BROCKWAY— Fans at Brockway High School were treated with a playoff preview this past Monday, as the 11-5 Rovers took on the 9-4 Clarion Area Bobcats in an intense District 9 match-up.
In a night that saw fast-paced intensity that pushed both teams to their limit, Brockway ultimately proved their worth and prevailed over Clarion by a well-fought 61-52 score.
The win improves Brockway to a record of 12-5, and, as head coach Rick Clark says, the victory also helps prepare his team for the incoming playoffs.
“We knew this was a big game coming in that has playoff implications in it,” Clark said about the nature of the night’s game. “We knew it was a big game. We figured it would be playoff-intensity type of game, a playoff-like atmosphere, and it was. I thought we played really well early.
“We jumped out onto a lead, but I’ve got to give Clarion credit. They battled back, and put us on our heels a little bit... But I thought our guys made a great effort and they showed some really good toughness down the stretch. They really gritted it out defensively... It was a great team effort, and a great team win. “
The action started off fast as Clarion’s Ty Buford kicked things off with a baseline drive to give the Bobcats an early 2-0 lead.
Seconds later, however, senior Jarrett Esposito evened the score for Brockway with a bucket from the field. Next Rover possession, and Esposito was at it again, this time scoring off a behind-the-back pass from teammate Carter Adams to push the Rovers pass Clarion 4-2.
A layup off of the Bobcats’ Ceventh Lynch-Skunda evened the score again at 4-4, but Brockway regained the lead when Quade Lundberg sank one from the field.
From there, the first quarter would see an intensity typically reserved for the last games of the season, as both teams exchanged baskets from possession to possession.
However, a couple baskets off the Brockway fast-break put the Rovers up 12-6, and with a drive-and-one successfully pulled off by Zane Puhala, Brockway ended the quarter with a solid 25-15 lead.
The second quarter proved to be an even tighter quarter of play.
Lundberg opened the scoring with a power-move down low to give Brockway a lead of 17-15, but, as would becoming a recurring theme throughout the night, Clarion retaliated seconds later, with Spencer Miller scoring almost instantaneously off the Bobcats’ fast-break to make the score 27-17.
Andrew Trunzo extended the Rovers’ lead to 29-17, but, again, Clarion had an answer, as Buford scored off a pass from teammate Cam Craig to pull Clarion at 29-19.
With momentum subtly switching in their favor, the Bobcats utilized their fast-break to great effect, scoring four times off of it to minimize the Brockway lead to 31-29.
A jumper from Clarion’s Reed Anthony tied the game up at 31-a-piece, but a late put-back by Esposito and a layup by Quenton Jackson ensured that the Rovers would hold on to their 35-31 lead heading into the second-half.
Though Brockway outscored Clarion in the first quarter of play, the Rovers found themselves outpaced 16-10 by their black-and-orange opponents in the second, thanks in large part to their speedy fast-break.
The Rovers needed to hunker down on defense, and Clark says that was the game plan heading into the third.
“We didn’t trap quite as much, so we just concentrated on going back and staying with our guys and trying to keep the ball in front of us,” Clark said. “The biggest adjustment we made was trying to keep the ball in front of us and trap only when we had a really, really good opportunity.”
The second-half began with Clarion striking first, as a jumper off of Craig driving put the Bobcats in prime position at 35-33.
Lunberg got the Rovers up 37-33 with a shot from underneath, but a 3-pointer by Anthony pitted Clarion within one-point of Brockway’s slim 37-36 lead.
Puhala scored a baseline layup to give the Rovers breathing room at 39-36, but a 3-pointer from Craig tied the two teams up 39-a-piece.
The trend would continue for a few minutes more until Brockway finally pulled away, and by the end of the quarter, the Rovers retained their lead at 49-43.
The final period of the game began, and the early minutes of the quarter saw both teams continue their exchange of baskets.
After a put-back from Trunzo pulled Brockway ahead 55-44, Clarion stormed back, scoring four consecutive times to be within reach of the lead at 55-52.
But the Rovers put on one last performance and turned the tables on the rival Bobcats, with Hunter Miller scoring twice and Puhala converting a steal to push Brockway ahead to the 61-52 win.
The night was certainly a team effort on Brockway’s end, with eight of the roster scoring points for the Rovers.
Jarrett Esposito and Jake Wineberg shared the leading scorer position for Brockway, as the two Rovers each scored 12 points in the winning effort.
Zane Puhala also contributed with 11 points of his own, while Andrew Trunzo finished the night with 10.
“It was good, balanced scoring, with four guys in double-figures,” Clark said on his team’s offensive performance. “I thought our bench did a really good job. Jackson, Wineberg, Trunzo came in and gave us some big minutes throughout the game. So, it was a great team effort and a great team win.”
Brockway’s next challenge comes Wednesday night, when they play host to the Sheffield.