including eight in the third quarter to keep the Chucks ahead.

Neither of the two earned the title of high-scorer for the game, as Brookville's Nathan Shirts scored 21, but the Chucks earned the tally in the ever-important win column.

Punxsy's scoresheet also included Matt Burkett (4), Will Curtis (3), Clayton Dale (2) and Tanner Evans (2).

Next on the docket for the Chucks: They welcome a familiar face in Logan Weaver and his Indiana Indians to town in a non-league game Tuesday.