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Bellwood-Antis downs Trojans claims District VI AA championship

The District Six Boys Class AA basketball championship came down to a tale of two streaks and Bellwood-Antis’ streak had the longest tail.
Mount Union came out on fire and scored the first 14 points of Friday night’s title battle before some 2,550 fans packed into DeGol Arena in the Maurice Stokes Field House on the campus of St. Francis University in Loretto.
The second-seeded Trojans held a comfortable 20-5 lead after eight minutes and were up 30-18 at the break. Mount Union opened the second half with an Isaiah Helton jumper at 7:40 on the clock for a 32-18 advantage. The Trojans didn’t score another point for eight minutes and 51 seconds, going 0-for-12 from the floor during a drought that finally ended when Danny
Puchalla buried a trey from out front with 6:49 left in the game. By then the Trojans were down 42-35 and they never got closer than six the rest of the way.
During the Trojan famine, the fourth-seeded Blue Devils put together a 22-point run by hitting 10 of 13 shots to seize command. Bellwood-Antis went on to a 54-45 victory and its first district gold since 1996 and only the third in school history.
“There were times in the first half when it looked like it wasn’t going to be our night,” said an emotional B-A coach Tim Keech. “I think it was a case of the jitters at the start. Facing that situation, a lot of teams might have packed it in, but there’s no quit in these kids.”
Trojan coach Joe Komir allowed, “For us, it started off good and ended bad. For Bellwood, it started off bad and ended good. It’s disappointing to come up short, especially after the way we started. This one is hard to take.”
Both teams advance into the 32-team PIAA Boys Class AA Tournament that gets underway next Saturday, March 8.
The Trojans (26-2), who had won 18 straight since a 52-50 loss on a buzzer shot at Bellwood Dec. 20, will open against the District Seven (WPIAL) No. 3 qualifier, either Wilkinsburg (21-6) or Beaver Falls (19-5).
The Blue Devils (23-4) draw the No. 7 qualifier out of District Seven, either Farrell (17-9) or Freeport (17-6). The first three meetings between the Juniata Valley League rivals were tight from the opening tip to the final horn. The Trojans won two of those en route to their first Juniata Valley League championship.
However, the extended droughts and subsequent scoring runs put round four in a much different light. The Trojans hit nine of 14 shots in the opening quarter, including a pair of treys, and seemingly had the Blue Devils on the ropes. Earl Hollis, the burly 6-5 senior center, made a jumper 28 seconds into the second period to give Mount Union its largest lead of the game at 22-5. Hollis had 14 points in the first 16 minutes, making seven of 12 shots, in helping the Trojans to their 14-point halftime cushion.
Keech recalled, “We didn’t scream at halftime, but just told the kids what they had to do. We knew we had to use the whole floor and run. I think our conditioning paid off.
“I’ve never seen a better defensive effort than we got in that third quarter, holding an explosive team like Mount Union to just one field goal and two points. The credit goes to my assistant, Matt Stinson, who handles our defense.”
Ricky Shannon, a 5-11 senior, spearheaded the Bellwood-Antis running game over the final 16 minutes when he poured in 15 of his team-high 17 points.
While the Trojans were misfiring and unable to get second chances off the offensive glass, B-A hit eight straight shots. Ryan Myers, a 6-3 senior, made a baseline driving layup with 2:54 left in the third quarter to tie the game at 32-32, then drained a three from the top of the arc at the 1:52 mark to put the Blue Devils in front.
“I think the momentum changed when we tied the game and took the lead,” Keech said. “I could seek the look in their eyes.”
Bellwood-Antis left the door open by going 3:12 without a field goal in the fourth quarter, but Mount Union missed six of seven shots during the span and was unable to make up any ground. Myers put the accent mark of B-A’s night when he rammed home a slam dunk with 1.7 seconds to play.
Mount Union made only seven of 28 shots (25 percent) in the second half and got to the foul line just once all night. Overall, the Trojans were 21-for-56 for 38 percent.
The pace of the game and the 94-foot Red Flash floor took its toll on Hollis as the game went on. He had only four second-half points when shots that would normally swish came up short off the iron. Still, the big guy produced another double double with 18 points and 13 rebounds.
“The size of the court is much bigger than we are used to and maybe Earl looked a little tired with his shots, but it seemed like all of our shots were short in that third quarter,” said Komir. “Nothing went right for us in the second half. We missed a lot of layups, couldn’t get an offensive rebound and seemed to be standing around at times.”
Puchalla was the only other Trojan in double figures with 11 points.
Myers finished with 16 and Nathan Carlson 10. After going just eight-for-28 from the field in the first half, the Blue Devils were 14-for-19 in the second half to go 22-for-47 overall (47 percent). B-A got to the line 13 times and converted only five.
“To win is great, but just to get here and experience the atmosphere is what it’s all about,” Keech concluded. “From here on, everything is just icing on the cake.”
6-AA Championship
At St. Francis University
Bellwood-Antis 54 Mount Union 45
MOUNT UNION (45) House 2 0-0 5; Hollis 9 0-1 18; Puchalla 5 0-0 11; Price 2 0-0 5; Helton 3 0-0 6; Morgan 0 0-0 0; Sroka 00-0 0. Totals: 21 0-1 45.
BELLWOOD-ANTIS (54) Myers 7 0-2 16; Crider 3 1-2 7; Carlson 4 0-0 10; Shannon 7 3-6 17; Smith 1 1-3 4; Weiand 0 0-0 0. Totals: 22 5-13 54.
Score by Quarters
Mount Union 20 10 2 13 — 45
Bellwood-Antis 5 13 20 16 — 54
3-Point Goals: Mount Union 3 (House, Puchalla, Price); Bellwood-Antis 5 (Myers 2, Carlson 2, Smith).