SAXTON - When asked about Luke Zelanko's forced turnover late in the fourth quarter to put Tussey Mountain up, 52-45, Titans boys basketball coach Dave Bailey felt that it was the play the team needed.
"That was probably the play the turned [the game]," he said.
That proved to be just what the doctor ordered.
Zelanko's critical turnover and layup ended up being the deciding factor as the Titans escaped with 58-51 victory over Southern Fulton in front of a near sellout crowd at a raucous Tussey Mountain gymnasium.
"I was just anticipating and waiting for [Southern Fulton's Nick] Smartt to come up with the 3-point shot," Zelanko said about executing the game-deciding play.
The Titans set the tone on defense early, which sparked a 7-0 run by the home team. Eric Husick nailed a bucket with just under a minute to play in the stanza to give Tussey a 18-13 lead.
"We fought uphill all night," Southern Fulton coach Kent Hendershot said. "We'd get to the top and then stumble and fall. Turnovers just killed us."
The Titans led at the half, 27-25, and were led by nine of Husick's game-high 24 points, and never led by more the seven points the entire night.
The Indians wouldn't go away quietly.
In the third quarter, after a Mike Runk bucket put the Titans up by five, Brady Golden nailed a crucial jumper at the buzzer to bring the visitors within two at 40-38.
The fourth quarter was where things ultimately fell apart for Southern as Husick made 8-of-10 free throws to help put the game away to finish with a game-high 24 points.
"Both teams play hard, we know each other," Bailey said of both teams. They're both very well coached."
The reward now for the Titans is a trip to the District 5 Class AA semifinals, where they will meet top-seeded Conemaugh Township on Wednesday night for a ticket to the championship game.
Bailey believes his team will need to control the ball better if they're going to play for a title.
"We're going to have to take care of the ball," he said. "If we don't rebound better and shoot foul [shots] better we can't win on the road."
Hendershot said that his team has come a long way after starting the season 5-6, having won nine of their last 10.
"I am very proud of this team from where we were," he said. We came a long, long way."
Smartt led Southern Fulton with 22 points, 15 of them coming from five 3-pointers.
SOUTHERN FULTON (51): Clingerman 2 1-2 5, Liton 1 0-0 2, Ashkettle 1 0-0 2, Golden 4 1-2 10, No. Smartt 8 1-2 22, Seburn 2 1-1 6, Ni. Smartt 0 0-0 0, Mellott 1 0-0 2. Totals 19 4-7 51.
TUSSEY MOUNTAIN (58): Zelanko 5 7-12 17, Husick 7 9-11 24, Runk 3 2-6 9, Wilson 1 0-0 2, Mitchell 1 3-6 6, Kline 0 0-0 0, Cornelius 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 21-35 58.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Southern Fulton13 12 13 13-51
Tussey Mountain18 9 13 18-58
3-point field goals: Southern Fulton 7 (Golden, No. Smartt 5, Seburn); Tussey Mountain 3 (Husick, Runk, Mitchell).
Records: Southern Fulton (14-8); Tussey Mountain (16-7)