HYDE — While McGuffey is not exactly a mirror image of his Clearfield Area High School boys basketball team, coach Nate Glunt saw several similarities after watching the Highlanders on film and reviewing the scouting report in preparation for their PIAA Class AAAA playoff opener in the DuBois Middle School Saturday at 6 p.m.
The key ones are overall height, stinginess on defense and offensive firepower.
“Size wise, they match up even with us, they play excellent defense and they have three guys who score the predominate number of their points,” he explained.
While all of the Bison starters stand 6-2 or 6-3, the Highlanders have four at 6-2 in senior guards Colin Chapman and Sean Edlis and junior forwards Trent Belleville and Chase Miller.
McGuffey point guard Andrew Allender, a junior, is 5-10.
Chapman, Belleville and Edlis are double-figure pointmakers for the Highlanders, who received the District 7 fifth seed because they lost in the quarterfinals to eventual WPIAL champion New Castle.
The Red Hurricanes led only 27-25 at halftime before blowing it open with a 29-3 third quarter.
McGuffey (18-6) had opened the WPIALs with the first playoff win in school history, rallying from a 10-point deficit to force overtime and then edge Valley 50-48.
The Highlanders, who finished in a tie for second place in the WPIAL 4A Section 3 at 10-4, earned that milestone win by sinking 19 of 25 free throws. Per usual, their top scorers were Belleville with 14 points, Edlis with 11 and Chapman with 10.
The Highlanders held opponents under 50 points in 15 of their wins. Two others managed 51.
Their average of 45.1 points allowed is very comparable to the Bison’s 42 points per game.
And the Highlanders have shown they don’t panic in nail-biters, winning five of their six games decided by three or fewer points.
In contrast, the margin has been at least 11 points in every one of once-beaten Clearfield’s 23 wins. The lone blemish on the District 9 champion’s record was a 57-46 road loss to Mountain League rival Central Jan. 9.
The Bison will be out to take the next step on the playoff trail after losing to Obama Academy in a play-in game in 2015 and avenging that loss before falling to District 7 third seed Mars in the first round last year.
They rely on seniors Tommy Hazel (18.7 ppg), Will Myers (17.5 ppg) and Evan Brown (14.8 ppg) for the bulk of their points.
Senior Dave McKenzie (3.9 ppg) and junior Reese Wilson (3.3 ppg) are the other starters.
Senior Ethan McGinnis and junior Jon Gates (3.2 ppg) and Ryan Chew have been first off the bench at various times and continually provide valuable minutes.
Glunt rates the game a toss-up.
“Everybody is good now, and they’re the best team we’ve seen this season,” he stated. “They‘re well-coached and do things the right way. They had some really good games with teams that went pretty far in the WPIAL Playoffs.
“We’re gonna have to play well to win. The key for us, like it has been all season long, is solid defense, holding them to one shot. We’ve gotta communicate.
“We play our best when we talk on defense and we rebound to get second chance opportunities.”
Glunt isn’t overly concerned to be playing on a non-school day.
“It does get you out of your routine, but it’s something both teams have to adjust to,” he said. “We do have some kids taking SATs in the morning.
“We’re gonna make the best of it with breakfast at 9:30, a shoot around and a pre-game meal prepared by the cafeteria workers. Those ladies do a great job. Sometimes they‘ll put in notes wishing the kids good luck. They go above and beyond for us, so we really appreciate that.”
The winner will advance to the quarterfinals against New Castle (24-2) or District 10 fourth seed Sharon (15-10) next Wednesday.