TYRONE - The Hollidaysburg Area High School boys basketball team endured some rough sledding during the regular season, winning just six of 22 games.
But a new season - the District 6-AAAA playoffs - began Thursday night, and the Tigers are hoping to turn over a new leaf there.
"We're 1-0 right now,'' Hollidaysburg coach Mick Pentoney said after watching his team grind out a 55-54 quarterfinal-round victory over Mifflin County at the Tyrone Area Middle School gymnasium.
Hollidaysburg came up big when it needed to in the fourth quarter Thursday, a trend that Pentoney said was sorely lacking from his team during the regular season.
"We made some plays tonight, which is something that we haven't done all year,'' Pentoney said. "I'm really proud of our kids. I'm so happy for our seniors. We got a little success tonight after the tough year that we've had.''
Hollidaysburg's victory was ignited by 6-foot-6 senior forward Zach Ottaway, who led the Tigers with 19 points and also grabbed eight rebounds. Senior guard Brian Urban chipped in 17 points for Hollidaysburg.
"Those two are special kids,'' Pentoney said.
Ottaway scored eight points and Urban five in the fourth quarter as the fifth-seeded Tigers punched their ticket into Saturday afternoon's 2:30 p.m. semifinal-round matchup with top-seeded State College (15-7) at Bald Eagle Area Senior High School.
After senior center Seth Wagner's bucket gave Mifflin County a 39-38 lead early in the fourth period, Hollidaysburg ran off the next six points.
Urban corraled a rebound off a missed Wagner free throw and drove the length of the court for a go-ahead layup that gave Hollidaysburg a 40-39 lead. Senior Kaleb Springer followed with a pair of free throws, and Ottaway got free under the basket to deposit a short-range field goal to put Hollidaysburg ahead, 44-39.
Wagner - a 1,000-point scorer this season who scored 16 of his game-high 24 points Thursday night in the fourth quarter - hit a pair of consecutive field goals from the paint area to pull fourth-seeded Mifflin County (9-14) to within one point, 44-43.
Sophomore D'Andre Mason followed with two free throws to give Hollidaysburg a 46-43 lead with 5:25 left. Hollidaysburg converted 20 of 23 free throws in the game, including 11 of 12 in the fourth quarter, when the Tigers benefited from a 1-and-1 bonus situation for most of the period.
"I thought getting into the bonus really helped us,'' Pentoney said. "We shot free throws really well, and that was a real critical thing down the stretch for us.''
After Wagner made one of two free throws for Mifflin County, Ottaway was fouled during a scramble for the ball and converted both free throws to make it 48-44. Moments later, Ottaway hit two more free throws after a change of possession, giving Hollidaysburg a 50-44 lead with 3:56 left.
"We made our free throws tonight,'' Ottaway said. "All season long, we struggled when we had leads. Now, we're playing to win, not just to keep the lead.''
Wagner banked in a field goal to draw Mifflin County to within 50-46, before Urban hit one of two free throws to put Hollidaysburg up, 51-46. Wagner's two free throws with 1:24 left pulled Mifflin County to within 51-48, but freshman Ryan Adams found Ottaway alone underneath the basket and Ottaway converted the field goal attempt to give Hollidaysburg a 53-48 lead with about under 30 seconds left.
Mifflin County would not die, however. Senior forward Cy Treaster drained a 3-pointer from the top of the circle to make it a 53-51 game with 12 seconds left.
Ottaway and Urban then broke Mifflin County's press, and Urban hit two of two free throws after being fouled with eight seconds left to give Hollidaysburg an insurmountable 55-51 lead.
Wagner's 3-pointer at the buzzer set the final score at 55-54.
"Hollidaysburg is a dangerous team, and we played one of our worst basketball games of the year,'' Mifflin County coach Aaron Gingrich said. "We didn't play well against their zone [defense], and they shot well from the foul line. Anything can happen in the playoffs, and we just didn't execute tonight.''
The game went back-and-forth throughout, with Mifflin County riding a nine-point run to a 9-5 lead after one quarter and Hollidaysburg carrying the second quarter, 18-12 to take a 23-21 lead at intermission. Hollidaysburg prevailed in the third quarter, 15-14, to hold a 38-35 lead entering the fourth period.
"High school kids don't want to graduate on a losing note,'' Pentoney said.
Ottaway helped make sure the Tigers would live to fight another day Thursday.
"It feels fantastic,'' he said. "It's great to put it all together, especially at a crucial time.''
HOLLIDAYSBURG (55): Miller 0 0-0 0, Urban 5 7-9 17, Mason 2 3-4 7, Consiglio 0 2-2 2, Ottaway 6 6 6-6 19, Ruggery 2 0-0 4, Holsopple 1 0-0 2, Adams 1 0-0 2, Springer 0 2-2 2. Totals - 17 20-23 55.
MIFFLIN COUNTY (54): Treaster 2 0-0 5, McLay 1 0-0 2, C. Jerzerick 3 4-5 10, Wagner 10 3-6 24, Wright 2 0-0 5, L. Jerzerick 0 0-0 0, Michaels 0 0-0 0, Seby 2 0-0 5, Koller 1 0-0 3. Totals - 21 7-11 55.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Hollidaysburg5 18 15 17 - 55
Mifflin County9 12 14 19 - 54
3-point goals: Hollidaysburg 1 (Ottaway); Mifflin County 5 (Treaster, Wagner, Wright, Seby, Koller).
Records: Hollidaysburg (7-16); Mifflin County (9-14).
Officials: Ray Wotkowski, Bill Correll, Denny Grambling.