ELLIOTTSBURG - In the 22 Perry County boys basketball tournaments played before Kent Houser took the helm at Greenwood in 1992, the Wildcats claimed only one championship, that coming in 1972.
In the 21 played since, Greenwood has claimed the crown 10 times - including the last five in a row - and the Wildcats have a six-peat in their sights as they turned away a scrappy Susquenita squad 52-39 in the tourney opener held at West Perry Friday.
After a seesaw first quarter that left the Blackhawks clinging to an 11-10 lead, the Wildcats dominated the second quarter, outscoring Susquenita 18-7 in the frame to build a lead they would never relinquish.
Senior Adam Harrison tossed in eight of his game-high 18 points in the stanza as the Wildcats forced six Susquenita turnovers and blocked four shots.
"We struggled early," Houser acknowledged. "We have been having issues with slow starts all seasons, but then we came and got after it starting in the second quarter. I thought our pressure on defense really turned the game around."
While not glamorous, solid free throws shooting also played a vital role in the 'Cats success. Senior Noah Lebkicher (who finished with 11 points) drained 8-of-10 at the line including all four of his second period attempts. Overall Greenwood connected on 21 of 32 foul shots.
The sheer number of trips to the line also favored the Wildcats as the 'Hawks connected on 8-of-11 as a team. In the fourth quarter, the 'Cats sank nine of 14 from stripe while netting only one of three field goal attempts.
Harrison made a pair of 3-pointers and Lebkicher nailed one for the 'Cats.
Greenwood also got solid bench play from sophomores Seth Ferguson (eight points) and Noah Wright (seven points).
Susquenita hung around in the third but could get no closer than 34-26 before an 8-0 Greenwood run to finish the period gave Houser's squad a 41-26 cushion heading to the final stanza.
"With a team like Greenwood one run is one run too many," Blackhawks coach Jeff Dietz said. "You're in trouble if you give a team like that an opportunity and they'll take it. Outside of those runs we held tight the rest of the way through, but it is hard to recover against a quality team."
Dietz's squad did win the fourth quarter 13-11 as junior Jacob Nace delivered seven of his team high 11 during the frame, but it was too little too late for the Blackhawks.
Junior Shane Smith finished with seven points including a 3-ball and fellow junior Marc Rivera chipped in with six. All eight 'Hawks who checked in made at least one basket.
Greenwood take on tournament host West Perry tomorrow night as the Mustangs held off Newport 73-64 in the nightcap. West Perry is the last team other than Greenwood to win the PeCo; the Mustangs downed Susquenita 48-45 in the 2007 final.