Penns Valley coach Terry Glunt cut the final piece of the net, held it up to cheers and tossed it to his players on the court below.
The players made their way to halfcourt, senior Cameron Tobias with net in hand, and came together for one last huddle on senior night. The Rams made it a memorable night with a 57-53 win over Tyrone at Penns Valley on Tuesday to clinch at least a share of the Mountain League title. The seniors led the way for the Rams.
Luke Weaver scored a team-high 20 points, point guard Dalton Ulmanic added 10 and Cameron Tobias chipped in with seven. Will Jackson scored seven points in addition to playing tough defense on Tyrone’s leading scorer Brandon Gripp, who finished with 24 points but had just four in the first half.
“We knew as seniors, we’ve been coming up through this program and we just really wanted to put a stamp on things tonight,” Weaver said. “And that’s what we did. We really worked well as a team and we moved the ball well tonight, and there’s nothing better than cutting down the nets.”
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Bald Eagle Area can join Penns Valley (17-4) as league champions with a win over Bellefonte Wednesday night. It was announced Tuesday that Tyrone (17-5) will be the No. 2 seed in the district playoffs, Bald Eagle Area will be No. 3 and Penns Valley will be No. 4. The Rams will open against Cambria Heights at a site and time to be determined.
Glunt knows what lies ahead for his players, but he wanted to take the time to celebrate their accomplishment in front of their fans on Tuesday. The five seniors, a group that includes Taylor Collison, and their teammates earned that chance with the win over Tyrone.
“You couldn’t have written a better script actually,” Glunt said. “I have a great group of seniors. Those five kids are just incredible. They got put to the fire as sophomores some of them, and they’ve been a big staple of our program the last couple years.”
The Rams trailed 11-9 after the first quarter despite seeing Gripp whistled for two fouls in the first 49 seconds. Gripp finished with four in the first, but Jordan Miller picked up the scoring load for the Golden Eagles.
Miller had five in the first and finished with 11 points and three 3-pointers in the first half to help the Golden Eagles take a 20-19 lead into halftime.
Jackson pressured Gripp on the perimeter and challenged each shot during his frustrating start. Gripp scored 30 points to lead Tyrone past PV in their first meeting this season, so the Rams swarmed the guard any chance they had.
“He’s a great basketball player,” Weaver said. “His shot is so consistent. And to hold him to four points in the first half, that’s a pretty impressive but we got good defenders. Will Jackson’s probably one of the best defenders I have ever seen.”
Even with Gripp struggling, the Rams still trailed at the break.
But Penns Valley broke free with a big third quarter.
Weaver hit the team’s first 3-pointer to pull Penns Valley within 27-26 with just more than four minutes left in the third. Tobias followed with a 3-pointer from the right wing off a pass from Ulmanic after a Rams steal to tie the game at 29 a few minutes later.
And Ulmanic closed out the quarter with a bang, knocking down a 3 from the left wing to give his team a 34-31 lead in the final minute.
“We sort of have to stick a prod to him to get him to shoot,” Glunt said of Ulmanic. “But he’s really good if you see him at practice every day. He’s so unselfish and runs the offense.
“I’ve always said for Dalton, my stat for him is wins and losses. He’s done pretty well for himself since he’s been here as a point guard.”
Weaver then took over for the Rams in the fourth quarter to put it out of reach.
He drilled a 3 from the left wing to push the Rams ahead 37-33. He then used a pump fake, took one dribble left and hit from the top of the key, running down the court with confidence as he looked at the scoreboard to see the lead extended to 40-33.
With less than five minutes left, he banked in another 3 with Tyrone’s Anthony Politza in his face to keep the Rams up 43-35.
“I was feeling it,” Weaver said. “I’m gonna put it up if I am. They were contested shots, but hey, if they’re going in.”
The shots started to fall for Gripp, who scored 16 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter.
His 3 in the final minute brought Tyrone within 51-48.
But Penns Valley closed it out at the free-throw line to ensure a share of the championship, making senior night a little more special.
“We’ve worked so hard and we’ve been together so long since third grade,” Jackson said. “It’s just an awesome win. Team win.”