WINGATE - A rough beginning was Mifflin County's downfall Monday when the Huskies dropped a 49-44 contest to rival State College in the semifinals of the District 6 Class AAAA boys basketball tournament.
Between a very sluggish offensive start by the top-seeded Huskies and a few surprise threes from State College's guards, the Little Lions' 27-13 lead at the half was ultimately too much for the Huskies to overcome despite a second-half surge that had State College's lead down to three points on two separate occasions in the fourth quarter.
In Mifflin County's comeback, a nine-point effort by senior Hunter Wright, plus some key shooting from Jack Packer had State College on the ropes in the fourth when Packer took the momentum of back-to-back intercepted passes on defense by Wright and Evan Seby to hit a three, cutting the Little Lions' lead to 45-42 with just 29 seconds left to play.
Sentinel photo by CHRISTOPHER?SHANNON
Mifflin County’s Hunter Wright (20)?is fouled by State College’s Alex McCann (3) and Patrick Irwin from the left during the Huskies’ District 6 Class AAAA?semifinal game against the Little Lions Monday at Bald Eagle Area High School.
One bucket for State College later and Mifflin County was again threatening when Seby hit what appeared to be a three - but the shot was called off for a foul on the floor against John Michael Maclay before Seby let the ball fly.
Maclay was good for both free throws in double bonus to make the score 47-44, but State College's Tyler Hall was fouled on the next State College possession and hit both shots. From there, Mifflin County attempted two desperation threes, but neither fell, resulting in the 49-44 final score.
"The first quarter was obviously what doomed us. State College uncharacteristically had several other players hit perimeter shots aside from Michael Beattie," said Mifflin County coach Aaron Gingrich, who credited Little Lion guards Hall and Lucas Cooper for coming through with those unexpected shots.
Between Hall, Cooper and Beattie, State College had 10 from three-point land, half of which came while Mifflin County was struggling in the first half.
"When they got that little lead, we started pressing a little bit on offense and started forcing shots, which is a recipe for disaster," Gingrich said. And in terms of this lead, it was only a matter of two minutes into the game until the Little Lions had begun to secure it.
With threes from Hall and Cooper plus one under the basket from Patrick Irwin, State College took an 8-2 lead at the six-minute mark in the first quarter. As the quarter progressed, it didn't get any better for Mifflin County as it was only able to secure one more bucket before it headed into the second trailing 17-4.
In the second, State College continued to build its lead as it scored shots from various distances while Mifflin County took a pair of 2-pointers apiece from Curtis Jerzerick and Maclay plus a free throw from Wright for nine.
Whether they were attempting the outside shot or driving inside, many of Mifflin County's first-quarter shots were fruitless, but Monday's game was one of contrasts, as a different offensive team stepped onto the floor for Mifflin County after the half.
"The entire second half State College appeared just to be hanging on rather than attacking us, and as was the case all season, our effort was outstanding and was what allowed us to come within three points of pulling a great comeback," Gingrich said. This comeback began in the third when a small Mifflin County run cut what was nearly a 20-point lead by the Little Lions to 36-25, then Packer hit a three from the baseline to make it 36-28 heading into the fourth.
At the game's conclusion, top-scorer honors went to Hall with 16. For Mifflin County, Wright finished his high school career in typical fashion with a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds), while Maclay was also good for a double-digit effort with 10 points.
Mifflin County finished the season at 11-12. State College has been the underdog the entire tournament, with a 3-20 record heading into Monday's game - including losses of 65-64 and 45-43 to Mifflin County in the regular season - that had the Little Lions in the No. 5 spot in the five-team bracket.
The Little Lions will attempt to defend their District 6 title when they face Altoona, a 52-42 winner over Central Mountain earlier on Monday.
"I've given the last game of the season speech 16 times now, and it never gets any easier," Gingrich said. "I'd like to thank this year's senior class of Hunter Wright, John Michael Maclay, Curtis Jerzerick, Braden Treaster and Cody Donaldson for all of their contributions both on and off the court."
Gingrich also continued to describe the senior class as "one of the highest quality senior classes we've had in terms of on-court performance, off-court camaraderie and academic achievement. Their successes in life will be seen 10 and 20 years from now, but I thank them all for the way they embraced the merger of two schools and bringing our team together this season."