As the State College boys’ basketball team watched film Monday, coach Joe Walker noticed how focused his players were.
The Little Lions were locked in on their preparation for Pine-Richland during the “quietest” film session they’ve had this season. They want to be ready to take on the District 7 runner-up Rams in the second round of the PIAA Class 6A tournament at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown.
The Little Lions (24-1) haven’t forgotten falling short in the second round last year.
“I think that driving motivation is they don’t think their season should have ended when it did last year,” Walker said. “That’s been a lot of motivation for them.”
State College suffered a 53-50 loss in overtime to Butler in the second round in 2017. The Little Lions felt they could have made a deeper postseason run, and they opened this season with the goal to reach Hershey and win the state championship. To achieve that goal, State College will need to beat a Pine-Richland team that played on that stage a year ago — the Rams lost to Reading in the 2017 PIAA Class 6A championship game at the Giant Center.
Phil Jurkovec and Andrew Kristofic helped Pine-Richland reach the state title game, and they’ll be on the floor against the Little Lions on Wednesday night. Jurkovec is a 6-foot-5 forward who is headed to Notre Dame to play football, while the 6-foot-6 Kristofic provides a strong inside presence. They’re part of a balanced offensive attack that includes sharpshooting 6-foot-3 guard Dan Petcash, who had 26 points in Pine-Richland’s win over Pittsburgh Central Catholic in the first round.
“They don’t turn the ball over,” Walker said. “They’re patient and involve everyone, so they’re just a real disciplined team, well-coached, so we need to make sure that we take advantage of every opportunity on the offensive end.”
State College boasts multiple threats offensively, too.
Drew Friberg is the team’s top scorer, while Keaton Ellis, Tommy Friberg, Ryan McNulty and Brandon Clark are all capable of scoring in double figures. They’re all playmakers on the court for the Little Lions.
“We have a lot of options where last year I think it was moreso Tommy (Sekunda) and Drew dominated a lot of the plays that we would run,” Walker said. “But this year, really, we have plays for Keaton, we have plays for Ryan, we have plays for Tommy (Friberg). So we have plays for everyone to play to their strengths.”
With more confidence and experience this year, the Little Lions aren’t satisfied with reaching the second round of the state playoffs.
They’re focused on moving closer to achieving their season-long goal.
“They’re excited to be here, but they also have an expectation that they’re a good enough team that they should be playing deep into March,” Walker said. “It’s not like we’re just happy to get here.”
PIAA Class 6A tournament
State College vs. Pine-Richland
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown