WINGATE — Bald Eagle Area’s 67-38 victory over a depleted Bellefonte team — which clinched the District 6 Class AA top seed for the Eagles — began with a strong first half from its veterans and ended when the youngsters broke the game open late.
Seniors Cole Carolus, Dennis Fisher, Clayton Cingle, Jon Romine and Tony Riley didn’t just get the start on senior night in Wingate; they played the entire first half.
“I was nervous because there’s only one guard in those five seniors,” said Eagles’ coach Bill Butterworth with a smile. “I know they’re good … that’s the biggest reason why this team is what it is because our seniors, even though they don’t get a lot of playing time, they push our younger kids every day in practice.”
Fisher, who led all scorers with 17 points, opened the scoring with a straight away 3-pointer. Jon Romine (four points) followed with a basket from close range and the Eagles were off and running 5-0.
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After a smooth and-one basket and free throw from Nick Leiter, who led the Red Raiders with 11 points, Tony Riley hit a jumper and a 3-pointer to push the Eagles’ lead to 10-3 and force Raiders’ coach Darin Hazel to call timeout.
Hazel’s bunch responded, running off seven straight points to momentarily hold back the tidal wave that eventually swallowed them.
“The first quarter has been good to us all year,” Hazel said. “I think the thing for us is just to play 32 minutes and that’s something we have to work on.”
When the two met in Bellefonte in January, the Raiders pushed the Eagles to the limit before falling 51-46. Tonight, they played without Mitch Grasser, Evan Wian, Kahsim Buey and Andy Stover.
The team’s roster is so depleted by injury and illness that they don’t have enough players for junior varsity games.
Mike Jabco, Trenton Fortney and Tanner Light each finished with six points for the Raiders.
“Last time we played a great game,” Hazel said. “We were missing a lot of kids from that first game, but give credit to them, it was a great night for their seniors. Fisher has had an incredible career here and he’s been a big reason why they’ve been so successful the last couple years.”
Fisher began the second quarter with a burst of baskets that gave his team some separation. He started with an easy layup, then jumped in a passing lane to intercept a pass on the Raiders ensuing possession.
He raced down the court, drew contact and still managed to finish the layup. Even though he missed the free throw he was at it again, corralling a Leiter miss and jetting coast-to-coast for another easy bucket.
The flurry was part of a 10-0 run punctuated by a Carolus rumble and layup down the right baseline that gave the Eagles a 21-10 lead. The group of seniors, who rarely see action together, finished the first half with a 30-19 lead.
“It was a lot of fun,” Fisher said of playing with his senior classmates. “We don’t get to do it very often so it was pretty fun.”
If the elder statesman pushed the Raiders to the edge of the cliff, the future of Eagles’ basketball finished the job.
Fisher, along with juniors Bryce and Bryan Greene, sophomore Brandon Gettig and junior Tyler Schall started the second half and wasted no time getting to work.
Bryce Greene stole the half’s opening inbounds pass and tipped it two his twin brother Bryan. After a few passes along the perimeter, the possession ended with a 3-pointer by Schall.
The Greenes were at it again as Bryan plucked the ball from behind Kellen Moss and found Schall with a bounce pass for a quick layup.
After Jabco hit a bucket for the Raiders with 5:06 remaining, Bryan Greene quickly netted two more buckets and in barely more than three minutes the Eagles were ahead 41-21.
Butterworth said he will be sad to part ways with his current senior class, but he’s lucky to have some good players returning.
“I’m excited to see what I have (next year),” Butterworth said. “I have to find a big guy and I have a couple guys who can step in there, but if not I can go with a five-guard lineup.”
“I have a lightning fast team coming back. We’ll miss Dennis, because you can’t replace size, but hopefully one of our sophomores or freshmen can step up for us.”