GREENCASTLE - On a night when Greencastle-Antrim leading scorer Joel Zola was not allowed to start due to disciplinary issues, the Blue Devils needed someone to fill that void.
That person came in the form of 6-foot-10 senior Brandon Puffenbarger, who was Greencastle's leading scorer in a 54-50 loss to Northeastern in the opening round of the District 3 Class AAA playoffs on Tuesday night.
"Zach (Faulkner) and Joel (Zola) had kind of an average night, so I had to step up a little more," Puffenbarger said. "I feel like I did better than I usually do."
Puffenbarger had a monster night, scoring 13 points - just one fewer than his career high.
"I'd say it was one of his best games of the season," Greencastle coach Gary Martin said. "His percentage was very good, and he just does everything we ask. He's improved so much."
Puffenbarger was 6-for-9 (67%) from the field, led the Blue Devils with two steals, had five assists and added a block.
SCORING SPREAD: Faulkner and Zola, who are both averaging well over double figures, had only seven points apiece for the Blue Devils. It was the second-lowest total Zola has scored all season.
Despite that, Greencastle had one of its best scoring spreads of the year.
In addition to Puffenbarger's 13, both Holden Baker and Danny Stepler added nine points. Baker's were nearly double his season average (4.86 ppg).
DYNAMIC DUO: Greencastle knew it had to be wary of one Bobcat in particular - Khalid Nwandu, who is averaging more than 20 points per game this season.
Nwandu did his part, putting up a game-high 17 points.
"Nwandu is smart enough to dish it out because they know help is going to have to come because he just beat somebody," Martin said. "He could've been a selfish player, but he was very patient, very poised. He makes his players better."
One person he made a lot better on Tuesday night was Braheem Riley. Riley scored well over his average with 16 and was a force defensively as well.
Riley said, "Coach told us to be ready for a smaller court and a loud atmosphere, and it was. We just had to block it out. I was confident that when they made their runs, we just had to settle down and we'd be OK."
NE coach Jon Eyster said, "We knew it'd be tough to play here. But we actually had a good group of fans that made the trip, so we weren't alone here."
SEASON ENDER: With the loss, Greencastle finished its season with a 16-6 record. Three of its regular season losses came at the hands of Class AAAA schools (twice to Chambersburg, once to Carlisle), while the other two were to Mid Penn Colonial Division rival Gettysburg.
"We don't want to be done," Martin said, "but we've had some quality losses, and we probably won a couple we should've lost."
The Blue Devils did not have the greatest expectations heading into the season after losing Corey Meyers and Denver Cordell to graduation. Both were P.O. First Team All-Stars, while their other starter lost, Denton Cordell, was on the P.O. Second Team.
"At the beginning, we really didn't think we were going to be this good," Puffenbarger said. "But coach told us all that we'd be a pretty decent team, and it was a great season. Even this was a close game; we just didn't come out on the right side."
Some highlights included a nine-game winning streak through the middle of the season, losing only twice to MPC opponents and falling just twice on their home court.
Despite having only two returning starters, Martin said he felt as though the Blue Devils made a lot of strides this season.
"We just think our kids keep getting better," Martin said. "I'm very happy with the season, but I would love to have it continue and keep going."
Lizi Arbogast can be reached at 262-4788 or firstname.lastname@example.org.