A true celebration of basketball took place Friday night in Huntingdon - and it wasn't even planned.
Sometimes the best parties are surprise parties, and when the junior varsity game between Central Mountain and the Bearcats tipped off at 6 p.m., no one could have anticipated what would unfold over the next two and a half hours.
That's how long it took to play a jayvee game that needed seven overtime periods - that's right, seven! - before Huntingdon mercifully prevailed by a score of 85-80.
"You hear about two or three and maybe four overtimes," Huntingdon jayvee coach Toby Mitchell said. "But seven is like once in a lifetime."
The PIAA doesn't keep such records, but the information just leaped off the page of Saturday's paper. In 30-plus years of covering and following sports here, I can not remember a high school game going anywhere close to seven OTs.
Syracuse and Connecticut went six in the 2009 Big East Tournament, and I recall a Mansion Park League game going six overtimes in the early 1990s.
But never seven.
"It'll be interesting to see if I ever have another game like that in my life as a coach," Central Mountain jayvee coach Brian Hanna said. "It was just ridiculous."
As is the case when almost any game goes more than a couple of overtime periods, both teams seemingly won and lost it several times.
"Every overtime we had the lead or were tied with possession with roughly 10-15 seconds, and we turned it over five of those times," Mitchell said. "We could just not finish the game."
At the end of two different OTs, Huntingdon missed a free throw and Central Mountain forced another session with a late 3-pointer. The real dagger came when the Bearcats, up three, turned the ball over near the end of the sixth overtime, and John Fisher, Central Mountain's center, buried a 3-pointer "seven feet behind the line," Mitchell said.
That sent the game to a seventh overtime, and by now, the crowd, which five overtimes ago was no doubt impatiently waiting for the jayvees to end in order for the varsity to begin, was fully engaged.
"The crowd noise was amazing for a jayvee game," Hanna said. "You could just tell that half the crowd, maybe more, hated each buzzer, and half the crowd was loving every minute of it."
Varsity teams given pre-game pep talks an hour ago and dribbling in their respective corners of the gym were antsy.
"When I went to the locker room for the first time, we were down quite a few points - maybe eight with about six minutes left," Huntingdon first-year varsity coach Nick Payne said. "It didn't look like it was going our way. Then one of the assistant coaches came back and said, 'as badly as we're playing, we're now up three' with a couple minutes left. Our varsity went out, and all our guys are saying, 'this better not go into OT,' and it did."
"That was a real challenge," Central Mountain varsity coach Scott Baker said. "However, watching the game was very interesting. As a varsity coach, I was pleased with the determination shown throughout the entire contest. There were countless big plays throughout that demonstrated mental toughness. Also, the number of minutes logged by a number of the players demonstrated physical toughness as well."
Both teams were without their top scoring option for the last few overtimes.
"Some of my guys were sighing," Mitchell said. "They were getting pretty tired."
Meanwhile, another concern was surfacing. One of the officials was Gaird Zauzig, a late replacement for an injured official.
Zauzig is 82 years old.
"I kept checking with him and asking, 'are you OK, are you OK?''' fellow official Brady Appleman said.
The veteran official, who began working football games in 1950 and basketball two years later - making this his 60th season - was equal to the call.
"I didn't feel any effects at all," Zauzig said. "I think it was because we were so into the game. Both teams were playing to win - they weren't playing not to lose, and I didn't want to make a call that wasn't there or a call I should have made."
Zauzig worked another game a couple of nights later, which ended in regulation, and he said, "I felt worse than I did after seven overtimes."
"I looked at how hard he [Zauzig] was working," Hanna said, "and it was inspiring."
Scorekeeper Jeff Metz, himself a 25-year veteran of keeping the book at Huntingdon and prior to that at Juniata Valley, went through several pens.
"I've never been associated with a game like that - whether it was junior varsity or varsity," he said.
When the teams arrived at the seventh overtime tied 80-80, it might as well have been Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed. Huntingdon (16-1) finally put it away by carrying the last extra period, 5-0.
"I think we had won like 10 in a row before that game, and I could see clearly in each of the player's eyes that at no point did they believe they were going to lose," Hanna said. "You start to process just how special and awesome a seven-overtime game is the day after you experience it. We lost, which hurt, and it may sound a bit cliche to say - yet I'll still say it: No one loses in a game like that. Everything about that game was special, and I felt lucky to be a part of it."
What began as a typical jayvee game in which you can hear the sneakers squeaking on the floor ended as maybe the most memorable game anyone who watched it will ever see.
"I'm sure both teams learned more in that game than they learned in the previous 15," Appleman said.
Of course, the old joke among referees - you know, the saying that "good officials never have overtime" - quickly made the rounds.
"I've said that so many times," Zauzig said, laughing. "That's a standing joke, and I won't be able to pull that anymore."
"I heard that from a very good friend and a coach who is retired," Appleman said. "I had one jayvee overtime game, and he came over to me, and he said 'never should a jayvee game go overtime.' They make it like you're holding up the highlight of the night."
This truly morphed into the exception.
"Both teams were talking to each other like, 'can you believe this?''' Appleman said. "Players were talking to each other like they've known each other. After that game, they did know each other."
When it was over, delaying the varsity game until 8:45 p.m., the crowd responded with a standing ovation, which was a nice touch because everyone involved certainly deserved it.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
11 periods later ...
CENTRAL MOUNTAIN (80): L. Wise 9 2-4 21, J. Wise 2 5-8 9, Blazina 2 1-3 5, Walker 3 0-0 6, Fisher 12 4-4 29, DiCello 2 2-2 8, McGregor 1 0-0 2. Totals - 31 14-21 80.
HUNTINGDON (85): Ritchey 7 4-6 18, Plantt 8 3-6 21, Alleman 2 0-0 4, Zoerner 8 5-8 23, Rosevear 3 1-2 8, Foster 1 0-1 2, Lovett 0 0-0 0, Kurtz 0 0-0 0, Neyman 4 1-1 9, Robinson 0 0-0 0. Totals - 33 14-24 85.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Central Mountain14 10 21 9 4 7 0 6 4 5 0 - 80
Huntingdon12 16 6 20 4 7 0 6 4 5 5 - 85
3-point goals: Central Mountain 4 (L. Wise, Fisher, DiCello 2); Huntingdon 5 (Plantt 2, Zoerner 2, Rosevear).
Records: Central Mountain (13-5); Huntingdon (16-1).