LEWISTOWN - Defense down the stretch and a few clutch plays on offense were just what the Huskies needed Wednesday night, as they edged Central Dauphin East in the final moments of a Commonwealth Division boys basketball game for the 54-52 win.
A Nate Koller breakaway layup on an inbounding play was the first important offensive play for the Huskies late in the fourth quarter, but then the Panthers' Frank Wilson hit a three - his only bucket of the game - to give Central Dauphin East a 52-51 lead it carried into the last minute of the contest.
But the Huskies weren't about to let the lead stand.
Sentinel photo by BRADLEY KREITZER
The Huskies’ Evan Seby (23) takes a shot past Central Dauphin East’s Quitin Smith (2) Wednesday in Lewistown.
With fewer than 30 seconds left in the game, Mifflin County's defense came through in the clutch to gain possession of the ball when it forced the five-second call on a Central Dauphin East inbounding play. From there, John Michael Maclay completed the game-winning 3-point play when he was fouled on a scoring drive to the basket and made the ensuing free throw for the lead with 19 seconds to go.
In the final seconds of the game, Central Dauphin East made a mad scramble to retake the lead, but a missed free throw in the bonus by Dwight Whitlock plus a block by Mifflin County's Hunter Wright resulted in the Mifflin County win.
"The kids played really hard defensively tonight. Holding any team to 52 points is a very good defensive effort," said Mifflin County coach Aaron Gingrich, whose team played impeccable defense not only in the final quarter, but throughout the game to notch the victory.
IF YOU GO
Mifflin County travels to State College Friday
"Tonight we held a solid CD East team to 52 points, we got 18 defensive rebounds and only 10 turnovers, three of which were in the second half. And in those three aspects, we did what we had to do to win," Gingrich said.
On the boards, both Wright and Curtis Jerzerick collected more than 10 apiece for double-doubles as they kept the Panthers' offense at bay, holding them to one shot through the earlier parts of the game.
However, in the third quarter the Panthers started hitting some more shots and Whitlock turned up the scoring for 13 of his game-high 25 points as the Huskies hit a defensive lull, which led to a 39-39 tie headed into the fourth. Earlier in the quarter, Mifflin County had nearly taken a 10-point lead, but the Whitlock-led Panthers kept it interesting going into the final stanza.
"When they made their run in the third quarter, we continually gave up penetration in our zone and in our man defenses. Whitlock was very active, and we didn't close out on him under control, and he took advantage of it.
"But, giving credit to our guys, they withstood their run, kept their composure and finished the game off," Gingrich said.
In the first quarter, the Panthers worked more around the perimeter while Maclay found openings under the basket to have the score at 12-11 in the Huskies' favor after the first eight minutes.
Gingrich noted the strong play of Wright and Jerzerick - who was successful driving to the basket for a team-high 17 points - but emphasized the importance of Maclay's aggressive offensive play.
"Hunter Wright - who is still playing under the weather - fought through with another double-double, Curtis Jerzerick was active on both ends of the court to finish with (17) points and 13 rebounds, but I was especially proud of John Michael Maclay's effort on the offensive end tonight. And he needs to slash more like that for us to be very successful down the stretch," Gingrich said.
In the second quarter, the teams went neck-and-neck for the first several minutes, until Mifflin County went on a mini run for the 25-20 lead at the buzzer. Evan Seby hit a 3-pointer to open the Huskies' offense for the quarter, and he was one of several players off the bench to contribute to the win.
"In the last two weeks, we've been utilizing some other guys off our bench, and I thought tonight you saw production at both ends of the floor from all of the subs we put in," Gingrich explained. "Our schedule does not allow us to have guys play 32 minutes, so the production of our bench guys is going to be imperative for us winning down the stretch."
Ross Torquato led the Mifflin County JV team with 13 points, but the Huskies ultimately fell, 55-42.
The Huskies (7-8, 4-6) look to sweep District 6 opponent State College - who the Huskies beat 45-43 in December - when they visit the Little Lions on Friday.