HIGHLAND PARK - Going into their home game against Central Dauphin Monday night, the Mifflin County boys basketball team were looking to take the next step in their growth this season by passing the .500 mark.
They nearly made it.
An overtime fall away 20-foot 3-pointer by Central Dauphin's Manny Gonzalez at the buzzer changed that as the Huskies fell 57-56.
Sentinel photo by BRADLEY KREITZER
Mifflin County’s Hunter Wright, left, takes a layup over Central Dauphin’s Brian Forrest Tuesday in Lewistown. See more photos online at cu.lewistownsentinel.com
"It's a heart-breaking loss in the sense that effort was wasted on the good guys not winning," Mifflin County head coach Aaron Gingrich said. "However, if on a possession like that you force one of their good players to catch it and he shoots 24-feet fading into his bench and he still hits a three, sometimes you have to tip your hat at them and say that was heck of a shot.
"They stole a win from us. But we played hard, we played tough, we played tough down the stretch and it reminded me a lot of a playoff atmosphere in this gym."
What started out as an early Rams advantage quickly changed late in the second quarter and continued into the third quarter thanks to a Mifflin County defense that stepped up and an offense that cut into the Central Dauphin lead by going on a 16-0 run.
By the time the final minutes of the game - well, regulation - rolled around, the Huskies were able to erase that lead totally on a drive and a bucket in the paint by Hunter Wright, tying the game at 49 and forcing the extra period.
Gonzalez was the thorn in the Huskies' side all night, finishing with seven threes and a game-high 24 points. Teammate Aaron Gress provided the Rams with a potent one-two punch by hitting three treys and gave a 19-point effort.
Despite the slow start for Mifflin County, the Huskies finished with two players in double figures. Leading the way for Mifflin County was Wright's 17-point, 10 rebound double-double performance while Nate Koller, who netted three triples, added 15.
Defensively, Ross Torquato came off the bench and made some clutch defensive stands in the final minutes to help force the extra period.
"Hunter Wright played with a cold this evening and had a great performance," Gingrich said. "Nate Koller stepped up on both ends of the court and was very aggressive which is what need him to do the rest of the season. I also thought Ross Torquato gave us very quality minutes in the second, particularly on the defensive end."
Trailing 30-17 at the intermission, the Huskies looked like they were rejuvenated in the third quarter, which started out with a Curtis Jerzerick jumper and ended on a John Michael Maclay drive to the hoop followed by a 3-pointer by Koller, cutting the lead to one, 30-29.
"We had numerous and uncontested looks in the first quarter that were very makable that we didn't finish," Gingrich said. "After the first quarter our mental intensity was us up, we finished on the offensive end, we locked down defensively, contested everything Central Dauphin was getting and played very well as a team throughout the overtime."
After a strong defensive effort to start the second half, the Rams were able to take back a bigger lead thanks to the sharp shooting talents of Gonzalez, whose seven-point quarter gave the visitors a 41-36 lead heading into the fourth.
In the final period of regulation, Mifflin County's defense stiffened as Jerzerick blocked what seemed to be an easy lay up for CD, keeping the Rams lead to just one point with 3:15 left.
Torquato had a big steal with 1:42, allowing the Huskies to keep the lead to a free throw.
However, Gress would put his team up by three with time running out with 54.8 ticks left. Gress hit both of his one-on-ones, upping the lead to 48-45.
On its next possession, Mifflin County battled right back as Wright muscled his way into the paint, cutting it again to just one point, 48-47.
With still 32 seconds left in regulation, Mifflin County fouled forward A.J. Perez, putting him to the line for a one-and-one. After missing the first shot, Perez swished the second.
As time was ticking away, Wright went toward the basket and muscled another one in with two seconds left, tying the contest and sending the game into overtime.
In the overtime, both teams exchanged leads twice.
With game knotted at 54, Torquato's clutch rebound put the ball in Jerzerick's hands. While heading in for the lay up, Jerzerick was fouled on the play, putting him to the charity stripe. He was automatic, giving Mifflin County a 56-54 lead with only nine seconds left.
Central Dauphin brought the ball down to midcourt and directly called a time out with 3.5 seconds left.
When the teams broke their final huddles, Gonzalez got the throw in hit nothing but net as the buzzer sounded.
"That was a very good high school basketball game. Central Dauphin is a good team. That's seven wins in a row for them," Gingrich said. "The effort from our guys from the second quarter on was as good as we've seen all year. The first quarter, the three deficiencies we had were a lack of containment from their guards, lack of containment and contesting of their threes and defensive rebounds and finishing on the offensive end."