McConnellsburg falls just short in states
Defense has been the name of the game for McConnellsburg's boys basketball team all season.
And Saturday evening's PIAA Class 2A first-round game with Bishop Guilfoyle at Altoona H.S. was no different.
The Marauders, a team averaging more than 65 points per game, was held to their lowest point total of the season. But it simply wasn't enough for the Spartans to capture a victory. McConnellsburg was hit with offensive woes of its own, and lost, 36-35, after a failed last-second attempt.
"We knew coming in we would be the underdogs, and we gave them a very good game," Spartan senior Chase Novak said. "Our defense showed up way more than in the district championship game, and I don't know if they've seen defense like that all season. But then again, our offense hurt us."
Although the Spartans (20-6) are clearly comfortable in low-scoring affairs, they're not uncomfortable with poor shooting. And buckets were certainly hard to come by for both teams.
Bishop Guilfoyle (18-7) shot a mere 20.4 percent from the field, which was only slightly worse than McConnellsburg's 24.1 percent.
"We had 17 points at half, and I said, 'That's a really good quarter for us sometimes,'" BG coach Chris Drenning said. "They did a good job in transition, getting their guys back and making us set up."
After a not-so-strong first half of shooting, McConnellsburg went especially cold in the second half. With 5:18 left in the third, the Spartans knotted the scoreboard at 22-22 with back-to-back buckets from Nic Culler and Novak.
But they didn't score again until there was 4:36 left in the fourth.
"I really don't know; it was ugly," Novak said. "We couldn't get in a flow. Their defense was really good, too. (Luke) Ruggery was playing deny on me, and he was tough to get around or to get open even."
Although Guilfoyle gained as much as a nine-point cushion, the Spartans had a chance to win it with six seconds left. But a failed ball screen attempt to get it inside fell short.
Another thing that didn't help McConnellsburg's cause was the absence of Chance Hawbaker. Midway through the second quarter, he was pulled off for potential concussion protocol, and he never returned.
Cale Harman was key in Hawbaker's vacancy, but for the second game in a row, Hawbaker was clearly missed.
"We still tried to get out and run and kept trying to pound it inside to Chase," Harman said. "In the beginning, they were trying to run our guts out, but we got back quicker in the second half and slowed them down more toward the end. I think that threw them off."
McConnellsburg coach Drew Washabaugh said, "(Hawbaker) is one of the most athletic guys on the team. He helps with rebounding, and we don't really have a real big guy, so he normally plays big. Offensively, he's tough because he's so quick and there's usually a big guy guarding him."
Despite the loss, Washabaugh said there was nothing to be ashamed of. And after a four-year turnaround like Novak has seen during his tenure, there's certainly hope for the future.
"Freshman year, we were not very good (6-16 overall), to put it in nice terms," Novak said. "We improved the second year, lost in the district semifinal. The last two years, we had district championship appearances, so now we gotta get over that hump for next year. That'll be the goal, to take that last step."