HIGH SCHOOL BOYS' BASKETBALL: Stingers falter late after losing leading scorer
HOLLIDAYSBURG — Before Marion Center’s leading scorer, Todd Fetsko, fouled out with 1:50 left in the game, the Stingers held a narrow advantage in a back-and-forth clash against West Branch.
Unfortunately for eighth-seeded Marion Center, its game came undone after that.
Ninth-seeded West Branch capitalized on Fetsko’s absence and finished the fourth quarter on a 10-3 run to stamp a 70-65 win in a District 6 Class AA boys’ first-round playoff game Wednesday at Hollidaysburg High School.
The Stingers concluded their season with a 16-7 record.
The Warriors won their third District 6 playoff game in school history and their first since 2005. West Branch advanced to the quarterfinals, where it will play top-seeded Richland on Friday.
“We lost a lot when Fetsko fouled out,” Marion Center coach Matt Reed said. “To be honest, he’s probably our most clutch free throw shooter at the end of games, too, so it was definitely a big deal when he had to leave the game.”
With Marion Center clinging to a 62-60 lead, Fetsko committed his fifth foul with 1:50 to play, sending Skyler Krise to the free throw line. Krise hit both of his free throws to tie the game, 62-62.
Krise then caught a long pass in transition following a Stingers turnover and banked in a layup to give West Branch a 64-62 lead with 1:33 to play.
Eight seconds later, the Warriors’ Kody Trude stole a Marion Center inbound pass, drew a foul and buried both free throws to stretch West Branch’s lead to 66-62 with 1:25 left in the game.
The Stingers cut their deficit to two points twice in the next 35 seconds, the second of which came when Colton Fairman made 1 of 2 free throws to make it 67-65 with 50 seconds to play.
Both teams missed a pair of free throws on their next possession, and Marion Center got the ball back with 29 seconds to play and another chance to tie the game.
Following a timeout, Fairman missed a jump shot from near the free throw line with 12 seconds to play.
West Branch’s Mike Pennington stepped up to the free throw line for two attempts with about 4 seconds to play, made his first free throw for a 68-65 lead, but missed the second to momentarily keep Marion Center’s hopes alive.
But teammate Austin Crise scored on a putback to round out the scoring and seal Marion Center’s fate with 3 seconds left.
“I preach free throw shooting big-time and we’re a 70 percent team,” West Branch coach Danny Clark said. “To be honest, down the stretch, we didn’t do what we usually do at the line.”
Pennington had a huge first half to give West Branch a 42-35 halftime lead after a back-and-forth affair for much of the half.
First he hit a 3-pointer with 6:08 left in the second quarter to pull West Branch within 25-24. Then, he nailed four consecutive field goals, including two 3s, and scored 12 of his game-best 28 points in the last 4:30 of the first half to spark an 18-6 run.
A 6-foot guard, he scored 23 points in the first half.
Marion Center trailed the bulk of the third quarter until Fetsko banked in a nifty reverse layup to tie the game, 51-51, with 1:12 left in the third.
A few minutes later, Betts made a layup with a defender in his face to give the Stingers their last lead, 62-60, with 2:05 to go. Fetsko fouled out 15 seconds later, and the Stingers never recovered.
“We’ve played multiple times this year with Timmy (Betts) or Todd in foul trouble and we did perfectly fine,” Reed said. “To be honest, we had our looks. We had our opportunities and our looks, we just didn’t make them.”
Tim Betts scored 20 points to pace Marion Center. Fetsko added 19 points, and Fairman made three 3s and scored 12.