CLARION — As well as the Brookville Raiders basketball team got out of the gate in its District 9 Class AAA Championship game against Karns City, the shots didn’t keep falling and that wound up dooming it down the stretch.
In the end, it was Karns City that held off a late Raiders rally and won its first title since 2005 with a 56-51 victory at Clarion University’s Tippin Gymnasium Tuesday night.
The Raiders, who wound up at 12-12, jumped out to a 14-6 lead to start the game. That was also the point where they lost freshman starter Aaron Park for the night with an ankle injury. He left at the 1:28 mark of the first quarter and didn’t return.
The Gremlins (17-7) grabbed the lead for good, as it turned out, with two Ian McElroy free throws with 7.9 seconds left in the first half to give Karns City a 25-24 halftime lead.
Karns City extended to a 37-31 lead after three quarters and led by as many as nine in the fourth quarter, including 47-38 with 2:37 remaining, before the Raiders rallied.
Brookville got it to within 49-47 on a Ben Reitz layup with 56.1 seconds left and then had a chance to get it to one point following Colton Singleton’s good-and-one basket with 22.7 seconds left, but Singleton missed the free throw and the Gremlins made 6 of 7 free throws the rest of the way to nail down the championship.
“We started making a push there at the end of the game and got some good looks, but just didn’t get them to go,” Raiders head coach Kevin Wolfe said. “We missed some free throws down the stretch, like we didn’t do in the last game so that hurt. We started getting some stops defensively, but credit to them, they hit foul shots at big times and we just ran out of time. If we had another minute or two, maybe we get it done, but we ran out of time.”
Sophomore Bryan Dworek played a strong game for the Raiders, leading them back into the game and matched his season-high with 18 points.
“He’s played bigger than a sophomore level all year,” Wolfe said. “Most don’t look at him probably like he’s a sophomore because of how he plays. He made some big threes a couple times and kept it close and attacked the rim and got some fouls on (Chandler) Turner.”
Reitz scored 11 points, Singleton finished with nine points and Jimmy Moore had eight points.
The Raiders were just 7-of-19 from the free throw line and failed to finish on several inside chances that could’ve gotten them in the game much sooner.
But it was the Gremlins who overcame a bad night from the 3-point line — they were 3-for-18 — and had just a two-point night from Turner, who came in averaging 11.6 points per game. Offsetting those negatives was a 36-25 rebounding advantage and 19-of-29 free-throw night, which included a clutch 12-for-16 fourth quarter.
Ian McElroy and Noah Pollock, the team’s top two scorers this year combining for 25.6 points per game, finished with 16 and 14 points respectively. Eric Dodd, who averages 6.3 points per game came up big with 16 points.
“McElroy was getting too much penetration on us,” Wolfe said. “He’s a handful to guard on the perimeter. That spin move he has is effective. Turner is a handful on the boards and he hurt us there with second and third chance opportunities.”
Losing Park at the 1:28 mark of the first quarter also hurt the Raiders’ chances. Park took a pass on the wing and twisted wrong in what turned out to be a non-contact injury and he couldn’t put any weight on his right ankle the rest of the night.
Park went into the game as the team’s leader in scoring, rebounding and assists — 9.6, 6.6 and 3.6 per game respectively — while shooting 57 percent from the field. He had five points when he left the game for good.
“It’s big,” Wolfe said. “He’s our leader scoring, rebound and assist man, so it’s huge. Does that change the outcome? I don’t know. Nobody will ever know that, but certainly it gave a little shift in momentum. I don’t know if it played into their heads that Aaron is out of the game or if it played in their heads … losing Aaron was a big key to offense and defense both.
“Does it change outcome? I don’t know but it hurts to lose your leading scorer and rebounder for sure.”
NOTES: District 9 only sends its 3A champion to the state playoffs. The Gremlins face the District 10 third-place team — either Erie First Christian or Seneca — March 10 at a site and time to be announced. Those teams play Friday for third place in Erie. … Karns City’s last title came in a 56-41 win over Port Allegany in 2005, its third in five years. It hadn’t played for a title since that win. … That was just the third time the teams had met in the postseason with the Raiders beat the Gremlins in the 2014 semifinals, 37-34 in overtime, on their way to a D9 Class AA title, and in the 1976 Class AA Championship game in a 50-46 win.