After losing two games in the District 9-A tournament and finishing in fourth place, the Smethport Hubbers made the two-plus hour trip to Altoona Friday night embracing a mission for their first-round PIAA playoff game against Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic.
"We played extremely hard tonight, and coming off two back-to-back losses in our district tournament, we needed to,'' Smethport coach Dan Zeigler said after his squad scored a 62-56 victory at the Altoona Area High School Fieldhouse to end the Marauders' stellar season.
Smethport's outstanding 1-2 combination of 6-foot-4 senior forward Zach Smith and athletic 5-10 senior point guard Clay Schuler helped the Hubbers break open the game over the second and third quarters and push Smethport into Tuesday's second-round matchup with District 7 runner-up Clairton, a 70-42 winner over Cochranton on Friday.
Smith scored a game-high 27 points and added 12 rebounds, while Schuler chipped in 20 points for Smethport, which converted 18 of its 34 floor shots in the game.
"I thought we matched up bigger than [BG], and our game plan was to pound the ball inside,'' Smith said. "We played good team basketball after getting the jitters out in the first quarter.''
District 6-A champion BG, which finished 20-6, led 11-8 after one quarter before Smethport (23-3) used an eight-point, second-quarter run to pull ahead to stay, 22-14.
Junior forward Nate Wilber's inside bucket, followed by field goals from the low blocks by Smith and senior center Dylan Mott, preceded a pair of free throws from junior Ryan Stratton during the surge.
After senior Pat Irwin drained a 3-pointer from the left corner to pull BG to within 22-17, Smith followed with a runner from the paint to give Smethport a 24-17 halftime lead.
Smethport widened the margin by carrying the third quarter, 16-10. BG made some nice defensive adjustments on Smith and held the Smethport standout scoreless in the third period, but Schuler picked up the slack, scoring 10 points on three field goals and a 3-point bomb from the top of the circle.
"Schuler had a huge game,'' Smith raved. "He showed what kind of a point guard he is in the second half.''
BG hurt its cause by incurring a pair of technical fouls in the third quarter. The first was whistled on a player and resulted in a free throw by Smith and a subsequent back-door layup by Schuler that helped Smethport to a 29-21 lead.
The second was a bench technical that resulted in two free throws by Smith that gave Smethport a 36-23 lead.
BG made just 20 of its 57 floor shots and 10 of 21 from the free throw line. Both were cited as factors in the final outcome by first-year Marauders coach Chris Drenning.
"We'd get within range, and we just couldn't get over that hump,'' Drenning said. "A lot of that was due to our offensive inefficiency. We didn't shoot the ball like we normally do, but Smethport deserves a lot of credit for that, because they played a very good game.''
BG placed three players in double figures, led by junior Damon Rickens' 16 points. Senior Brandon Drenning added 12, and sophomore Sam McCloskey scored 10.
Chris Drenning gave his players - especially his six graduating seniors - plenty of credit for an exciting season that was highlighted by BG's thrilling last-second victory over Bishop Carroll in last Friday's District 6-A championship game.
"This hurts now, and it should hurt, but these players took us a long way,'' Chris Drenning said. "They took us further than anybody thought they would by winning the district championship. The seniors set an outstanding example for the rest of the team.''
SMETHPORT (62): Caminite 0 1-2 1, Schuler 6 6-12 20, Wilber 1 0-0 2, Smith 7 12-15 27, Mott 2 0-1 4, Stratton 2 4-4 8, Corbett 0 0-2 0, Woodward 0 0-0 0. Totals - 18 23-38 62.
BISHOP GUILFOYLE (56): Irwin 3 2-2 9, Drenning 5 0-0 12, Fulare 1 0-0 2, Koehle 0 0-1 0, Patterson 2 0-0 4, Rickens 6 1-2 16, McCloskey 2 6-14 10, Chadbourn 1 1-2 3, Nardelli 0 0-0 0, Wolf 0 0-0 0, Brumbaugh 0 0-0 0. Totals - 20 10-21 56.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Smethport8 16 16 22 - 62
Bishop Guilfoyle11 6 10 29 - 56
3-point goals: Smethport 3 (Schuler 2, Smith); Bishop Guilfoyle 6 (Rickens 3, Drenning 2, Irwin).
Records: Smethport (23-3); Bishop Guilfoyle (20-5).
Officials: Chris Garritano, Chuck Glasser, Jim Harnish.