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TYRONE – After taking a win from Hollidaysburg in the last game of the regular season, Mifflin County hoped for a repeat performance when it faced the Golden Tigers in a District 6 Class AAAA tournament game Thursday.
Unfortunately for the fourth seed Huskies, a perfect storm of factors – many of which were of their own making – gave the edge to the No. 5 Golden Tigers in a 55-54 loss.
“We picked a poor time to play one of our poorest games taking care of the ball,” Mifflin County coach Aaron Gingrich said, and offensive turnovers certainly were a factor in the game. The Huskies gave up possession time and again with poor passing choices.
But it wasn’t just dumb luck that kept underdog Hollidaysburg in the game the whole time. The Golden Tigers capitalized on Mifflin County’s errors, and created many opportunities of their own as they managed to edge the Huskies by a point for the right to face State College in the semifinals Saturday.
One of Hollidaysburg’s greatest self-contributions to the win was its performance from the line in the fourth quarter. Hitting 12 of 13 free throws in the fourth – overall Hollidaysburg hit 20-of-23 from the charity stripe – the Golden Tigers made hay while the sun was shining as one Mifflin County foul after another gave them easy points from the line.
“We gave up too many points to a Hollidaysburg team which doesn’t typically score a lot of points,” Gingrich said, explaining that his team was required to take some chances on defense, and it resulted in the Golden Tigers’ repeated trips to the foul line.
The fourth quarter started with the score 38-35 in Hollidaysburg’s favor, and it was able to maintain its three- to five-point cushion most of the stanza, but Mifflin County’s Seth Wagner took over in the paint to keep his team in the game.
A deep three from teammate Cy Treaster had the Huskies trailing 53-51 with 12 seconds left on the clock.
From there, Mifflin County had to foul to have a chance of regaining possession of the ball, but Hollidaysburg’s Brian Urban sunk both his shots – by this point Mifflin County was in double bonus – to take it out of reach for Mifflin County at 55-51.
The next trip down the floor, Wagner did manage to net a three right before the final buzzer, but it was too little, too late as Hollidaysburg ran away with the upset win, 55-54.
“That’s playoff basketball. You expect upsets all the time, you just have to prepare so that upset’s not you, unfortunately we were bitten by the underdog bug tonight,” Gingrich said.
One factor that contributed to this bite, but for which Gingrich would not blame the loss, was the smaller than regulation, 84-foot court in the middle school gym that hosted the contest.
“That wasn’t the difference in the game. We were,” he said, but Hollidaysburg was able to have better success with its zone defense than it likely would have had on a regulation-size court.
“This gym is an 84 foot court, and I knew Hollidaysburg was going to sit in several different zones, and what ends up happening against zone defenses on short courts is the recovery of their defense is shorter, the passing angles are much worse for our players and the gaps in the short corner and the high post are limited,” Gingrich said.
“That being said, we just didn’t play well enough in that zone,” he continued. “Our decisions with the pass, our inability to penetrate it and our inability to offense rebound are all ways you can get some cheap baskets, but we did not do that.”
Despite the loss, one of the high points of the game was Wagner’s closing quarter. In the fourth, Wagner put up 16 of his game-high 24 points. Most notable of all these buckets was that with his three at the end of the game, which was the last the senior would shoot in his high school career. With the bucket, he tied Gingrich’s father, Dick Gingrich, for 20th place in all-time Mifflin County scorers with 1,110 points.
“Seth Wagner has shown he is one of the best basketball talents that we’ve seen in many years in Mifflin County,” Aaron Gingrich said.
In fact, Gingrich gave credit to all his seniors – Kyle Marker, Ryan Sweeney, Zach James, Louis Jerzerick, Treaster and Wagner – mentioning they were all “great teammates, and great kids.”
As the season came to a close, Gingrich also didn’t focus so much on Thursday’s loss, but is now looking to the future as he hopes to see next year’s team put a lot of effort into improving its game.
“We don’t want to have this same fate again, and it starts with the offseason. It starts with getting better on our skill work, on our strengths, game decisions. All those things are going to be addressed, and we have to make a commitment to doing that,” he said.
“It’s easy to say, but until kids see first hand – which we saw first hand through the Mid-Penn – you don’t understand the quality of play and skill that we need to get to.”