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Bisons’ long title drought is over

By Nate Ritchey

nritchey@altoonamirror.com

JOHNSTOWN — Westinghouse went through two portions in its game with Bedford where it couldn’t seem to put the ball in the basket.

The first came at the outset of the District 5-8 Class 4A championship as the Bisons took advantage and took a commanding lead.

The second came down the stretch as Bedford, with just a three-point lead, used a run that allowed it to take control and capture the school’s first district title since 2005 with a 74-64 win on Thursday evening at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown’s Sports Center.

“I’m just happy for our kids. We put in so much work and heart, not that everyone else doesn’t, but I’m very selfish right now — our kids played their tails off,” Bedford coach Leo Brunelli said. “I’ve got the best kids in the world. All we’re doing is trying to fine tune and build a tradition. We’re starting to get in that direction, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

With the win, the Bisons evened their mark to 12-12 as they will begin state playoff action next week. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs ended their season at 7-15.

“It definitely was fatigue,” Westinghouse coach Eugene Wilson said of his team’s shooting troubles. “We played our last game two weeks ago … We let the guys have a week off to focus on their grades, so it was just fatigue.”

Bedford’s lead was trimmed to 54-51 after Westinghouse’s Rodkeem Byrd converted a fastbreak layup with 5:18 left in the game. The Bulldogs made just two baskets over the next three minutes as Rafeik Sirmons, who had 10 points, hit a floater and Avery Wise, who also tallied 10, made a layup.

The Bisons capitalized with 15 points during that spurt that saw their lead balloon to 69-55 when Jace Growden, who led all scorers with 34 points, made the second of two straight layups.

“Our spacing got a little better (during the run),” Brunelli said. “With (Westinghouse’s) quick hands, we got a little stronger with the ball. It was all of those little things that turn into big things.”

While Westinghouse began to find the bottom of the rim again, Bedford kept scoring to eliminate any chance of a comeback as the closest the Bulldogs got the rest of the way was the final score when Jaymir Jackson scored with 26.3 remaining.

Growden dominated from any spot on the floor as the senior was able to get his shot off any time he wanted. He also pulled down 10 boards to record a double-double.

“He’s (Growden) a heck of a shooter,” Wilson said. “He’s a pure jump shooter who knows how to get to his spot on the floor and raise up. He’s a very good player.”

Drew Hall (17 points) and Steven Ressler (16) made sure, as good as Growden was, that he didn’t have to carry the scoring load himself.

“That (balanced scoring) gives you a chance to compete next week,” Brunelli said. “Everytime you add another double-digit scorer, it gives you a chance.”

While the Bulldogs had trouble stopping Growden, who tossed in 14 points in the fourth, the Bisons had just as many problems trying to contain Byrd, the Westinghouse sparkplug, who registered 28 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.

The first stretch where the Bulldogs couldn’t buy a basket was stopped as Byrd spearheaded the Bulldogs comeback after they got down by as many as 18 (28-10) in the second quarter when Ressler had a layup in transition at the 3:02 mark.

“I don’t want to know that stat,” Brunelli said about Westinghouse’s many layup attempts to start the game. “Thank goodness (they were missing all of those shots).”

The basket capped a 12-0 run by Bedford to open the second quarter as its lead went from six (16-10) at the end of the opening quarter to the 18-point edge.

The Bulldogs, who controlled the rebounding on both ends of the floor, including an 18-7 difference in the first quarter, started to see the ball go through the hoop.

Byrd, who had eight boards in the opening 10 minutes, was the catalyst to a 14-2 Westinghouse run to close the second quarter that pulled the score to within four (28-24) before Growden, who tossed in 14 first-half points to keep the Bisons out in front, knocked down a pair of free throws with 8.1 ticks left to send the game into the half at 30-24.

“We got down early, but we fought back,” Wilson said. “We got it down to a two-point game going into the fourth quarter, but fatigue got us … I’m very proud of these guys — we fought all year. (With) me being a first-year coach, they believed in me, they gave me their everything all day, all night … I’m extremely proud of my guys.”

Bedford got up in the third by as many as 11 (37-26) when Growden made a hoop at 4:36.

However, much as they had before, the Bulldogs stormed all the way back to pull within 45-43 at the end of the quarter as Byrd followed up two free throws from Wise with a floater and a 12-foot pullup off an offensive rebound.

“We just got to .500 tonight, and I think we’re a pretty good team,” Brunelli said. “I never look at records. This time of year, you’ve got to be 1-0 after tonight, and we did that tonight. Our goal is to 1-0 next Friday.”

WESTINGHOUSE (64): Fluker 0 2-2 2, Sirmons 5 0-0 10, Byrd 12 0-0 28, J. Jackson 2 0-0 4, Wise 4 2-2 10, Bruce 4 0-0 10, L. Jackson 0 0-0 0, Richardson 0 0-0 0. Totals: 27 4-4 64.

BEDFORD (74): Growden 13 5-6 34, Price 2 1-2 5, Ressler 4 7-8 16, Arnold 1 0-0 2, Hall 6 2-3 17, Washington 0 0-0 0, Swaim 0 0-0 0, Vent 0 0-0 0. Totals: 26 15-19 74.

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Westinghouse 10 14 19 21 — 64

Bedford 16 14 15 29 — 74

3-point field goals: Westinghouse 6 (Byrd 4, Bruce 2); Bedford 7 (Growden 3, Hall 3, Ressler 1).

Records: Westinghouse (7-15); Bedford (12-12).

Officials: Mike Baum, Ron Koppenhaver, Johnny Sloas.

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