High School Sports

State College boys’ basketball rallies for first PIAA playoff win since 2009

State College’s Keaton Ellis dribbles around a Woodland Hills defender during the state playoffs at Bald Eagle Area High School on Saturday, March 11, 2017. State College won 82-71.
State College’s Keaton Ellis dribbles around a Woodland Hills defender during the state playoffs at Bald Eagle Area High School on Saturday, March 11, 2017. State College won 82-71. adrey@centredaily.com

Tommy Sekunda and Drew Friberg both wore smiles before looking up at the scoreboard to see State College’s commanding lead in the first round of the PIAA Class 6A tournament Saturday.

A little more than a minute later, Sekunda and Friberg celebrated the Little Lions’ 82-71 win over Woodland Hills at Bald Eagle Area High School — the program’s first state playoff victory since 2009. Their smiles remained long after Sekunda scored 23 points and Friberg added 20 to lead the Little Lions into the second round Wednesday to face Butler, which beat Canon McMillan 51-46 on Saturday.

But before they could smile late in the fourth quarter, they had to fuel State College’s comeback in the final eight minutes.

Sekunda looked at the scoreboard throughout Saturday’s game to see deficits of 14 points in the second quarter, three points early in the third quarter and 12 going into the fourth quarter. But the Little Lions erased all that by outscoring Woodland Hills 31-8 in the final period.

“The deficit was a little daunting,” Sekunda said. “But I knew if we put our heads down and banded together, I felt there was no doubt in my mind that we could come back and win the game, and that’s what we did.”

The Little Lions (21-4) played from behind in the first three quarters and trailed by as many as 17 in the second quarter. They closed the first half on a 13-2 run to pull within 39-33 at halftime, and they cut the deficit to 44-43 on a drive by Friberg early in the third quarter.

But Woodland Hills regrouped and went on a 10-0 run to rebuild a double-digit lead.

State College coach Joe Walker then picked up a technical foul with 20.3 seconds left in the third after pleading for a foul call when the Wolverines grabbed an offensive rebound.

Friberg acted as a calming presence for the Little Lions.

“I actually felt bad,” Walker said. “I didn’t want to ruin my team’s chances of winning. But he looked at me, kind of smiled and told me to calm down, and I think everyone did after that.”

Walker felt his team started to play with more urgency on the defensive end.

Early in the third quarter, with State College trailing 63-51, the momentum started to shift. The Little Lions’ press and zone generated steals and stops, and Sekunda and Friberg caught fire at different moments.

Sekunda scored 10 straight points for the Little Lions in the fourth quarter to bring State College to within one possession, 66-65. During Sekunda’s final points of the hot streak, Friberg allowed himself to smile while telling Sekunda at the line, “You got it, Tommy. Keep going.” Then Friberg found his rhythm.

He hit back-to-back 3-pointers, with the first long-range shot giving the Little Lions their first lead of the day at 68-66.

“The first one, I was just insanely happy,” Sekunda said of his teammate’s shot.

The second one forced a Woodland Hills timeout with 4:01 left, and the Little Lions led the rest of the way.

Friberg and Sekunda each scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, while Tommy Friberg added 14 points and Max Benner finished with 11 for the game.

Walker expressed concern about his team’s energy in the second half after facing multiple double-digit deficits, but the Little Lions didn’t show any fatigue in the final eight minutes.

“It was will,” Walker said. “They wanted to keep playing basketball, so I’ve never been part of a 17-point deficit and I know we’ve been double digits a couple times this year, but not 17.”