Mesoraco's late basket lifts Chucks past KC

PUNXSUTAWNEY — The Punxsy boys' basketball team played as a team and won as a team Saturday afternoon against Karns City, as every player contributed to the 63-61 victory that snapped the Chucks' four-game losing streak.

Punxsy trailed 47-41 entering the fourth quarter and was down 57-52 with 3:15 left before scoring 11 of the game's final 15 points to eek out a win over the Gremlins.

After a loose ball foul on the Chucks (4-6) put Karns City's Jake Henry on the free-throw line with 20.4 seconds left, the senior nailed both foul shots to tie the game at 61.

Seconds later, Punxsy junior Daniel Triponey drove to the basket, and instead of putting up an off-balance shot, the left-handed point guard found forward Jordan Mesoraco underneath the basket. Mesoraco was momentarily surprised by the pass, but after regaining his composure, the senior put in the go-ahead basket with five seconds left.

Karns City (3-7) was able to drive the length of the court with four seconds left, but its shot was off the mark, giving Punxsy its first victory since the holiday tournament Dec. 29, 2010.

Triponey, who struggled with his shot Saturday, made the unselfish play and found his big man inside for the game winner.

"Credit him," Punxsy head coach Dirk Neal said about Triponey. "That's a sign of a good point guard that he can find somebody in the heat of the moment when he's driving."

Meanwhile, Mesoraco scored all six of his points during the Chucks' 22-point fourth quarter while playing with three injuries.

He entered the game with shin splits and a bruised bone in his back, and he added a twisted ankle Saturday, Neal said. But the senior wasn't going to stay off the court.

"Whenever I tried to get him a blow and get him out, he said, 'Coach, I'm ready to go back in,'" Neal said. "He wanted to be in there in that situation. He's just a good athlete."

Considering two District IX League games against possible playoff opponents — St. Marys Tuesday and Bradford Friday — loom this week, Neal knows just how vital Saturday's win was, no matter how the victory was accomplished.

"Now, we roll into this week with two Triple-A teams that we're contending with for a potential district title if we would get that far," Neal said. "Obviously, we needed that momentum to roll into St. Marys. It couldn't have come at a better time."

Triponey and Mesoraco were the stars on the last play of the game, but Punxsy received important contributions from everyone else, too.

Logan Weaver scored a team-best 23 points, including eight of Punxsy's 11 first-quarter points. Triponey followed with 11 points and nine rebounds, including six offensive rebounds.

Alex Fedigan scored seven of his nine points during the first half, and Darren Pifer managed eight points off the bench.

Brodi Lowmaster, who hasn't scored much this season, made two crucial baskets to help tie the game at 57 with 1:35 left. Lowmaster came off the pine to score all four of his points with back-to-back two-pointers that wiped away Karns City's 57-53 lead.

"He's one of those kids that when he comes off the bench, he knows he has a nice touch and can shoot it," Neal said about Lowmaster. "Anything you ask of him, he can do."

Punxsy pulled down a mind-blowing 18 offensive rebounds, as seven different players had at least four total rebounds. In addition to Triponey's nine boards, Mesoraco had five rebounds, and Weaver, Pifer, Fedigan, Corban Cressley and Luke Janocha managed four rebounds.

Punxsy needed every one of those 18 rebounds, considering the Gremlins nailed an impressive 11 three-pointers, including seven threes during the first half to build a 34-30 lead.

Neal said that offensive rebounds were something he and assistant coach Darrin Kriebel have been harping on at practice, and it showed Saturday.

"Even in past games, we would shoot the ball and maybe have one guy getting to the boards. Now, we're working on crashing four guys to the boards and having one guy back as a safety in practice," Neal said. "When you get more bodies in there and go up, you have a much better chance of pulling down offensive rebounds."

The Chucks were ahead 5-2 during the first 80 seconds, but they never saw the lead again until the final minute of the game. The Gremlins' three-point barrage always forced Punxsy to come from behind.

Henry led Karns City with 18 points. Tucker Preston added 14 points (three threes), Tyler Kepple scored 12 (four threes) and Brad Fuhrer tallied 11 points (three threes).