Pine-Richland boys basketball coach Brian Gaetano was happy, and why not?
Gaetano's Rams overcame an eight-point halftime deficit and rallied to beat host Altoona, 55-48, in the opening round of the 2012 Altoona Area Holiday Basketball Tournament on Thursday night at the AAHS Fieldhouse.
"This is a wonderful tournament," Gaetano said. "We love coming here, and playing in a gym like this.
"They treat our kids so well, and we love coming here."
Pine-Richland trailed 15-7 after one quarter, 25-17 at the half and 35-33 after three.
The Rams finally took their first lead, 47-45, when Dean Steliotes nailed a one-hander from the corner with 2:14 remaining, and they were able to hold on down the stretch.
"Obviously, getting a win the first night is hard," Gaetano said. "We travel, and it takes us a little while to get started. But, our kids were tough down the stretch, and now we'll get ready to play an early one [Friday]."
Pine Richland will face Euclid, Ohio in the boys championship game at 2 p.m. today.
Altoona jumped out to a 10-2 lead and led 15-7 after the first quarter, thanks to seven points from DeShae Lee. With Steliotes hitting a pair of 3s, Pine-Richland tied the game at 17-all before a pair of putbacks by Manny Span and buckets by Lee and Kevin Givens regained the upper hand for the Mountain Lions at the half, 25-17.
"Turnovers really killed us," Altoona coach Paul Hasson said. "We turned the ball over [six times] in the third quarter after we had command of the game at halftime.
"It wasn't that intense of a press," Hasson said, "but we just didn't take care of the basketball. Plus, the whole second half, we didn't run our offense. We had too much one-on-one.
"I thought we outplayed them for three quarters," Hasson said, "but they took control in the fourth quarter.
"Turnovers and not running our offense ... that was the story of the game."
After Steliotes' deuce put PR on top, 47-45, Sam Dunsmore's driving layup gave the Rams a four-point advantage. A pair of free throws by Lee and 1-of-2 by Brandon Lytle cut the deficit to 49-48 with 50 seconds left, but that was the Lions' last gasp.
After making 1-of-2 fouls, Pat Sullivan rebounded a miss and scored on a putback to give Pine Richland a 52-48 lead with 40 ticks to go.
"Pat's an experienced guy for us," Gaetano said. "He's a tough player for other teams to deal with because he has the size [6-feet-5] to play inside but he has guard skills.
"That [putback] was a huge play for us."
Pat Sullivan hit another free throw moments later and Shea Sullivan got a breakaway layup to seal it with 14 seconds left.
Steliotes led PR with 17 points while Dunsmore added 12, Shea Sullivan 11 and Pat Sullivan 10. Lee paced Altoona with 17 and Span added 10.
"We made a concerted effort in the second half to not let [Lee] touch the ball," Gaetano said. "Shea Sullivan did an outstanding job with that because [Lee] was having his way with us the first half."
Game notes: Pine-Richland made seven 3s, Altoona none. ... Altoona had a 25-19 advantage in rebounds, but turned the ball over 13 times, including 10 in the second half. ... Rams were guilty of 10 turnovers. ... Lions meet West Catholic in the boys consolation tilt at 6 today. West Catholic lost to Euclid, Ohio, 58-28, in the other first-round game Thursday as Anthony Coleman scored 13 points for the winners. ... Prior to the Altoona-Pine-Richland game, a moment of silence was held in memory of former AAHS boys coach John Swogger who passed away Christmas day.
PINE RICHLAND (55): S. Sullivan 5 0-2 11, Steliotes 6 2-2 17, Dunsmore 4 2-3 12, P. Sullivan 3 4-6 10, Jackson 1 0-2 2, DiNucci 1 0-0 3, Hartmann 0 0-0 0, Roberts 0 0-0 0, Switalski 0 0-0 0. Totals - 20 8-14 55.
ALTOONA (48): Lee 5 7-8 17, Dry 4 0-0 8, Lytle 2 1-2 5, Acrie 3 0-0 6, Span 4 2-2 10, Givens 1 0-0 2, Berardinelli 0 0-0 0, Pope 0 0-0 0, Hill 0 0-0 0, Hancock 0 0-0 0. Totals - 19 10-14 48.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Pine-Richland.............7 10 16 22 - 55
Altoona15 10 10 13 - 48
3-point goals: Pine Richland 7 (Steliotes 3, Dunsmore 2, S. Sullivan, DiNucci.
Officials: Searer, Thompson, Heider.
Records: Pine-Richland (6-3); Altoona (4-3).