BELLEFONTE —What began with a nice moment to acknowledge Coaches versus Cancer night in Bellefonte quickly turned into a heated rivalry game between the Red Raiders and the Bald Eagle Area.
After two technical fouls, one ejected athletic director and several huddles by conferencing referees that only intensified the ire of frenzied fans, the Eagles managed to hold off the Red Raiders 51-46.
BEA’s Dennis Fisher led all scorers with 20 points and did his best to keep his team focused on the court as things heated up off it.
“It’s tough because everybody gets emotionally involved,” Fisher said. “A call here, a call there. It happens.”
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The intensity came from the Raiders early. They took control by jumping out with a quick 6-2 run. They finished the quarter just as hot when Tanner Light drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key with just seconds remaining for a 17-11 lead.
“They got off to a good start and I don’t think we were ready for that,” Eagles’ coach Bill Butterworth said. “I think our mentality was we were going to waltz in here and waltz out of here.”
Fisher had his way inside early with a few nice drop-stop moves on the baseline, but in the second quarter he was hemmed in by the Raiders’ aggressive zone defense.
Butterworth said his team looked “jetlagged” from its 59-52 loss at Central Mountain, Tuesday. If his starters were tired, his bench players came in and provided a spark.
Bryan Greene (four points) struggled to find a rhythm offensively and his twin brother Bryce (six points) didn’t have his best shooting night either. But defensively both were stellar as usual.
The grifters Greene repeatedly picked the pockets of unsuspecting ball handlers and helped spur a 15-2 run that gave the Eagles a 26-21 lead. Then the second unit came in led by Jeffrey Bennett.
The junior didn’t score but had several steals and a great pass to Brandon Gettig in the fourth quarter that helped secure the game.
But before the end came a single play before the half foreshadowing the fireworks to come.
Evan Wian heaved a desperation 3-pointer from well beyond half court just as the buzzer sounded. The ball smacked violently off the glass and into the net eliciting raucous cheers from the Raiders faithful.
But when one referee waved the shot off saying it came after the buzzer, the cheers quickly turned to boos.
All three refs met at midcourt flanked in the background by Raiders fans screaming, “Let him have it,” and Eagles’ fans waving their arms back and forth. After a short conference a referee signaled the shot good and both sides exploded with emotion.
BEA quickly extended its 26-24 halftime lead with two, six-point flurries to grab a 38-30 lead with three minutes left in the frame.
The first technical foul was handed out when Bryan Greene and Wian chased down a loose ball and got tangled up. The contact appeared minimal but Greene was assessed a technical foul anyway.
Eagles fans were not shy about expressing their collective disapproval.
The Raiders capitalized on the opportunity and went on an 8-0 run punctuated by another huge three by Light that squared things at 38 with 50 seconds left.
“They have quick guards like the Greenes, another guard in Gettig and then Fisher inside that’s why they’re 12-2,” said Raiders’ coach Darin Hazel. “But give credit to our kids they really battled and played their guts out.”
Andy Stover led the team with 12 points. Mitch Grasser scored 11, Light scored eight and Wian scored nine.
Gettig added 15 for the Eagles.
Bellefonte took a four-point lead after Stover slithered left under the out-stretched arms of Fisher for a reverse layup.
The tension spiked again with the game tied at 43 with three minutes remaining. Bennett came off the bench again for the Eagles and poked the ball from Bryce Greene at halfcourt.
Bennett beat Greene to the ball and the twin was whistled for a foul. Somehow Butterworth was whistled for a technical foul even though his team had the ball and got the call.
Incredulous, he threw his hands into the air.
A few plays later and during a timeout, Bald Eagle Area athletic director Doug Dyke was ejected from the game by officials and escorted out of the gym by two security officials.
The Raiders took advantage again opened a 46-43 lead with two minutes left. They wouldn’t score again.
Fisher and Gettig scored the final eight points for the Eagles, including Fisher’s offensive rebound and put back off a missed free throw that ensured a BEA victory and sent its crowd into hysterics.
With just seconds remaining, the Raiders streaked down the court while Fisher walked calmly toward his coach knowing the game was in hand. With his teammates jumping for joy and the crowd exploding around him, he simply lifted his right hand and gently tapped his coach’s.
“Well, I knew it was over and it was just a huge sigh of relief,” Fisher said. “I was just relieved that it was over.”