MONTOURSVILLE - After a disappointing first-round boot a year ago, the East Juniata Tigers took their 18-4 record to Montoursville to face the fifth-seeded Northern Tier League champion, Towanda, Friday in the District 4 Class AA quarterfinals.
The Tigers came out swinging on their way to notching a school-record 19th win in a single season and making history by winning their first playoff game since moving into District 4, 57-46.
The boys from East Juniata came out determined behind Nick Lorenz's 11 first-quarter points and dominant play on the glass by Bailey Coder. The Tigers jumped into an aggressive man-to-man defense, thwarting inside passes by the Knights and forcing the visitors to try their luck from beyond the three-point arc. Towanda's Noah Huff did manage to sneak one three in, but overall the Tigers' defense became increasingly less permeable.
Sentinel photo by CRAIG?UREY
East Juniata’s Nick Lorenz, right, goes in for a layup against Towanda’s Dave Rodenhizer in a District 4 Class AA basketball game Friday in Montoursville.
"That was part of our scouting report was to keep them off the 3-point line and I thought we battled early and kept them off it," East Juniata coach Brock Anders said. "It's a tribute to some of their guys, they can shoot from the perimeter."
With Lorenz operating the point, the Tigers looked to increase their lead in the second quarter, already up 20-7. The suffocating Tiger defense continued, which led to fast break opportunities and a 6-0 run to start the second stanza. A Tristan James jumper ended the mini-run, bringing the Knights to within seven.
Towanda changed pace after being relatively unsuccessful from 3-point land by driving to the bucket, looking for easy chances or a trip to the free-throw line. The Knights were able to muster a 4-0 run late in the quarter as East Juniata's big man, Bailey Coder, collected his third foul with 25 seconds remaining in the half.
"It's something that we've dealt with all year long. Bailey has been in a situation where he's had three or four fouls," East Juniata coach Brock Anders said. "We've counted on guys - our guards stepped up in Bailey's absence."
One guard in particular stepped up big time. Lorenz remained cool and collected throughout the game, netting 14 points in the first half and finishing the night with 25.
Coder had a huge night of his own, controlling the glass and chipping in 19 points.
"They're (Coder and Lorenz) the cornerstones of what we've been trying to do," Anders said. "Any time the ball is in their hands, it's usually successful."
After taking a 14-point deficit to the break, the Knights came out looking rejuvenated. Joel Miller opened the third with a big three for the Knights but the duo of Coder and Lorenz answered and the two teams traded buckets, which prevented the Knights from getting too close.
Following an offensive rebound and second-chance bucket, Huff knocked down a second bucket, bringing the Knights to within 11. Just as the momentum was shifting in favor of the visitors, Lorenz and the Tigers were able to settle the pace of play back into their favor and a Coder rebound and follow up bucket propelled the home team back to a 13-point lead.
With time ticking late in the third, Coder picked up his fourth foul, sending him to the bench with 1:10 left in the quarter. Jay Pillot entered in Coder's stead, spelling the big man and contributing on the glass.
Two threes by Huff narrowed the lead to as little as seven in the fourth, but the Tigers were just too strong as they entered the one-and-one, sending them to the the charity stripe with a chance to seal the deal. The Tigers converted 50 percent of their freebies, including two by Coder.
"These guys have put in a lot of time and practice - they've given me positive attitude and bought into what I was selling to them and I couldn't be any more proud of the performance tonight," Anders said.
The Tigers (19-4) move into the District 4 Class AA semifinals where they will face Wellsboro, a 61-44 winner over Canton, at a site and time to be determined.