HYDE — The difference in experience and preparation between the backyard rival Curwensville and Clearfield basketball teams was quite evident in their season opener Monday night.
The Golden Tide boast five seniors who started every game – barring injury or illness – the past two seasons.
They displayed their chemistry and poise in building a 16-point lead through three quarters, weathered a Bison mini-run at the outset of the fourth period and then pulled away for a 56-38 victory in front of a large, vocal crowd in Weiss Gym.
Steady, dependable point guard Tanner Elensky flashed his ability to produce against taller opponents in the paint with 19 points while 6-4 junior Trey Rauckhorst, who was the first player off the bench last season, recorded a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds in his first start.
Shooting guard Brett Gardner had an off-night from long range, scoring eight points, but compensated with his usual hustle on defense in addition to several assists.
Alex Olson helped the Golden Tide to secure an all-important 38-23 rebounding advantage by grabbing eight missed shots.
And Kyle Johns came off the bench to keep the visitors from missing a beat in the third quarter after Rauckhorst picked up his fourth personal foul in the first minute. Johns tossed in six points and pulled down four rebounds as the Golden Tide widened its 20-13 halftime lead to 39-23.
“Everybody who got on the floor played a role for us, whether it was rebounding, taking care of the ball or scoring,” Curwensville coach Shane Pentz said. “Everybody seemed to do their job, and that’s why we were able to come away with a win.”
Clearfield’s roster is loaded with players who were members of the football team that extended its season to 14 weeks with another playoff run to the PIAA Class AAA quarterfinals, and it was apparent the Bison are still seeking their basketball legs and quickness.
“It’s pretty hard to have four practices and go into a game,” offered coach Forrest Campman, whose Bison were led by junior Erik Sellers’ nine points. “I’ve got good kids, and they understand where we’re at.
“Our skill level is not where it needs to be right now. It’s gonna take a while.”
“We looked like a pitcher that threw 30 pitches in the bullpen and was asked to pitch the seventh game of a World Series.”
The Bison were slow out of the gate, falling behind 6-0 before Sellers buried a three-pointer midway through the first period. They did go in front, 7-6, when Jon Janocko and Ryan Lezzer made Clearfield’s only back-to-back field goals of the game before Gardner regained the lead for the Golden Tide with 13 seconds left in the first quarter.
“We started out man, and we weren’t playing bad, but we weren’t making any thing happen off it,” Campman said. “Our fast break looked like a slow break. We just weren’t getting up the floor. We were using energy and not really getting anything out of it.”
A short jumper by freshman Will Myers gave the Bison their last edge, 9-8, nearly a half minute into the second period.
After Elensky answered with a driving layup, Rauckhorst took charge.
He flipped in eight points in a row, accepting feeds from Elensky, Olson and Gardner around a putback on one of his four rebounds, to spur a 12-4 run.
“He doesn’t play any other sport, and he spent the entire off-season working on basketball,” said Pentz when informed of Rauckhorst’s double-double. “He worked really hard, so I’m glad to see the first game, at least, he got rewarded for that.
“He’s got a nice touch around the basket. He can use his length really well.”
When Rauckhorst was saddled with his fourth personal foul, Johns made sure the Golden Tide offense kept running in high gear with six of his eight points and four of his five rebounds in the next seven minutes.
“We were breaking their press, and Kyle was running to the block like he’s supposed to do, our guards were leaving him passes and he was converting. Those were huge points.
“Our seniors really stepped up.”
Elensky also had six points as Curwensville outscored Clearfield 19-10 in the quarter.
Coming out of the final rest stop, the Bison made the Golden Tide faithful a little uncomfortable by chopping their deficit in half in 1:30 on two free throws by Janocko and six points in 40 seconds from Sellers, including four foul shots.
“We panicked a little bit,” Pentz said. “We told them their best chance to catch us was if we fouled and turned the ball over. And, for a couple of minutes, that’s all we did.
“Clearfield picked up their aggressiveness. They were able to trap all over the floor because they had fouls to give.
“And we were dribbling the ball off our feet, we weren’t looking for cutters and we weren’t cutting quickly enough. We gave up too many offensive rebounds. And we fouled them too much.
“We actually had a big diagonal pass to get a layup to put it back to 10, and it seemed to settle us down. I think we played much better down the stretch.”
Elensky found Austin Jacobson wide open to trigger a nine-point spurt that re-established the Golden Tide’s command at 48-31 with 4:36 remaining. Elensky then contributed five points with a tough, contested jumper in the lane and an old-fashioned three-point play.
He netted 15 of his points after intermission.
“In the second half, he was able to beat their press with the dribble, and he was getting in the lane and able to knock down some of those shots,” Pentz said.
The Golden Tide coach also praised Olson’s effort on defense, especially under the boards.
“He’s the one guy on our defense that talks on cutters, talks guys through, and he likes to box out,” Pentz said. “He’s a rebounder and that’s what he likes to do. He know his role, and he does it very well.”
Pentz didn’t want to read too, too much into beating Clearfield for the second time in a row, the 52-48 home floor win on Feb. 11 their first in the series since 2001.
“It’s always big for us to beat Clearfield, but I’m glad we got them this early in the season,” he said. “I know they had a lot of kids that played football, so, basketball-wise, they’re skill level’s gonna come.
“We see them later in the season, and I’m sure it’s gonna be a much different team and game.”
“There were a lot of plays where we were one step away, and that really kills you,” he said. “Right now, it’s gonna be a struggle and we’ve just got to keep working to get better. We’re behind the eight-ball a little bit right now, but I’ve got good kids and we’ll just stay the course.
“You can play all the summer league games you want to play, but the pace is probably 85 percent. Then, you get in regular games, it gets faster. We played some younger guys, so it was a little tougher on some of them when they got in there. It’s gonna take them time to play.
“I thought Sellers had so many play where he was one step away. Janocko played pretty well, but he’s not in shape. I thought Andy Brown came off the bench and played a very solid game.
“But we were kind of weak on the perimeter. Seth Ford’s still trying to get his offensive skills in place after four practices, but he still plays hard defense and does a lot of little things I like.
Campman also tipped his cap to the Golden Tide.
“I thought those big kids played pretty well for them,” he said. “They finished. And their role players, in general, played very well.”
Clearfield won the junior varsity game 38-28 with Cody Spaid and Ryan Lezzer scoring seven points apiece. Harrison Bloom scored nine points for Curwensville.
Both teams are back in action Tuesday night, Clearfield going to Martinsburg for its Mountain League opener against Central and Curwensville hosting Brockway in its first Allegheny Mountain League South Division test.
CURWENSVILLE — 56
Brett Gardner 3 2-4 8, Tanner Elensky 9 1-1 19, Trey Rauckhorst 5 2-4 12, Alex Olson 1 0-0 2, Austin Jacobson 1 0-0 2, Kyle Johns 4 0-0 8, Harrison Bloom 0 0-2 0, Jake Terry 2 0-0 5, Nate Kurtz 0 0-0 0, Alex Hill 0 0-0 0, Jason Thorp 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 25 5-11 56.
CLEARFIELD — 38
Jon Janocko 1 4-6 6, Seth Ford 0 0-0 0, Erik Sellers 2 4-5 9, Wyatt Westen 0 0-0 0, Christian Lezzer 1 0-0 2, Will Myers 2 0-1 5, Spencer Herrington 0 0-0 0, Andy Brown 2 3-3 7, Cody Spaid 0 0-0 0, Ryan Lezzer 1 0-0 2, Devin Jones 0 0-0 0, Caleb Taylor 0 0-0 0, Luke Godissart 1 0-0 2, Evan Brown 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 12 11-15 38.
Three-Point Field Goals – Curwensville 1 (Terry); Clearfield 3 (Sellers, Myers, Hryn).
Score by Quarters
Curwensville 8 12 19 17 - 56
Clearfield 7 6 10 15 - 38
Officials – Jeff Davis, Dave Wright and Dave Blair.