BEA nearly upsets second-ranked West Branch in 6-AA playoffs

CDT photo

Wearing white this postseason in the District 6 Class AA has been a fashion faux pas.

And we’re not even close to Labor Day.

The teams that have been designated the higher playoff seeds have been clad in the home white and they have been an endangered species. No. 1 Tyrone and No. 3 Penns Valley were upset on Monday.

And you didn’t have to explain to No. 2 West Branch’s players that they were in the sights of No. 15 Bald Eagle Area on Tuesday. And after a 32 minutes, only one shot separated the Warriors from joining the upset victims.

West Branch weathered three BEA shots in the final seconds and held on for a dramatic 74-72 triumph. The Warriors (19-3) will face No. 10 Ligonier Valley, a 62-52 winner, on Friday at a site to be determined. The Eagles finished the season 8-15.

“We came into the game on edge,” said Warrior guard Skyler Krise. “We had to be aware. They are definitely better than a No. 15 seed. We were definitely aware of last night and that helped us play more on edge.”

“It’s a wide open field,” said West Branch coach Danny Clark, who needed a seat after the draining game. “Class AA this year is just loaded. ... It’s what playoff basketball comes down to really — one possession. It’s survive and advance. ... Credit Bald Eagle. That’s not a No. 15 seed.”

BEA trailed by as many as 10 points, but rallied to take a lead in the second half. “I’ve got a solid group of kids that don’t get shook,” BEA coach Bill Butterworth said. “We battled when we got down by 10 and they just kept at it. There’s ice in their veins.”

In a game that featured a mind-boggling 26 3-pointers, the contest came down to a defensive stop.

The two squads were tied at 61 entering the final quarter. West Branch scored the first nine points to take control, but BEA fought back. Brandon Gettig nailed two 3-pointers, Jason Jones added another and AJ Onder scored on a layup to bring the Eagles to within 74-72.

Cody Trude, who had nailed seven 3-pointers and scored a game-high 28 points, went to the line for a 1-and-1 with 1:16 left, but missed and BEA had the ball the rest of the game.

After a Jones miss, BEA still had 50 seconds left and the ball. The Eagles took their time, but Jones missed another 3-pointer and Noah Chambers’ follow was blocked out of bounds by Trude with 7.3 seconds left.

During a timeout, Carter got desperate to prevent an upset on one shot. He told his team to play man-to-man defense.

“We haven’t gone man under the basket all year,” Clark said. “We never even practice it, but we had to do something different.”

“We usually don’t man up, but we had to man up on that one,” Skyler Krise said. “We didn’t want them to get a 3-pointer.”

After a tip out of bounds cut the time to six seconds, BEA got the ball to Gettig, whose shot from about 8 feet hit the back iron and kicked out.

“I like the shot selection,” Butterworth said. “It worked out we got the shot that we wanted. It’s the story of our season I think — we just don’t get a break. In years past, those shots went in for us. This year was one of those simple things bounced the other way.”

The contest had the fans on edge from the start and West Branch opened on fire from long distance. Of the Warriors’ first 12 baskets, 11 were 3-pointers, including six by Trude.

“We know they like to play a zone and we set up a lot of plays,” Clark said. “We executed and Cody was on fire in that first half.”

“We were all hitting threes,” said Skyler Krise, who had 3 3-pointers and 13 points. “It was just an intense game.”

Even with all of the 3-pointers, West Branch led only 42-36 at the half because BEA’s offense was carving up the Warriors’ zone.

“Through the course of the season, when we’d get up 10 on a team, we’d get up 20 then,” Clark said. “... We’ve only had one or two games that were actually close to the end. This game by far was the closest. It was a great high school basketball game. It really was.”

Gettig’s defense helped slow Trude and the Eagles rallied. A 9-2 run to open the second half gave the Eagles their only lead at 45-44. West Branch scored the next nine points, but BEA fought back again. Jones’ 3-pointer tied it at 61 entering the final period.

Austin Krise had 21 for the Warriors, many coming on drives after Trude loosened up the Eagles’ zone.

Seniors Jones (four 3-pointers) and Gettig (five 3-pointers) led the Eagles with 25 and 19 points, respectively. Trey Butterworth added 13. Senior Josh Wetzel also played his final game.

“Brandon and Jason have been our leaders all year,” Bill Butterworth said. “Josh’s hustle in practice made us better offensively. All three of them made a great contribution to the program, I’m going to miss them. It brings a tear to my eyes when they came up to give me a hug because you can’t imagine coaching better kids than that.”

Clark is glad not to have to face the Eagles again.

“I’m happy we pulled this one out,” he said. “The first one always is the toughest.”