SAXTON - It was a lot closer than he would have liked, but veteran Tussey Mountain High School boys basketball coach Dave Bailey will gladly take it.
The Titans withstood a furious rally from Chestnut Ridge down the stretch Monday night to post a 72-64 Sideling Hill League win at the Tussey Mountain Senior High School gymnasium.
Tussey (11-7 overall, SHL 7-4) led most of the game and enjoyed a 54-38 advantage after three quarters.
But Ridge (13-3,?SHL 8-1) showed why it's had such success this season.
Tussey closed strong, hitting 11 of 14 free throws down the stretch after Ridge had drawn to within two points, 61-59 on senior Ben Pick's lay-in late in the fourth period.
"We didn't do a good job taking care of the ball late in the game,'' Bailey said. "Give Ridge credit for a nice comeback, but give our kids credit for making foul shots down the stretch.''
Following Pick's bucket to make it 61-59, Ridge's 6-foot-5 junior forward Beau Bosch - who had 22 rebounds to go along with his 16 points in the game - drove the length of the court to the bucket for an apparent game-tying layup with 1:36 left.
But sophomore guard Michael Mitchell got in front of the driving Bosch, planted his feet, and drew a charging foul that both coaches felt changed the complexion of the game.
"Michael taking the charge on Beau there was a big key,'' Bailey said.
Ridge coach Randy Meck, a Tussey graduate who played his high school basketball for Bailey, agreed.
"That was a big play,'' Meck said. "It would have tied the game up.''
As things materialized, Tussey pulled away after the turn of events. The Titans broke Ridge's press and senior Eric Husick hit two free throws after being fouled to put Tussey ahead, 63-59 with 1:29 left.
Junior Luke Zelanko - whose 21 points matched Pick for game-high scoring honors - drew another foul on Tussey's ensuing possession, and hit one of two free throws with 1:12 remaining to give Tussey a 64-59 edge.
After Pick's rebound bucket pulled Ridge to within 64-61, Husick was fouled with 52 seconds remaining and converted both free throws for a 66-61 Tussey lead.
Pick promptly drained a 3-point shot to make it a 66-64 game, but Mitchell was fouled with 40 seconds left and converted both free throws to put Tussey ahead, 68-64.
Zelanko followed with one of two free throws to make it 69-64, and junior Kyle Kline hit a pair of free throws with 19 seconds left to put Tussey safely ahead, 71-64. Senior Michael Runk added another free throw in the closing seconds to set the 72-64 final.
"I thought we finished the game well, and we played a nice first half,'' Bailey said.
Tussey put three players in double figures. Along with Zelanko's 21 points, Mitchell and Husick added 11 apiece. Ridge also had three players in double figures, led by Pick's 21, senior Adam Wiley's 19, and Bosch's 16.
Tussey enjoyed a 16-point run that started late in the first quarter, lasted midway through the second, and staked the Titans to a 24-11 lead.