Penns Valley’s Logan Pearce crouched down in the backcourt and looked toward the scoreboard.
The Rams trailed Bishop McCort by seven points and their season was 27.6 seconds away from its finish Monday. Penns Valley remained within striking distance throughout the night despite a poor shooting performance, but the Crimson Crushers had finally pulled away in the final two minutes.
No. 14 Bishop McCort upset No. 3 Penns Valley 40-34 in the first round of the District 6 Class AA tournament at Huntingdon Area High School. The Rams (17-5) struggled against Bishop McCort’s active zone defense — unable to get going inside or outside — and finished with a season-low point total.
“To win games, you have to put the ball in the hole and we really struggled tonight,” Penns Valley coach Terry Glunt said. “A lot of times, you take a team out of a zone, you hit some shots and we certainly didn’t.
“I had us for 12 for 44 and that’s not going to win many high school basketball games, especially the first round of districts.”
Pearce paced Penns Valley with 10 points. Sean Beamesderfer added eight points, and Zach Engle had six for the Rams.
Alex Conahan, Mike Stem and Karch Helsel each had 10 points to lead the Crimson Crushers offensively. Bishop McCort advances to take on No. 6 Bellwood-Antis, which beat No. 11 Penn Cambria 63-54, at a site and time to be determined.
Bishop McCort’s defense was the difference.
“We just grind it out,” Bishop McCort coach Jerry Murphy said. “That’s us. We grind and grind and grind. We’re never going to be flashy because we can’t shoot real well. But we play hard.”
Bishop McCort (10-12) took a 10-5 lead after the first quarter.
Engle accounted for both Penns Valley field goals in the period. But the Rams committed turnovers trying to find the big man and failed to create open looks on the perimeter.
The formula worked from start to finish. Engle didn’t hit another field goal and went scoreless in the second half. The Penns Valley guards never found their rhythm from beyond the arc.
“Logan Johnson, Sean Beamesderfer, Logan Pearce are three solid shooters for us and have been all year,” Glunt said. “(They) just had an off night. They just all picked the same night to have an off night. And then they surrounded Engle inside every time he got the ball.
“There was like three or four guys all over him, so that made it for a tough evening for us putting the ball in the basket.”
Bishop McCort took a 17-15 lead into halftime and led 28-25 going into the fourth.
Both teams scuffled in the final period. Bishop McCort connected on the first shot from the field, a layup by Marc Eckenrode, with about two minutes to play. The Crimson Crushers led 32-25.
“We were trying to give it away, I think each team,” Murphy joked.
Pearce answered with a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 1:50 left to pull the Rams within four points. Bishop McCort’s Kyle Deter knocked down a pair of free throws to push the lead to eight with 1:14 left.
Another Pearce 3 made it a five-point game 10 seconds later.
But Penns Valley never got any closer.
“Kyle Deter didn’t have a great beginning of the game, but he made a couple big foul shots at the end to seal the game, so that’s what you need to do, find a way to win and that’s what they did,” Murphy said.
Glunt was disappointed to see his team’s season end, but proud of what the Rams accomplished in a 17-win season.
“I love these guys,” Glunt said. “It’s a shame that it has to end tonight, but when you enter this tournament, you realize any night might be your last game and unfortunately tonight was.”