HOLLIDAYSBURG >> McConnellsburg's magical boys basketball season came to an end Friday night.
The loss came with a lot of grit and determination, and the game certainly lived up to all the hype surrounding the Spartans' first PIAA Class A appearance in more than a decade.
Portage sent the contest to overtime with an unexpected wide-open layup, then staved off McConnellsburg's big second chance for a 50-48 overtime victory.
"It was a crazy ending, but we just wanted to get out of there with a 'W,'" Portage leading scorer Michael Bryja said. "That was the only thing on our mind, and to come out of here and get our first-ever state playoff win, it's a tremendous feeling."
The Mustangs (20-6) looked like they had won the game, 50-47. It looked so much like a victory that the teams went through the handshake line and the scoreboard was cleared before suddenly both coaches were called back. There was still 0.6 seconds left on the clock, so Portage had to get one more ball in bounds.
Just wait, it gets even crazier.
Just before the inbounds pass, a foul was called on Portage. The Spartans (18-7) believed it should be a spot foul, giving them a chance to get the ball in for one more last-ditch opportunity. Instead, Chase Novak was sent to the line for two shots.
"I thought (their guy) pushed off before the ref handed (Portage) the ball," McConnellsburg coach Dane Pollock said. "In that case, it should've been a spot foul and we would've had the ball under the basket."
Novak sank the first charity shot, then intentionally missed in hopes of his team getting a defensive rebound. Landon Richards did, and he quickly threw up a 3-point attempt.
"Landon is one of those guys that when he shoots it, you're excited," Pollock said. "And in that moment, it had been such a crazy game, I kind of thought, 'Why not?' Why not make that shot and make it even crazier? It could've happened."
But it didn't. The shot banged off the rim, and Portage officially captured the victory.
There were plenty of earlier chances for McConnellsburg to secure a win, though. With 2.4 seconds left in regulation, Spartan forward Tyrelle White came up with a huge block to hold on to a 44-42 lead. And when Portage drew up its final play of regulation, it probably wasn't expecting the defensive breakdown McConnellsburg gave it.
"A lot of times that would be a lob," Portage coach Travis Kargo said. "But when we drew it up, we said if they're in a zone, it's a lob, but if they come out man, it's gotta be a little different. We have to make sure we set a good screen, and it worked out perfectly."
Bryja sent the inbounds pass to Ryan Myher, who had all kinds of space underneath the basket to lay in an easy bucket.
"We were keying in on (Bryja) and (Jake Swank)," Novak said. "We were 95 percent sure the ball was coming to one of them, and it didn't go to them. We left one of their non-scorers open, and he made us pay."
Portage also won the tip-off in overtime and spent nearly a minute and a half on the offensive end before Swank hit a layup. McConnellsburg attempted only two field goals in the extra session – a 3-pointer by Ian Cheatle that went in and the final hurl from Richards.
"We looked scared," Pollock said. "It looked like we wanted to take a couple dribbles then figure out who wanted the ball. But it seemed like no one wanted to take the ball and try to take over. I blame that on youth."
Regardless of the loss, the Spartans still have a lot to be proud of. They started the season 11-0, matched the win totals of the last three years combined and had their first winning record since 2007-08.
"I have to give a lot of credit to Tyrelle (the team's only senior)," Novak said. "He played a heck of a season, and it was really fun to play with him. We're only going up from here. This is a turning point for McConnellsburg, and next year, we're gonna try to get a little farther."
NOTES >> Cheatle led the Spartans with 12 points, while Novak contributed 11 ... White had four points, seven rebounds, two steals and a block in his final game ... Bryja had the game's only double-double with 14 points and 11 boards ... Braedon St. Clair and Swank contributed 11 and 10, respectively ... McConnellsburg's only PIAA win in history came in 1983 against Bishop McCort ... Portage will face Monessen (21-6), the winner of District 7, in the second round Tuesday at a time and place to be determined.
Tyrelle White 2 0-0 4, Jake Boehme 1 2-3 4, Ryan Koontz 1 0-0 2, Quintin Miller 3 2-4 8, Chase Novak 3 4-9 11, Ian Cheatle 7 0-3 12, Landon Richards 1 0-0 3, Nic Culler 0 0-0 0.
Totals — 18 8-19 48
Braedon St. Clair 5 1-1 11, Jake Swank 3 3-4 10, Michael Bryja 4 5-6 14, Luke Dividock 2 0-2 4, Evan Gruss 1 0-0 3, Ryan Myher 4 0-0 8, Nick Usry 0 0-0 0, Matt Bartoletti 0 0-0 0.
Totals — 19 9-13 50
3-point goals — McC 4 (Cheatle 2, Novak, Richards), Por 3 (Swank, Bryja, Gruss).