The Penns Valley boys’ basketball team is feeling pretty good right now.
The hard part is keeping a level head and the eyes focused on the game at hand and not worry about what could be.
“We’re trying to stay in the present tense,” coach Terry Glunt said. “We understand what the future holds for us, but we’ve got to take them one at a time. We have to work for everything we get. That’s what’s impressed me about this team. Look at the remaining schedule, every one of those games is a toss-up.”
The Rams (13-1, 7-1) took care of the game in front of them Friday night, scoring 17 of the game’s first 19 points to knock off rival Bellefonte 50-32 and hold onto first place in the Mountain League.
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It closed a tough week with three games against Centre County teams in five days, and a stretch of five games in eight days.
“We still have to work really hard in practice, come out every day, compete against each other,” said Luke Weaver, who posted 12 points and five rebounds. “It makes us a lot better. It was a hard week, definitely, but definitely rose our confidence.”
It also was the first of thee straight three-game weeks, giving the Rams a good test to their conditioning.
“It’s taken its toll physically,” said Glunt, who called on his knowledge of the other sport he coaches at the school to prepare his team. “I took my cross country team coaching approach with ‘less is more’ a little bit at practice.”
Zach Engle paced the Rams with 13 points, five blocks and five rebounds, and Ben Alexander added eight points. Weaver, Cameron Tobias and Dalton Ulmanic also pulled down five rebounds each. Ulmanic also had four steals and Weaver added three.
Evan Wian’s nine points and six rebounds, Mitch Grasser’s seven points and Andrew Stover’s six rebounds and three steals paced the Red Raiders (2-12, 1-7).
The opening run began with a Tobias 3-pointer and saw Engle score six points, capped by the highlight basket of the night, when the 6-foot-5 sophomore grabbed a rebound and, with his feet inches from the baseline under the basket, stretched out his arm between a pair of defenders and flipped the ball around the front of the glass and through the net.
“I don’t practice that a lot,” Engle said said with a smile. “I on occasion in that situation I have gotten it down pretty well.”
By halftime the lead was 25-10 as Penns Valley took advantage of 14 Raider turnovers, nine of which came from Ram steals.
“I thought we set the tone with our defense early on and made it extremely difficult for them to run their sets which they’ve been running really well lately,” Glunt said. “I was pleased with that aspect.”
“Give Penns Valley credit — they play really good team defense,” Bellefonte coach Darin Hazel said. ‘That’s part of the reason they’re 13-1. When you play Penns Valley, they do a good job getting out of your sets and we had a hard time running things.”
Bellefonte fought back in the second half by forcing more Penns Valley turnovers, and at one point pulled to within 29-19 with 3:04 left in the third quarter, but the margin never dropped any lower as the Rams rattled off 12 straight points to take control again.
“They were definitely putting a lot more pressure on us in the second half than they were in the first,” Engle said. “But we worked through it. It was definitely a fight out there.”
The fight has been a little different for the Raiders, who have been struggling to find their game all season.
“The intensity ramped up a little bit,” Hazel said of the second half. “The kids have played hard all year for us, it’s just at the end of the day we’ve been a little short in a lot of games.”
Notes: Before and during the game the Red Raiders held a fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society and Relay for Life, with both teams wearing pink socks to mark the occasion. ... Former Penns Valley and Penn State standout Josh Hull was on hand with his family in the bleachers.