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Tyrone boys working toward winning D6 title this time

Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski Coach George Gripp and the Tyrone boys basketball team is off to a 2-1 start this season.

TYRONE — Cortlynd Rhoades scored the first basket for the Tyrone boys basketball team in 2021 with a 3-pointer on the team’s first possession last Monday against Central.

Rhoades also scored the last basket of the season on a 3-pointer last February. Unfortunately for the Golden Eagles, it was with more than four minutes to play in the District 6 Class 4A championship game.

Huntingdon outscored Tyrone, 10-0, over the final four minutes to rally past the Golden Eagles and win its third-straight district title, 49-48.

“I relive it every day in my mind,” Tyrone coach George Gripp said. “There were careless turnovers, calls that could have gone either way. We missed some shots, but it wasn’t just the end of the game. We did some things early that gave them some easy baskets, and we made some careless passes they took down for layups. People look at the last three or four minutes of the game, but we did some stupid things early on that gave them that chance.”

Tyrone missed the front end of one-and-one foul line opportunities three different times before Nick Gearhart’s 3-pointer with just seconds to play to Huntingdon up by one.

Damon Gripp drove to the basket on Tyrone’s final possession, and a whistle blew as he drew contact with 1.6 seconds left. However, the call was traveling and not a defensive foul and the Bearcats hung on.

“We made some mistakes, but now most of us our seniors or juniors, so we have the experience,” said Brandon Lucas, one of four senior starters back for one last shot at a district title. “I think that’s going to carry us this season.”

Unlike many teams across the area taking one game at a time and making the most of it due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Tyrone’s goal is much bigger and clear.

“Winning a district title means a lot to these guys. They have been together since third grade. I couldn’t have asked for a better group to coach up through,” George Gripp said. “They probably have more wins for the Tyrone basketball program than any class. They were undefeated in junior high and they had two solid seasons after that, but we fell a little bit short last year. Hopefully we learned some lessons. We did some uncharacteristic things in those last couple minutes that cost us a district title, and I believe it was a lesson learned. These guys were motivated by that.”

The title would also likely mean a lot to their coach. George Gripp has won more than 230 games at Tyrone and is now in his 15th season as the head coach, but he’s yet to win district gold. The Golden Eagles have not won a District 6 championship since Eric Castorina led the 2000 squad to the Class 3A title.

“It would mean a lot to all of us,” said senior Jake Taylor, who wasn’t with the team for last year’s District 6 championship game but returned this season and made three 3-pointers against Central. “We’d also like to get one for Coach Gripp, because it would be his first one. We have a full roster and around four players on the bench that could all start if we needed them to this year.”

Winning a championship won’t be easy. In addition to three-time defending champion Huntingdon and always-solid Central, Penn Cambria returns plenty of talent, defending 5A champion Johnstown has dropped down to 4A, and reigning District 5-8 Class 4A champion Bedford will all be contending for the District 6 title this season.

“Class 4A is going to be loaded,” George Gripp said. “Before the new restrictions came out, we at least thought they were going to finally take two teams to states, but now that’s not the case. It’s how it always has been, and that’s you have to win to move on. That’s added pressure on these kids. Even last year, I really felt that Huntingdon and ourselves were two of the top 10 programs in the state, so us being 21-3 and getting sent home on a late 3-pointer is a tough way to end your year. We thought we were in the top eight in the state last year, and it was tough to see teams we had beaten along the way have success in the state playoffs.”

Despite the pandemic, Tyrone has one of the fullest schedules in the area and is playing several teams from outside of District 6 to get as much experience prior to playoffs as possible.

The Golden Eagles were set to start in December before Governor Tom Wolf shut down high school athletics until January, and then Tyrone’s opener against Clearfield was called off when that school was temporarily closed.

“The start of the season has been confusing, and the guys and I are so excited to jump back in and finish what we started,” Damon Gripp said. “Hopefully, as we continue to mature, we will do a better job at finishing games. We feel like we can run more and expand leads where we can be more comfortable at the end of games.”

When Tyrone is getting on the break and scoring easy baskets in addition to shooting like it did when it made 15 3-pointers in its opening 72-65 win over Central, it’s extremely tough to beat. But getting to the point where Tyrone’s players can run an entire game will be a process.

“We have been ready to get back out there since the end of last year,” Blaine Hoover said. “It’s been a really odd offseason with our summer league messed up and even practicing was tough. We missed out on a lot of conditioning, and we have to get that to run as much as we want to.”

Until then, the Golden Eagles know they can lean on each other and a deep bench.

“The biggest thing is our chemistry,” Lucas said. “We have been playing together since we were little kids, so our chemistry is better than any team out there.”

Only five teams will qualify for the District 6 Class 4A playoffs, and there should be at least six high quality teams in contention. But right now, Tyrone isn’t thinking about just making the playoffs. The Golden Eagles are dreaming in gold.

“They know what the end goal is,” George Gripp said. “They want to win districts, and they want to make a splash in states and go as far as we can. We know it will be tough, but I wouldn’t bet against this group. They are something else.”

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