Bearcats’ big year ends
DuBOIS — You can’t often say that a team lost its first game of the season in the second round of the state playoffs.
You wouldn’t have expected it, either.
Not with the roll the Huntingdon Bearcats had been on the past couple of months, but that was exactly the case Tuesday night at DuBois Area High School.
The Hickory Hornets received 27-point scoring nights from Donald Whitehead and Peyton Mele, which led to an 80-65 win over Huntingdon in the second round of the PIAA Class 4A playoffs.
“There’s a lot of pain in that locker room right now,” Huntingdon coach Nick Payne said. “Someone has to lose at some point in time, and they only have one loss. One quality team is going home at some point.”
“Tonight it was us; we just didn’t have it.”
Payne said that the size and speed of the Hornets came as a surprise.
“Coming into the game, I thought maybe they were a little bit smaller than that. But those guys must get a lot of shots off, because everything they put up was going in,” Payne said of Hickory’s offense.
“We knew Whitehead and Mele were the top leading scorers,” Payne said, “but we just couldn’t stop them. I know one of our keys was ‘don’t put them at the foul line,’ and as a team, they were 20-of-26 at the foul line, and then we struggled a little bit.”
The Bearcats were 9-of-29 inside in the first half, which led them into a 31-18 hole with 4:38 until the intermission. Huntingdon finished the second quarter on a 7-2 run, however, and went to the locker room with the Hornets up, 33-25.
The Huntingdon community came out in droves for Tuesday’s game, with many lined up in the hallways awaiting seats long before the end of the first game of the evening between the Beaver and Penns Valley girls.
“It’s very special,” Payne said of the “sea of red.” “I’m grateful, I know the boys are grateful of our student sections and the overall community coming to support us.”
“No one wants it to end this way, and I know these guys had bigger aspirations, and I’m a little disappointed, but it had to come to an end,” he said.
Jackson Ritchey led the Bearcats in scoring with 25 points and was a strong force inside the paint and on the boards for Huntingdon all night.
The junior said this senior class and his have been playing together since the third grade, and he along with his teammates had hoped to be able to go farther than this.
Among the departing players are Owen Lane, who despite only scoring four points kept a physical demeanor through and fouled out of the game; Nick Rigby, who followed Ritchey with 17 points; and Will Sulesky, who started for the Bearcats.
“We’ve built a pretty good relationship over the years, and we knew this was going to be our year to do something special,” Ritchey said. “We’d of liked to have gone farther. It’s going to be tough when these guys go next year, but we love these seniors. They’ve meant a lot to us.”
The Hornets are moving on to Friday’s quarterfinal matchup with New Castle. The WPIAL champions were 74-67 winners over Grove City, which knocked off Bedford last weekend.
“Hermitage and New Castle, they’re a half-hour apart,” said Hickory coach Chris Mele. “New Castle has had the basketball tradition, Hickory hasn’t had it since the (19)90s. So we’re trying to build a tradition of our own. They’re the gold standard as far as high school basketball in our area.”
Mele said that Huntingdon was the best team Hickory has faced so far this year on the fast break, which the Bearcats used early to keep the game close.
“As far as the ball in the net or when we miss the ball is up the court,” Mele said. “They got a couple of buckets there that we weren’t happy about, but that’s what they do, and our guys just weren’t prepared, I guess.”
“Give them credit,” he said. “(Huntingdon) battled and battled. They didn’t give up. They’re a good basketball team. They were 25-0 for a reason. They’re really, really good.”
HICKORY (80): Whitehead 7 10-13 27, Phillips 0 0-0 0, Iacino 5 0-0 10, Filardi 0 0-0 0, Mele 10 4-5 27, Jarvie 3 3-5 9, Beatty 2 3-3 7. Totals–27 20-26 80.
HUNTINGDON (65): Ritchey 8 9-11 25, Gearhart 4 0-0 10, Lane 2 0-0 4, Sulesky 0 1-2 1, Rigby 7 2-5 17, Miller 2 1-2 5, Brindle Jr. 1 0-0 3. Totals–24 13-20 65.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Hickory 17 16 25 22 – 80
Huntingdon 13 12 20 20 – 65
3-point goals: Hickory 6 (Whitehead 3, Mele 3); Huntingdon 4 (Gearhart 2, Rigby, Brindle Jr.).
Records: Hickory (26-1); Huntingdon (25-1).
Officials: Mike Bufano, Scott Reffner, Chuck Pasternak.