Coach Reggie Nevins had a strong feeling that Central's District 6 Class AA semifinal matchup against Bald Eagle Area would come down to one possession, and that's exactly how it played out.
Trailing at halftime, Central took a double-digit lead with a big third quarter, then barely held off a late run by the Bald Eagles to escape the Altoona Fieldhouse with a 53-52 win Wednesday.
"Thank God they ran out of time," Nevins said. "We knew they were going to foul us at the end, but we were only making 1-of-2 free throws, and they were hitting 3s. That's not a good exchange."
The win advanced seventh-seeded Central to the district championship game at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Francis University against Richland.
Alex Lafferty led Central with 13 points, and Austin Cunningham scored nine. Ryan Mills and Zach Slagenweit added eight points apiece. Lucas Patterson grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds, the third straight playoff game the senior forward has pulled down double-digit rebounds.
"This means a lot. We weren't expected to make it very far because we have a small team," Patterson said. "Now that we're here it's pretty exciting."
It looked like the Scarlet Dragons would have a little more wiggle room when they took a 44-34 lead on a pair of Brenden Vollkommer free throws with 2:54 remaining to play, but Bald Eagle had different ideas.
Bald Eagle's Brandon Gettig 3-point play with 17 seconds on the clock made it a one-possession game, 53-50. BEA tied up the Central inbounds pass two seconds later to regain possession, giving the Bald Eagles a chance to tie the game.
Jason Jones' 3-point shot from the left wing rattled in and out and Bryce Green put the rebound in with slightly over five seconds on the clock.
Central never touched the ball to inbounds it, and the clock ran out.
Bald Eagle's coaches and players lobbied the officials to put one second back on the clock to no avail.
"We thought there were six seconds on the clock went the ball went through the hoop," BEA coach Bill Butterworth said. "The odds of making a shot with one second are slim. I was just trying to keep it going as long as I could for the kids."
Central trailed 23-17 at the half before turning in a big third quarter to take control of the game. The Scarlet Dragons outscored BEA 19-4 for a 36-27 lead entering the final quarter.
"We felt comfortable playing man, but we worried about foul trouble so we were mixing some zones in the first half," Nevins said. "We went to a hard man in the second half and started having some success."
"We always play harder in a man. Our quick guards were able to take away their shooters," Patterson added.
Central erased the halftime deficit and took a 26-25 lead midway through the third on a Ben Brumbaugh layup off a pass from Cunningham. Cunningham faked a jump shot and dumped the ball inside to a wide open Brumbaugh for the easy bucket.
The Scarlet Dragons scored the next nine points to extend the lead. Lafferty knocked down a 3-pointer, and Slagenweit added a lay in.
Lafferty kept the run going with a layup, and Mills made it a 35-25 game a jump shot from the free throw line.
"They switched to man, but our offense is better than that. We stood there passing it around the perimeter instead of attacking the basket," Butterworth said. "You can't score four points in a quarter and expect to make it to the District 6 finals."
Gettig scored a game-high 23 points to lead Bald Eagle. Bryce Greene and Bryan Greened added nine points each.
BALD EAGLE AREA (52): Bryan Greene 1 7-8 9, Bryce Greene 3 2-3 9, Dyke 0 1-2 1, Gettig 8 1-1 21, Jones 3 0-0 7, Bennett 1 0-0 3, Butterworth 1 0-0 2, Connor 0 0-0 0. Totals - 17 11-14 52.
CENTRAL (53): Cunningham 1 7-11 9, Forshey 1 0-0 3, Mills 4 0-0 8, Slagenweit 2 4-6 8, Brumbaugh 1 0-0 2, Patterson 2 2-2 6, Lafferty 4 3-4 13, Vollkommer 0 4-6 4, Kensinger 0 0-0 0. Totals - 15 20-29 53.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Bald Eagle Area9 14 4 25 - 52
Central 7 10 19 17 - 53
3-point goals: Bald Eagle Area 7 (Gettig 4, Bryce Greene, Jones, Bennett); Central 3 (Lafferty 2, Forshey).
Records: Bald Eagle Area (19-5); Central (17-7).