HOLLIDAYSBURG — Bald Eagle Area has been down — but not out — before.
Take a three-game losing skid in late January as evidence. It’s proved to be a season-defining stretch as the Bald Eagles haven’t lost since. They continued their winning streak with a 58-54 come-from-behind win against Bishop McCort on Friday in the opening round of District 6 play. The win propelled BEA (19-4) into a District 6 Class AA semifinal showdown with Central (16-7).
It wasn’t easy.
BEA looked like it was finished early on after a series of miscues inside the Hollidaysburg Junior High gym. The Bald Eagles shot just 30 percent from the floor, went 0-for-14 from three-point range, committed eight turnovers and couldn’t stop Bishop McCort’s Nemo Trexler, who became the Crushers’ all-time leading scorer on his second shot of the game.
The Eagles had recovered from the same ills before, junior Jason Jones said, remembering back to their losing streak earlier in the season.
“Then, our defense was struggling, our offense was kind of tanking a little bit,” Jones said. “We kind of just, after that week, came back in practice and became a team again.”
It happened again. A miserable first quarter in which BEA was outscored 13-4 gave way to a hopeful second in which the Eagles notched four points in the final 12 seconds to pull within six points.
It was a step in the right direction. In the team’s locker room, BEA coach Bill Butterworth needed just four minutes of a 10 minute halftime to talk his team out of its funk.
“I just told them, ‘This isn’t the way it’s going to end. We’ve got it back to six. Go out there, it’s a ballgame now. You guys need to relax and play like you do.’”
It was all BEA players needed to hear. They upped their pressure on Trexler and his equally dangerous teammate Nathan Neiderhiser while twin brothers Bryan and Bryce Greene used their speed to continuously stymie the Bishop McCort offense.
Most importantly, the Eagles started to drill outside shots.
Three of their five 3-pointers came in the first 66 seconds of the second half. Junior Brandon Gettig cashed in with his team’s first outside shot following a Bryan Greene steal and then added a second one in transition seconds later. Bryce Greene picked off a pass at halfcourt and hit a three to bring BEA fans to their feat and give the Eagles their first lead of the game, 28-25.
Greene pumped his fists as he backpedaled, preparing for Bishop McCort’s inbounds play.
“You see how our team thrives,” Butterworth said. “We get a little bit of momentum, something exciting happens and our whole team picks up and goes. I think those two quick steals and 3-pointers just ignited everybody on the team to go harder and we started rebounding better down here and it was big.”
From that point, the Crushers were forced to play catch-up with Trexler — in foul trouble — on the bench for most of the third. They were able to tie the game at 39, however.
BEA continued to inch ahead and a player who had been quiet for much of the game found his rhythm when it mattered most.
With 3:11 to play and BEA up 47-44, Jones pulled up at the top of the arc and dropped a 3-pointer. Bishop McCort took a timeout and Jones hit another one moments later.
“At halftime, I went over and shot a couple and just started getting in the rhythm a little bit,” Jones said. “But my teammates just did a great job of getting me the ball when I was open. Without them I wouldn’t have gotten the shots.”
As time ticked away, Bishop McCort was forced to foul. The Crushers sent Gettig, BEA’s leading scorer, to the line twice and he didn’t miss. He hit all four of his final attempts to cap the scoring.
Solid free-throw shooting wasn’t a theme for BEA, however. The Eagles hit just 13 of 24 tries.
“We finally made our foul shots when it counted,” Butterworth said.
Bryce Greene finished with a team-high 16 points while Gettig added 14. Bryan Greene and Jones each chipped in 10 points and Trey Butterworth and Ryan Dyke combined to add eight.