JOHNSTOWN - Keith Moyer cracked a smile and a joke.
It was hardly what one would expect from a coach whose Everett Area High School girls basketball team just dropped a heartbreaking 51-47 District 5 Class AA championship game to North Star, the fourth straight year Moyer and the Lady Warriors had been thwarted in the district finals. It was more unusual because Moyer is typically serious in postgame interviews, regardless of the outcome.
Moyer, though, had a little different perspective. While his team didn't win, there was a sense that a hurdle had been overcome.
"That's the best District 5 final we've had,'' Moyer said.
Veteran Tussey Mountain boys coach Dave Bailey's demeanor was much the same as Moyer's, in spite of a 52-50 loss to Shade in the Class A boys title game in which his team was on the wrong end of a couple of tough calls and come uncharacteristic mistakes of their own in the waning minutes of the game.
Bailey's been around long enough to know, though. Teams loaded with sophomores and juniors aren't normally going to contend for championships, let alone take a senior-dominated team like Shade that has been unsuccessfully flirting with District 5 gold for years down to the wire.
That's exactly what the Titans and the Lady Warriors both did on Wednesday night at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown Sports Center. They might not have won, but they laid the groundwork for what could be multiple returns as the favorite.
"I thought all the pressure was on [Shade]. We felt that, anyway, because we were younger,'' Bailey said. "That pressure will probably be on us next year.''
Bailey chuckled. Against Shade, he started a senior, two juniors and two sophomores and played another junior off the bench. Another sophomore, Eric Shuke, was the team's third-leading scorer through the regular season but was on crutches Wednesday after breaking his foot in the Inter-County Conference championship game.
The Titans' backcourt consists of junior Randy Zimmerman and sophomore Elliott Chamberlain, who are averaging about 33 points per game between them. Without the 6-4 Shuke, junior Levi Neuder stepped in to score 12 points and grab 14 rebounds against Shade. Sophomore forward Jordan DeLuca had five points early and two impressive blocked shots.
"We have good chemistry, and good leadership, considering we only have two seniors. Obviously, Randy and Levi stepped up as juniors and do a good job,'' Bailey said. "I thought we were going to be pretty good. We had a good summer. Randy's pretty good. He and Elliott make a nice pair of guards.''
The Titans' chemistry is evident. This nucleus has been playing together since grade school, and it shows.
The other notable thing about this Tussey team is its poise and basketball IQ. For most of the night, they didn't get caught up in Shade's potent run-and-gun style.
"Discipline and hustling are the main things on this team,'' Neuder said.
Moyer, meanwhile, started two juniors and two sophomores with senior Allison Ritchey in the 5-AA girls championship. He completed his seven-player rotation with another junior and another sophomore.
Like Tussey with Zimmerman, the Lady Warriors are spearheaded by a junior guard, Jess Beegle, who averages around 22 points per game and had 20 points and 11 rebounds against North Star. The lone returning starter for Everett from last year, she said she expected this team to do well despite its youth because of the dedication the younger players put in during the offseason, and she thought last night's close loss would serve as motivation to up the ante in that department.
"I think everyone will work even harder to get back here and get a win next year,'' Beegle said.
Beegle and Bailey were on the same wavelength. Maybe that's why these coaches were smiling.
"We've got another year,'' Bailey said, "to get better.''
Cmor can be reached at 946-7440 or firstname.lastname@example.org.