JOHNSTOWN - Bellwood-Antis coach Brent Gerwert brought his high school alma mater back to a place he is very familiar with - the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown - determined to get a win this year after losing in the first round of last year's state playoffs.
The same court where he once captained his college squad on was now the place where the Blue Devils hoped to grab some success of their own in the first round of the PIAA Class AA playoffs.
Unfortunately, Bellwood left with the same familiar feeling of disappointment and heartbreak after District 5 champion Conemaugh Township owned the second half -outscoring B-A 45-31 - during their 68-58 victory Saturday afternoon at the UPJ Sports Center.
"It's a credit to them [Conemaugh Township] that, offensively, they got us out of what we wanted to do," Gerwert said. "I wish it would have come out a different way, but it didn't. They did what they had to do, and we tried to do our best. My kids have nothing to be ashamed of. This is the second year in a row that we got to the state tournament."
B-A went into halftime with a 27-23 lead as Noah Davis led the way with 12 points during a back-and-forth first half.
"I didn't think we matched up very well with them in the interior to our credit, I think some of our strengths are our guards. A lot of people have a tough time matching up with our guards [Dillon Boyer and Grant Speigle]," Conemaugh Township coach Chuck Lesko said. "It was their strength versus our strength. In the end, we were just fortunate that our strength hung in there."
The Indians quickly tied the score in the third on back-to-back buckets by Boyer, then took their first lead since 4:21 of the second quarter on a 3-pointer by Speigle at the 4;20 mark.
However, Davis answered back just 18 ticks later to knot the score up at 30-30.
Boyer, drilled his second trey at 3:43 to put Township up for good [33-30] with a lead that would be threatened but never relinquished.
"We just dug in defensively and made things tough on them," Lesko said. "We didn't feel like we were in the flow offensively in the first half. We thought if we could knock down a couple shots, we could get into the flow offensively and turn things around."
The closest Bellwood-Antis would get the remainder of the contest was after Seth Worthing knocked down the second of two free throws to pull his team with one [38-37 with 2:10 left in the third].
Conemaugh Township immediately stretched the lead to eight [45-37] with an 7-0 run that put the Blue Devils in catch-up mode the rest of the way.
However, anytime Bellwood would get within a possession or two, an Indian would step up with a big basket to keep them at bay. Speigle was able to dribble down the court and step into an uncontested trey that gave his team a nine-point edge with 3:15 left in the game, while several times when the B-A defense seemed to relax for just a moment, they would get beat when a CT player would sneak behind the 'D' for an easy layup.
"They [Conemaugh Township] had a good game plan. They came out and did exactly what they needed to do," Gerwert said. "Defensively, in the first half, we played really aggressive - we were up on them. In the second half, I thought we did it at times but we didn't do it enough."
Bellwood-Antis showed plenty of fight as they dove, scrapped, clawed and did just about anything they could to close the gap, and give themselves a chance at the end.
However, with Township clinging to just a five-point [61-56] lead, Bellwood's Alex Dionis was called for an intentional foul when he shoved Josh Burns in the back on his way for a wide-open layup. Burns knocked down both free throws, then watched as Boyer hit 1-of-2 from the foul line to turn it quickly into an insurmountable eight point lead.
Davis, just a junior, led with game-highs of 24 points and 10 rebounds as Bellwood owned the battle of the boards with a 28-15 edge.
Boyer, who had seven steals in the first half, tied Speigle for team honors with 22 points as Township turned the ball over 12 times to the Devils' 17 giveaways.
"There were times where we were right there [in the second half] the ball sometimes falls your way and the ball sometimes doesn't fall your way," Gerwert said. "The ball hasn't been falling our way the last two games [district title loss to Bishop McCort]. You know, what can you do."
BELLWOOD-ANTIS (58): Steffen 2 1-2 5, Dionis 3 0-0 9, Sinisi 2 1-2 5, Wolfe 3 2-2 9, Davis 9 5-6 24, S. Worthing 2 1-2 6, Sisto 0 0-0 0, K. Bartlett 0 0-0 0. Totals: 21 10-14 58.
CONEMAUGH TOWNSHIP (68): Zambanini 0 4-4 4, G. Speigle 5 9-12 22, Ewing 2 1-4 5, Boyer 7 6-9 22, Burns 4 2-2 11, Fisher 0 1-2 1, Rosa 1 0-0 2, Sotosky 0 1-2 1. Totals: 19 24-35 68.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Bellwood-Antis 11 16 15 16-58
Conemaugh Township 7 16 24 21-68
3-point field goals: Bellwood-Antis 6 (Dionis 3, Wolfe, Davis, S. Worthing); Conemaugh Township 6 (G. Speigle 3, Boyer 2, Burns).
Records: Bellwood-Antis (20-7); Conemaugh Township (23-3).
Officials: Ron Koppenhaver, Mike Baum, Scott Muthler.