This wasn’t how Bellefonte’s Tyler Kreger wanted to end his basketball career — but he also said he couldn’t have been prouder of his senior season.
Kreger’s Red Raiders came up just short against Central Mountain, 47-44, after trailing by as many as 14 in Monday’s opening round of the District 6 Class 5A playoffs. But the loss still capped off a season that surpassed even the most optimistic fan’s expectations.
“It definitely sucks that this is my last game, but I’m just so proud of everybody,” Kreger said. “We just fought our guts out. These young kids are great, so they have a bright future ahead of them.”
Bellefonte finished 11-11 in the regular season, the first time since 2009 it reached the postseason with a non-losing record. It actually opened the season with a one-sided, 59-29 loss to Central Mountain, and the Red Raiders insisted then their goal was to battle the Wildcats again in the postseason.
They got their wish Monday — and then nearly forced a come-from-behind upset.
Bellefonte took its first lead of the game with just 2:50 left in regulation, when shooting guard Nate Tice hit an open 3 to make it 44-42. The Red Raiders’ side of the blue bleachers erupted, stomping on their seats and screaming after their team rallied from a 28-16 halftime deficit.
Central Mountain’s Brody Baker responded with a trey of his own as the Wildcats recaptured the 45-44 lead. Shortly thereafter, with 34.4 seconds left, Bellefonte missed a critical free throw after the Wildcats’ seventh foul. Central Mountain then hit two free throws to go up 47-44 — and Bellefonte missed a desperation, game-tying 3 at the buzzer.
But even Central Mountain coach Scott Baker was impressed with the visiting team’s effort. He remembered the first time they met, on Dec. 19, when Central Mountain’s 12-point halftime lead ballooned into a 30-point victory.
This, he said, was a completely different opponent.
“They were easily the most improved team, from the first time we played them to the second time we played them this year in, really, all facets,” Baker said. “And they’re young kids. They’re going to continue to get better next year.”
Tice, a sophomore, paced the Red Raiders with a game-high 14 points, 11 of which came in the second half. Freshman forward Ben McCartney added nine points — all in the third quarter — while sophomore forward Caleb Rockey had 10 points.
But Bellefonte’s youth showed early on in the contest. The underclassmen seemed hesitant to shoot in the first half, as they committed numerous turnovers trying to force passes in the paint. The Red Raiders even went scoreless for a stretch of 7:16, when Central Mountain went on a 10-0 run that started in the middle of the first quarter.
But all that changed after halftime.
“I thought our youth got the best of us a little bit; our nerves got the best of us,” Bellefonte coach Kris Glunt said. “But we went into the second half and we regrouped. We talked a lot about trust.”
Tice hit a pair of 3s in the third quarter, and McCartney added three treys in the same eight-minute span. Bellefonte went on a 14-4 run, scored more points in the third quarter (19) than it did in the first half (16) and saw the crowd grow from relatively quiet into a thunderous throng where players might’ve struggled hearing their coaches.
Between the third and fourth quarters, when Bellefonte trailed just 39-35, one assistant coach turned to his team and yelled, “Now that’s who we are!”
Bellefonte may not have come out on top Monday. But it still came a long way from the beginning of the season. Kreger told his team it was a season to take pride in, and the younger players seemed to agree.
“At the beginning of the season, we weren’t projected to do a whole lot,” said Tice, who’s playing in his first varsity season. “And we weren’t projected to even give (Central Mountain) a game — so I’d say it was a pretty successful season.”