Northeastern surges past Mechanicsburg for first district title
The Northeastern boys' basketball team won its first District 3 title, defeating Mechanicsburg in the Class 5A championship game Friday, March 3, 2017. Jim Seip, GameTimePA.com
HERSHEY - Two decisive runs guided the Northeastern Bobcats to their first district championship in school history.
Locked in a tight contest through three quarters, Northeastern ultimately ran away with it. The Bobcats outscoring Mechanicsburg by 20 points in the fourth quarter Friday and earned a 61-44 victory in the District 3 Class 5A championship game at Giant Center.
Northeastern now holds a 27-2 record in what has been a special season for the program. The state tournament awaits next week.
“It’s so exciting,” said a gleeful Fred Mulbah. “Greatest feeling ever.”
Two pivotal moments underscored the Bobcats’ title-game triumph.
The first occurred in the third quarter. With the Bobcats trailing 33-25, head coach Jon Eyster called timeout. Northeastern immediately answered with a 10-0 scoring spurt.
Just before that timeout, Mechanicsburg big man Cade Alioth had scored 21 of his team’s first 33 points, and the Wildcats appeared in control.
Eyster said at that point he had to rally his team and “cut them loose.”
The Bobcats broke out their press defense, began forcing turnovers and, in typical Northeastern style, opportunities quickly followed on the offensive end of the floor.
Antonio Rizzuto scored a bucket, Nate Wilson hit a 3-pointer and Austin Greene had a three-point play. Just like that, the Bobcats were back in front, 35-33.
“Every time we’ve gone on a run this season, our defense has definitely started it,” senior forward Brandon Coleman said. “We got a few steals and our fastbreak started.”
The sequence also coincided with the fourth foul on Mechanicsburg’s solid floor general, senior point guard Kyle Scheib, relegating him to a reserve role.
“You could tell they needed him to (bring) the ball up the court,” Northeastern senior guard Austin Greene said. “When they didn’t have him, they were a little flustered. They needed help.”
Despite trailing 38-35 entering the fourth quarter, Northeastern had momentum on its side.
The Bobcats came out in the final period and continued their onslaught. Nate Eyster scored, and Fred Mulbah drained a 3-pointer.
Moments later, Brandon Coleman got the ball near midcourt and took it directly down the lane. With no hesitation, Coleman rose high, throwing down a two-handed dunk in traffic. The move was executed in sky-walker fashion as the Giant Center erupted. The dunk gave the Bobcats only a 44-40 lead, yet the floodgates had officially opened.
“I knew I had to go up with two,” Coleman said. “Just saw the open lane. Saw the one dude that was there was stepping back. I knew nobody was going to be able to stop me.”
Mulbah led the Bobcats with 27 points. Greene scored 10, Rizzuto had nine, Coleman finished with eight, Wilson scored five and Nate Eyster had two.
Northeastern's balanced scoring was the story of the game in the early going as the Bobcats' starting lineup was countered by Scheib and Alioth.
But the Bobcats found themselves in foul trouble in the first half: Coleman, Rizzuto, Mulbah and Greene all picked up two fouls in the opening two quarters and spent various moments on the bench.
In turn, the Bobcats had no answers for Alioth inside, and Mechanicsburg took a 25-20 lead at intermission.
Early in the third quarter, Northeastern pulled even at 25-25 before Mechanicsburg went on an 8-0 run.
The Bobcats called timeout, and then went off to the races.
“They didn’t make it easy,” a smiling Eyster said of his team. “But we got it done.”