HUNTINGDON - Ryan Mills is one of the reasons Central High School boys basketball coach Reggie Nevins considers this one of his favorite teams to coach.
Charitably listed at 5-foot-10, Mills lays it on the line every game, batting for rebounds against much bigger players.
Mills helped give Nevins one more reason to like this year's Scarlet Dragons on Friday night. Mills' put-back near the end of the third quarter ended a long field goal drought for the Dragons and started them on a rally that resulted in a 36-33 District 6 Class AA quarterfinal upset of second-seeded Tyrone in a defensive struggle at Huntingdon Area High School.
Mirror photo by Patrick?Waksmunski
Central’s Austin Cunningham collides with Tyrone’s Anthony Politza going to the rim.
The seventh-seeded Dragons, who finished 2-1 this season against Tyrone after splitting a pair of Mountain League games with the Golden Eagles, next will face another league rival with which it won one and lost one already this season, Bald Eagle Area, in the semifinals early next week. The third seed, BEA hung on to beat Bishop McCort, 58-54, on Friday.
"I'm ecstatic," said Mills, who finished with seven points. "It feels great to be the underdog and beat a great team like Tyrone."
Austin Cunningham scored eight of his team-high 11 points in the final 8:18.3 for Central, which trailed 21-12 with 1:10 left in the third quarter.
"We wanted this game really bad," Cunningham said. "This is the best win this year. It's probably the best win since I've been at Central. It really means a lot."
The teams combined to go nearly 10 minutes without a field goal when Mills finally cleaned up and scored off a Scarlet Dragon miss at the 1:08 mark of the third quarter. Cunningham then scored twice from in close in the last 20 seconds of the period to make it 21-18 heading to the fourth when it appeared Tyrone could have virtually put it out of reach with a basket or two just a few minutes earlier.
"It was really hard to score," Mills said. "But, with some offensive rebounds from Luke [Patterson] and I, and our shooters were there, and they finally started making some shots.
"We knew this was going to take everything we had."
Zach Slagenweit tied it with a 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter and finished on the fast break moments later to put Central up by two - he wound up with 10 points. Reserve Trevor Forshey made a long 3-pointer to extend the Dragon lead to 26-22.
Tyrone tied it at 30 on Jordan Miller's acrobatic driving shot with 2:26 left, but Patterson's foul line jumper crawled in and Mills tipped in another Central miss to push the lead back to four.
Erik Wagner 3-pointer at the buzzer that could have forced overtime hit the back of the iron and came back out.
"We played with such heart," Nevins said. "We just told them to give us all they have, and they did. We battled our tails off."
Central held Tyrone's high-scoring backcourt of Miller and Brandon Gripp 17 points under their combined average with 21. The Eagles, second seeds coming in with a 17-5 record, took a 19-11 lead into the half after Gripp's three-point play at the 2:53 mark of the second quarter.
The Eagles' next field goal was a Miller 3-pointer from the top that banked in with 3:40 remaining.
"We were getting shots that we wanted. We just didn't make the shots that we normally make," Tyrone coach George Gripp said. "Playoff time, you can't go on offensive droughts like we did there."
Brandon Gripp, averaging 25.1 coming in, led the Eagles with 11 points, but his best shot didn't count: a three-quarter court swish the officials ruled came just after the first quarter horn. The younger Gripp fouled out with 4:36 left - he picked up his third and fourth fouls in the last 1:40 of the third quarter but his father was forced to put him back in the game quickly when Slagenweit hit his buckets to start the fourth. Brandon Gripp's last two fouls were on the offensive end.
"The thing that upsets me most is that I've never seen a kid who is one of the top players in the area not get calls like he does," George Gripp said. "He would get fouled and then he would get frustrated and go in and charge or do something, but it is what it is. We played hard. We just went into an offensive slump."
Tyrone had scored at least 52 in each of the previous meetings with Central, including 67 in a 17-point win during their most recent encounter.
"We have a couple of really good defensive players. Slagenweit is really long and I thought would do a good job on [Gripp]. The problem is they set so many picks for him. That was the critical part. We had to step out on the picks and talk and communicate," Nevins said.
Central, which had problems getting going offensively in its first round win over Mount Union, was ice cold for the first 23 minutes on Friday. The Dragons were 5-for-22 from the floor in the first half and 1-for-13 from 3-point range before Slagenweit and Forshey made their treys.
"Hey, defense wins championships," Slagenweit said when asked about the lack of offense, "and we brought it tonight."
CENTRAL (36): Cunningham 4 3-6 11, Slagenweit 4 0-2 10, Lafferty 0 0-0 0, Brumbaugh 0 0-0 0, Patterson 2 1-2 5, Mills 3 1-5 7, Forshey 1 0-0 3. Totals - 14 5-15 36.
TYRONE (33): Gripp 3 4-7 11, Miller 4 1-3 10, Lingafelt 3 0-0 7, Politza 0 0-2 0, Wagner 1 0-0 2, McKeehen 0 0-0 0, Z. Soellner 1 0-0 3, Brooks 0 0-0 0, N. Soellner 0 0-0 0, Geis 0 0-0 0. Totals - 12 5-12 33.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Central 6 5 7 18-36
Tyrone10 9 2 12-33
3-point goals: Central 3 (Slagenweit 2, Forshey); Tyrone
Records: Central (16-7); Tyrone (17-6).
Officials: John Thompson, Steve Searer, Jeff Heider.