White’s heroics lift Indians to rivalry win
Juniata rallied in fourth to stun EJ
COCOLAMUS — Juniata found itself down late in the second half, but a spirited defensive effort and late-game heroics from Jace White at the horn allowed the Indians to escape with a 34-32 victory over cross-county rival East Juniata in a Tri-Valley League boys basketball contest in the latest rendition of the County Clash.
The Indians (1-0, 1-0 TVL) trailed by four after three quarters of play, but the Tigers’ offense fell silent in the final stanza. The contest was a bit of a rock fight as both offenses struggled throughout the night, but it was Juniata that found a way to be productive when it needed it most.
East Juniata (0-1, 0-1 TVL) controlled the ball in the final minute and was attempting to hold the ball for the final shot as coach Justin Hazel called a timeout with 34 seconds left to set up a play.
The Indians’ forced a turnover and called a timeout with 21 seconds left and drew up a play of their own. After things broke down, the Indians’ Max Lauver fired a desperation 3-pointer with seconds winding down. White snatched the rebound and put-up a layup at the buzzer, absorbing contact to secure the victory for Juniata, flexing in celebration as the Juniata benched stormed the court.
“That is not what we drew up on the sideline,” White said. “We went to the wrong side and coach said to fire it up because we were out of time, and Max Lauver fired it up, and I was fortunate enough to be there, get the ball and put it back up.”
With both offenses struggling and points at a premium, Indians coach Al Ream was pleased to escape the Tigers’ gymnasium with a victory. Tight victories are nothing new to veteran coach in the County Clash.
“It’s tough to play here. These kids come out and play tough every time and we’re fortunate to come out with it today because they played really well,” Ream said. “(East Juniata) is getting there and buying into that mentality. Because of that, they are going to be in and win some games. My hat is off to them.”
Hazel wasn’t expecting the 3-pointer and despite the loss was anything but disappointed in the effort his team displayed with a limited amount of time to install his system in his first season with the Tigers.
“We definitely didn’t expect them to take a three,” Hazel said. “They were looking to go to (Emmanuel O’Donell). I would go to Manny if I was Al and that was the concept there — to take away Manny and to take away the inside. Obviously we didn’t expect a three and (Ream) wasn’t expecting to have a three either. If that’s the shot we give up and it becomes the one we lose on, it is what it is.
“For me in my first year not knowing a lot of the guys, having just three open gyms and having 10 days to get ready — battling a good team in your first game and having a chance to win, you can’t be more proud,” Hazel added. “You can’t ask for more in your first game. Obviously you want to win it, but to be in that position against a quality team gives us something to build on.”
After a back-and-forth first half kept things knotted at 19, the Tigers began to pull away in the third quarter. A left-wing three by Brody Powell with 3:45 left in the quarter gave the Tigers a 24-21 advantage, before Billy Dressler answered an Indians’ 3-ball by Lauver to keep the Tigers ahead by four entering the final quarter.
Despite some rough shooting, Juniata was able to make the most of its opportunities as an old-fashioned three-point play by White under the bucket tied the game at 30 with 3:22 left. White eventually hit the game-winner minutes later.
Rebounding posed a significant advantage for the Indians as Juniata out-rebounded rival East Juniata, 25-14. East Juniata’s offensive struggles were magnified in the final quarter as the Tigers were unable to score from the floor in the fourth, managing three points on five free throws.
“When we had cold stretches we played pretty well defensively,” Ream said. “I think that we played pretty well defensively all night. We are not accustomed to playing zone and thought that it was the best thing for us to do at that time. When we got back into man we were able to create some turnovers. I think that we rebounded well, especially down the stretch.”
The Tigers played the night without one of their top players in Tanner Barth, who Hazel found out was unavailable before tipoff. Powell stepped up in a big way for the Tigers, as he led East Juniata in scoring with eight points and was a spark-plug on the defensive end. He also added three rebounds.
Gannon Ryan added seven points, two rebounds, an assist and a steal while Dressler had six points. Andrew Hunter had five points and seven rebounds.
“He’s been a great surprise for me, not really knowing a ton about him before coming here,” Hazel said of Powell. “He’s a really good leader and he helps the team a lot. He’s just one of those guys that you need. He’s long, he’s athletic and he just does all of that gritty stuff and he showed it tonight. Especially in the zone. He was really good in there and he stepped up and handled things well we needed him.”
White led the Indians with 13 points and seven rebounds while Lauver scored nine points on three 3-pointers. Jacob Condo finished with five points and five rebounds.
“I didn’t think we’d play at all this year,” White said. “For us to come out and win our first game like that in this crazy year, I’m happy.”
Ream said that the victory is big for his team as it embarks on a journey of playing four games in six nights, beginning on Wednesday when the Indians host Line Mountain. The Tigers begin a three-game road trip that starts with Halifax tonight.
“We are going to have a lot of those (tight) games,” Ream said. “I think what happened for us tonight was big because it gives us the momentum. This is a cross-county rivalry and it’s always going to be a tough, close game. We were fortunate to come out with the win tonight.”
Juniata 34, East Juniata 32
Jace White 6 1-3 13, Max Lauver 3 0-0 9, Jacob Condo 2 0-0 5, Emmanuel O’Donell 2 0-2 4, Yaniel Ortiz 0 3-4 3. Totals: 13 4-9 — 34.
3-point goals: Lauver 3, Condo.
Did not score: Logan Kehler, Christian Ortiz.
Brody Powell 3 1-2 8, Gannon Ryan 2 1-2 7, Billy Dressler 2 1-2 6, Andrew Hunter 1 2-3 5, Ethan Roe 2 0-0 4, Owen Dressler 1 0-0 2. Totals: 11 5-9 — 32.
3-point goals: Ryan 2, Powell, Hunter, B. Dressler.
Did not score: Brady Roe, Rowan Smith, Clark Ritzman, Dylan Wagner.
Score by quarters:
Juniata 11-8-6-9 — 34
EJ 11-8-10-3 — 32