Undefeated Huntingdon pulls away from Highlands boys in state playoffs
By: Michael Love
Saturday, March 9, 2019 | 12:03 AM
Hollidaysburg — Highlands boys basketball coach Tyler Stoczynski said he was proud of the way his team battled after early adversity in Friday’s PIAA Class 4A first-round game against Huntingdon.
Senior Seth Cohen was lost to an early ejection, and the Golden Rams fell behind by double digits early in the second quarter.
Despite a spirited comeback that saw Highlands have a chance to take the lead in the fourth quarter, the Bearcats pulled away for a 69-55 victory.
“Huntingdon is a good ballclub,” Stoczynski said. “They do a lot of things right. They play hard and they play together. They all know their roles.”
Huntingdon (25-0), the District 6 champion, will take on District 10 champion Hickory on Tuesday at a site and time to be determined. Highlands saw its season come to an end at 17-9.
“We’re never going to give up. That’s not part of the culture of our program,” Stoczynski said. “We’re always going to fight, regardless of what the score is.”
Cohen’s ejection in the midst of a physical altercation came with 5 minutes, 58 seconds left in the first quarter. Golden Rams junior Luke Cochran also picked up a technical foul in the aftermath.
“The referees said they didn’t see what instigated (Cohen’s reaction), but we on our bench saw a headbutt by one of their players,” Stoczynski said. “Regardless, you still have to be able to control your emotions. You can’t let your emotions control you.”
After everything was sorted out, Huntingdon senior Nick Rigby hit two of four foul shots to tie the game at 4-4.
Highlands regrouped and knotted the score at 12-12 with a little over a minute left in the first quarter on a 3-pointer from Cochran. But the Bearcats closed the quarter with a 17-12 lead and expanded it to as many as 13 twice in the second.
Huntingdon led by eight at halftime on the strength of 26 points from Rigby. The 6-foot-3 guard finished with a game-high 34 points.
Jackson Ritchey sank a 3-pointer to give Huntingdon a 43-29 lead early in the third quarter, but the Golden Rams again clawed their way back into the game.
A layup from Johnny Crise and a 3-pointer from Korry Myers brought Highlands to within 49-47 with 6:39 left in the fourth quarter.
Cochran, who finished with eight points, fouled out with 57 seconds left in the third quarter.
Crise blocked a shot on the ensuing Bearcats possession to give the Golden Rams the ball and a chance to take their first lead since the opening minutes of the game.
However, Highlands was whistled for a travel, and Huntingdon’s Owen Lane responded with a layup to make it 51-47 at the 5:51 mark.
From there, the Bearcats grew their advantage. They were 7 of 12 from the free-throw line over the final two minutes.
“I got the New Castle game (film from the WPIAL semifinals), and they were down 28 at one point, and they battled back the whole game,” Huntingdon coach Nick Payne said. “In one of our timeouts when we were up 12 or 14, I put 28 on the board because I knew they weren’t going to quit. We did what we needed to do to hang onto it, and we knocked down enough free throws to keep Highlands at bay.”
Ritchey and Nick Gearhart added 13 and 12 points, respectively, for Huntingdon.
Highlands stayed close with the help of its outside shooting. The Golden Rams hit 11 3-pointers, and Myers had five en route to a team-best 17 points.
Crise added 16 points to go along with 11 rebounds and four blocks.
“We’re going to learn from this game,” Stoczynski said. “We have a lot of young guys who were in that game. The most we can take from this game is a learning experience.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .