State College senior Tommy Sekunda couldn’t help but smile and hug his teammates Thursday night after the Little Lions collected their first-ever Mid Penn championship.
This is what he hoped for before the season. It’s what his teammates talked about. It’s what they aimed for.
So when his coach draped a championship medal around his neck — shortly after beating Mechanicsburg 77-68 at Hershey’s Spartan Center — Sekunda’s smile turned into a laugh. He had plenty of reason to celebrate, after all, following a game-high 28 points.
“To accomplish this, I can’t describe it,” said Sekunda, whose team will next play Feb. 24 in the District 6 Class 6A finals. “The feeling’s amazing. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
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Sekunda high-fived everyone in sight Thursday night when the final buzzer sounded. The State College crowd rose to its feet, many smiling along and pointing their smart phones at the action.
Forward Max Benner bit into his medal like an Olympian who just earned gold. Another teammate dunked an imaginary basketball. A handful lingered afterward and danced to Queen’s “We are the champions” blaring over the sound system.
Sekunda planned to display the medal somewhere in his bedroom where he could see it every day. But that result — and that medal — weren’t always guaranteed.
Early in the fourth quarter, Mechanicsburg trailed by just one possession. With less than four minutes to go, State College led by just four.
But that’s when the Little Lions broke the game wide open. For good.
Sophomore Tommy Friberg nailed a pair of free throws, and Sekunda hit a pair of open 3-pointers as State College went on a critical 8-1 run in that span. That increased the Little Lions’ lead to 11 in the waning minutes of the game.
During a timeout, Mechanicsburg coach Bob Strickler huddled up his team and asked: “How in the hell does Tommy Sekunda pop wide open?”
“It was a dagger every time he hit one,” Little Lions coach Joe Walker added after the game. “It was a momentum shift almost every time he hit one.”
Sekunda wasn’t the only player to contribute in the winning effort, though. In some ways, it couldn’t have been more balanced.
During a key 9-2 run early in the second half, when State College broke a 30-30 tie and never trailed afterward, five Little Lions produced points — and in just about every imaginable way. Free throws, points in the paint, a trey: State College just wouldn’t quit.
And that was a theme early in the game, too.
Mechanicsburg opened the contest on an 8-0 run, but Sekunda then hit 10 straight points in about two minutes to give State College the lead.
Sekunda was stone-faced until the final buzzer sounded. But, once it did, a goofy smile was plastered to his face until the buses drove the Mid Penn champions — who first joined the league five years ago — back home.
This was a dream come true, he said, and he wanted to savor it.
“All the hard work and dedication our team’s put into practice on Sundays, extra suicides at the end, shooting extra free throws, it all came together,” Sekunda said. “All the little things added up.”