Huntingdon’s Matt Speck came up with the steal and coasted down the court for a breakaway layup.
The Bearcats finally closed the gap and tied Bellefonte with 4:06 left in the third quarter.
Two possessions later, Speck raced down the floor after pressuring the Red Raiders into another turnover. His transition layup gave Huntingdon the lead and Bellefonte called a timeout to try to regroup. On the first possession out of the timeout, another turnover led to another Speck layup and the fifth-seeded Red Raiders never recovered in a 36-33 loss to No. 4 Huntingdon in the District 6 Class AAA playoffs at Tyrone Middle School on Monday night.
Bellefonte (8-15) stayed in the game with its defense, but the Red Raiders were held to single digits in each of the final three quarters and lost the lead after the flurry of third-quarter turnovers.
“They just trapped and we didn’t rotate to the ball and like we said, we got to get somebody to the middle and kept on saying backdoor and we were tired,” Bellefonte coach Darin Hazel said. “We were just tired, exerted a lot of energy there on our defensive end.
“But at the end of the day, we were in a position to win a game and that’s all you can ask of these boys.”
Bellefonte limited Huntingdon’s Nate Gearhart to four points after failing to stop him in two regular season meetings.
The Bearcats (14-9) won both previous matchups, and Gearhart finished with 24 points both nights. He never got going Monday night as Bellefonte used a matchup zone to limit his opportunities. He went scoreless in the second half.
“They played scrappy, tough defense the whole night,” Huntingdon coach Nick Payne said. “Just fortunate we were on the winning side of that because at times, they definitely outplayed us. Our guys came up big when we needed to.”
The Red Raiders were constantly aware of Gearhart, who rarely touched the ball in Huntingdon’s halfcourt sets.
His first bucket came off an offensive rebound late in the first quarter. His second and final field goal came in the second quarter on a drive.
He never scored again.
“A lot of times you just got to try to limit what he does, and that was one of the things we talked about all week at practice is limit his touches,” Hazel said. “What a job by our guys. I thought they really held him down more than he played bad. Some people could say he played bad, but our defense was just that good.”
Bellefonte raced out to a 21-13 lead midway through the second quarter on a 3-pointer by Danny Caprio, who finished with eight points. The Red Raiders led 21-19 at halftime.
The Red Raiders held a four-point lead three minutes into the second half, but they started to crumble against Huntingdon’s aggressive trapping defense.
Four straight turnovers by Bellefonte turned a two-point lead into a 27-23 deficit.
Huntingdon stayed in control the rest of the way.
“It’s always in our back pocket and it helped us win the game tonight,” Payne said.
Hudson Speck ensured the Bearcats stayed ahead with two big offensive rebounds.
The first led to a free throw that pushed Huntingdon ahead 34-31 with 3:03 remaining.
He finished a layup through a foul after his second offensive rebound to make it 36-33 with 1:43 left.
“It was gutty,” Payne said. “He’s probably one of our smallest kids and Bellefonte does a hell of a job of boxing out. I mean you watch film they have bodies boxing everyone out and just to be able to get in there and pull down the rebound, put back and again, it kept momentum on our side.”
The Bearcats missed the front end of two one-and-one opportunities late to give Bellefonte a chance to send the game to overtime.
But, Caprio was short on his last-second 3-pointer.
“A lot of games that we got to the fourth quarter, we just got to learn how to win,” Hazel said. “One of the things is just teaching these guys how to win. At some point, they’re going to do it. I’m really happy with the way the program’s headed right now.”