Tommy Sekunda motioned as if he was throwing a pass while he emphasized sharing the ball following State College boys’ basketball practice Tuesday.
Sekunda said the team bought into making the extra pass, something Little Lions coach Joe Walker stressed throughout the season. State College relied on its entire rotation and received consistent scoring contributions from six players on its way to Mid Penn Conference and District 6 titles.
“We all have complete faith in each other, and there’s never a pass where you think, ‘Oh, should I pass this?’” Sekunda said. “It’s always complete trust and faith in your teammate, and that’s something that’s helped us get to the point that we’re at.”
The Little Lions (20-4) are back in the PIAA tournament for the third straight season. They’re set to face Woodland Hills (16-9) in a Class 6A first-round matchup at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Bald Eagle Area High School.
State College’s last two trips to the state tournament ended in the first round as the Little Lions lost to Harrisburg in 2015 and Carlisle in 2016. Walker said the team is more focused and prepared after winning big games behind its balanced offense. The Little Lions beat out PIAA qualifiers Carlisle and Harrisburg to capture the Mid Penn Commonwealth title before winning the Mid Penn championship and taking care of Altoona in the district championship game.
“I don’t think the stage is going to be surprising or too big for us,” Walker said. “They look forward to getting back, and it’s their goal. They lost in the first round the last few years, one of their goals is to win some state games.”
The Little Lions are averaging 65.6 points per game going their first-round game. Drew Friberg (17.2 points per game) and Sekunda (16.3) lead the way, but they’ve received plenty of help from the talented group surrounding them.
Ryan McNulty has scored in double figures in nine games, while Keaton Ellis, Brandon Clark and Tommy Friberg have each reached double figures five times.
They’ve provided a scoring punch in the team’s biggest wins.
McNulty dropped 21 points in State College’s win at Harrisburg in early December. Clark and Tommy Friberg both finished with 10 points in a three-point win in the Little Lions’ second matchup with the Cougars. Ellis scored 14 points in a win over Carlisle that clinched a share of the Mid Penn Commonwealth.
“To have so many weapons, it’s a blessing, and we hope to use that,” Sekunda said.
State College will now face an athletic Woodland Hills team.
Walker said Woodland Hills showed improvement from January to February, based on the games he’s seen on film — the Wolverines were the No. 11 seed in the WPIAL tournament and knocked off No. 6-seed Mt. Lebanon and No. 3-seed Fox Chapel before falling to No. 7-seed Butler in the semifinals. The State College coach said Woodland Hills employs a 1-2-2 full-court press and looks to use its length to force opponents into quick shots.
“They try to make you make mistakes,” Walker said. “We have to be patient on offense.”
State College executed throughout the season against tough competition to achieve its goals in winning league and district titles.
To accomplish another — making a state playoff run — the Little Lions will need to play with the same trust that helped propel them to this point.
“Everyone brings something to the table every single game,” Walker said. “I think they’re starting to value that more as the season dwindles down, saying, ‘It’s not me; it’s us.’”
PIAA Class 6A boys’ basketball 1st round
When: 5:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bald Eagle Area High School
Admission: $6 per person; doors open 45 minutes before the first game
What’s next: The winner plays Wednesday against the winner of Butler (17-9) vs. Canon McMillan (18-6)