COCOLAMUS - After Midd-West's 54-39 win over Juniata in the Juniata County Christmas Tournament Thursday, coach Brent Bobb said that when it's done right, his team's full court press is nearly unbeatable.
Friday against East Juniata, the Mustangs almost proved Bobb right.
The Tigers took the championship game, 57-52, but in part because of Midd-West's press, it was either team's game until the last few minutes.
Sentinel photo by TIM SHUMAKER
Midd-West’s Andrew Karchner (33) blocks a shot by East Juniata’s David Brantley Friday evening in the boys title game of the Juniata County Christmas Tournament.
The deciding factor of the game came from the hands of East Juniata's all-tournament selection Dillon Leonard, when with about a minute left to play, he hit a 3-pointer to give East Juniata the lead it would keep the rest of the game.
From there, the Mustangs had to resort to fouling, and tournament MVP Nick Lorenz hit three from the line to seal it for the Tigers. But just minutes before it had been dicey.
East Juniata had a slight lead going into the final quarter, but Midd-West was pressing with all it had, and with about two minutes left in the game the Mustangs took three straight steals off the press to take a 52-49 lead. One East Juniata bucket later, though, Leonard hit the 3-pointer to put an end to the Mustangs' effort.
"I think that the confidence these guys show in making big shots was displayed in that fourth quarter," East Juniata coach Brock Anders said. "Some of the guys that want the ball are able to take shots and make them, and they know they have the green light to make them."
In the end, what it came down to was East Juniata hitting the shots that Midd-West missed.
In the fourth, Midd-West went 3-for-8 from the foul line, and it doesn't take a mathematician to see that those five missed shots create the margin by which Midd-West lost.
But before those missed foul shots, and before Leonard's game-winning 3-pointer, there was a whole game of high-intensity basketball.
"They were keyed in tonight. They were on fire and they played an excellent, excellent game tonight. All kinds of intensity and all kinds of pressure were put on. We got a lot of turnovers off our press," Bobb said of his team's performance.
In the other parts of the game it was early threes from Kahill Brooker, a consistently strong scoring performance from all-tournament selection Andrew Karchner and a whole team effort on the press that got Midd-West as close as it did to the win.
And on East Juniata's end, there were also many important plays from the first three quarters.
The Tigers fought injuries and the loss of Bailey Coder to foul trouble, but the rest of the team stepped in to keep the game close.
Such performances would include Lorenz's 2-point goal in the last seconds of the first half to take the 28-27 lead, or David Brantley's drives to the basket that gave the Tigers a seven-point run to take a 41-34 lead in the third.
Anders said he was also proud of the way his bench stepped up to keep the Tigers in the game.
"I couldn't be more proud of David (Brantley), Jeremy (Pannebaker), Delvin (Hockenbrock) and Jay (Pillot) coming off the bench and doing some nice things for us and bailing us out at some crucial points tonight," he said.
East Juniata (8-1) travels to Greenwood on Thursday. Midd-West (2-4) hosts Jersey Shore Jan. 4.