CLARION, Pa. – As my broadcast partner Dave Constantino said at the end of the game, to quote Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” for the Clearfield boys’ basketball team Tuesday night in the District 9 Class 4A basketball championship game.
The good thing for the top-seeded Bison? The best of times came in the second half when they played nearly a flawless half on their way to a come-from-behind not-as-close as it looked 47-38 win over Punxsutawney.
Rewatch the game
This after a worst of times first half for the Bison.
Clearfield (14-9) trailed by 12, 25-13, 1:02 into the second half before going on an epic, perhaps historic, 34-4 run to completely turn the tide of the game.
“We just stayed calm,” Clearfield head coach Nate Glunt said. “We talked to them about communicating more on defense. We talked about it because when we communicate, we’re more intense. We communicated a lot better. We were in our stance more.”
Punxsutawney (10-13) limited Clearfield to just 13 first-half points, including only three by leading score Cole Miller, who has over 1,000 points as a junior.
“Give Punxsy credit,” Glunt said. “They had a good game plan. They attacked us where we were weak. But we came back in the second half and played much better.”
The Chucks, who led 23-13 at halftime after leading by as many as 15, 23-8, midway through the second quarter, went ahead by the 25-13 count when Ryen Heigley scored at with 6:58 to play in the third quarter.
But Miller got things going for the Bison when he made a nice cut inside and took a pass from Luke Pallo at the 6-minute mark to start the 34-4 run, which actually began with an 18-0 run.
Back-to-back 3-pointers from Andon Greslick and Miller got the game back within four, 25-21, before the under four-minute media timeout.
Then back-to-back baskets by Nick Collins, the last one at 3:07, tied the game for the first time since it was 0-0.
Miller then gave Clearfield its first lead – a lead it never gave up – with a free throw with 2:20 to go in the third before Miller scored 33 seconds late to end the 18-0 portion of the run with the Bison ahead 28-25.
Gabe Kengersky momentarily stopped the bleeding for Punxsutawney when he took a feed from Zach Presloid to make it 28-27 with 1:03 to play in the third ending a 5:55 scoring drought for the Chucks.
A Miller three, however, gave Clearfield a 31-27 lead going to the fourth quarter and was the start of a 9-0 spurt that pushed the Bison lead to double digits, 37-27, on another basket by Greslick with 4:49 to go.
Punxsutawney got back within single digits, 37-29, on another Kengesky bucket this time with 4:22 to play.
But that only led into another 10-0 run by Clearfield that included old-school 3-point plays from Collins and Ryan Gearhart that gave the Bison an 18-point advantage, 47-29, with 1:39 to go.
Only a good showing from the Punxsutawney reserves against the Clearfield reserves made the final score more respectable for the Chucks.
Meanwhile, for Clearfield, the near-perfect second half helped them win their eighth District 9 title in a row. It’s a feat unmatched in the annuals of District 9 boys’ basketball history and means that this year’s senior class was in fifth grade when the streak began in 2015 while freshmen Kai Lynch and Kamden Kushner, who got some late playing time, were in second grade.
“We have a kindergarten-, first-, and second-grade program,” Glunt said. “I think our seniors were second graders the first year we did that. They have come the whole way through. But, it’s one year. Each year is different. You have different kids playing, new kids playing, different roles. They are growing. So, each year is really special.”
Miller, with 15 second-half points, ended up leading Clearfield with 18 points while adding six rebounds.
Collins added nine tallies, a career-high for the senior who didn’t play a year ago after seeing some action as a sophomore. Gearhart chipped in seven points, and Isakk Way had five points and six rebounds.
Kengersky led Punxsutawney with 13 points with Donnie Neese chipping in seven.
Clearfield will host Obama Academy out of the Pittsburgh City League (District 8) in a subregional at 7 p.m. Friday, March 4, with the winner advancing to the PIAA playoffs. Obama Academy was the top 4A school in the City League having lost in the semifinals to Brashear.
NOTES: This was Clearfield’s ninth straight D9 title game appearance with the Bison losing to Punxsutawney in 2014. Only Elk County Catholic (9 years in a row in Class 1A from 1987 to 1995) has made that many in a row … Clearfield’s first two titles game in Class 3A with the last six in 4A after the six-class system came about in 2017.
CLEARFIELD 47, PUNXSUTAWNEY 38
Score by Quarters
Punxsy 11 12 4 11 – 38
Clearfield 5 8 18 16 – 47
PUNXSUTAWNEY – 38
Zach Presloid 0 0-0 0, Ryen Heigley 2 0-0 5, Gabe Kengersky 5 0-2 13, Kyle Nesbitt 2 0-0 4, Jimmy Neese 2 0-1 5, Noah Weaver 0 0-0 0, Donnie Neese 3 1-2 7, Josh Shoemaker 0 0-0 0, Nick Johns 1 0-0 2, Mason Nesbitt 0 0-0 0, Cooper Hallman 1 0-0 2. Totals 16 1-4 38.
CLEARFIELD – 47
Nick Collins 4 1-1 9, Calen Wilt 0 0-0 0, Nate Natoli 0 0-0 0, Luke Pallo 1 0-0 3, Justin Fletcher 0 0-0 0, Kam Kushner 0 0-0 0, Kai Lynch 0 0-0 0, Ryan Gearhart 3 1-1 7, Eric Fletcher 0 0-0 0, Cole Bloom 0 0-0 0, Andon Greslick 2 0-0 5, Braylon Way 0 0-0 0, Isakk Way 2 0-0 5, Cole Miller 5 5-6 18. Totals 17 7-8 47.
Three-pointers: Punxsy 5 (Kengersky 3, Jimmy Neese, Heigley). Clearfield 6 (Miller 3, Pallo, Greslick, Isakk Way).