THE SCOOP: Last season, Tussey Mountain and North Star engaged in a classic District 5 Class AA boys basketball final from which North Star emerged a 46-45 winner.
It was so dramatic, that the fans just might get an encore.
With many of their top players having been underclassmen in last year’s meeting, Tussey and North Star enter this tourney pretty much clearly cut as the top two teams. True, both have been the victim of upsets, but those were only upsets because these squads look so good on paper.
Tussey is the usual scrappy Dave Bailey-coached team, hounding opposing players with its defense all over the floor and holding other teams to about 45 points per game. Make no mistake, though, these Titans can score, too: Three Titans net double figures per game and all five starters average at least seven points.
Tussey was good enough to split games with District 6 Class AAA power Huntingdon, even though the Titans have very little in the way of size.
While not as big as last year, North Star lacks neither size nor athletes. A lot of the same names that led the Cougars’ charge to a District 5 Class A football championship appear in the North Star basketball scorebook.
The Cougars struggled a bit down the stretch, which coincided with an injury to Alijah Petrilla. If the junior forward is healthy, North Star will be a very tough out.
Four of the five teams in the field are from Bedford County.
DEFENDING CHAMPION: North Star
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Tussey Mountain sr. G Jordan Donaldson; Tussey Mountain soph. F Randy Zimmerman; North Star jr. F Luke Zellem; North Star jr. F Alijah Petrilla; Chestnut Ridge sr. G Bryce McVicker; Everett jr. F Cory Waltman; Northern Bedford sr. F Jeff Mowry
MOST INTRIGUING POSSIBLE MATCHUPS: Northern Bedford at Everett in the play-in game; Northern Bedford at Tussey Mountain and Chestnut Ridge at North Star in the semifinals; Chestnut Ridge or North Star vs. Tussey Mountain in the finals
SLEEPER: Northern Bedford
MIRROR’S TEAM TO BEAT: North Star
NUMBER OF TEAMS ADVANCING: Two*
WHO THEY’LL PLAY IN INTERDISTRICTS: 5-1 vs. 7-4, 7-8 vs. 5-2
(Note: The runner-up will need to win a play-in game to participate in the first round of the PIAA tournament)
ANALYSIS: As the top seed, Tussey Mountain will only have to win on game to return to the finals, and it will be against a familiar foe. The Titans just aren’t sure which familiar foe.
They’ll take on the winner of tonight’s Northern Bedford at Everett play-in game on Friday. Everett is the higher seed, boasting a very nice mix of height, quickness, athletic ability and depth. That did the Warriors little good in regular-season games with the Titans, though; Tussey won in Everett by 21 and at home by 20.
There’s no guarantee the seeding will hold in the play-in round, either. Northern Bedford, which plays a similar style to Tussey in some respects, has won two of three earlier meetings with Everett and was four points from sweeping the Warriors. The Black Panthers also have a four-point win over Tussey late in the year to their credit.
The other half of the bracket pits Chestnut Ridge against North Star in the semifinals. Although the Cougars have a better resume, this game could get interesting — from a standpoint of size and athletes, Ridge is a team that can match up fairly evenly with the Cougars.
Should Ridge make it to the finals against Tussey, it does have a win over the Titans to its credit. Tussey, though, repaid that with by 37 points on Jan. 21.