MORRISDALE — When the end of the season comes around on the hardwood, it’s emotional since for many it’s the last time they will step foot on the court. But, for the Curwensville Golden Tide and the West Branch Warriors, the final game of the regular season had a lot more emotion than any senior night could give.
On the line in the final game of the regular season was a Moshannon Valley League title. For Curwensville, it was an outright title with a perfect 8-0 record in the league. For West Branch, handing the Tide their lone league loss would mean sharing the title between the schools.
This meant the crowd that packed into the West Branch Area High School Friday night was in for a game that would come down to who wanted it more.
Not only did they get that, but the entire crowd got a game where for 32 minutes, either team could come away with victory. Until the very end, the lead between the two squads never exceeded more than four points. However, only one team could finish the night on top. For West Branch, it was their defense causing turnovers late in the game that led to points either in layups or at the foul line that allowed them to secure a very hard-earned victory, defeating Curwensville 52-46.
West Branch head coach Dan Clark afterwards knew his team was already heading to the playoffs, but it felt like they already were in a playoff game on this night.
“We’ve had a playoff atmosphere the last four games. The last four games we played were against teams that are going to the playoffs, so our playoffs started two weeks ago,” Clark said. “We went 3-1 in those games, and hopefully that continues at Homer Center. I’m just excited for these guys. I don’t play many seniors, so it’s a team win.:
Echoing Clark’s feelings was Curwensville head coach Matt Wassil, saying “The atmosphere was created by us not wanting to share the title, and them wanting to share the title, so it created a playoff-type atmosphere, and I think it was good for both teams because we are both going right into the playoffs. That’s kind of how playoffs will be, and those possessions are that much more important in close games.”
Early in the contest, Curwensville was able to put down shots both on the perimeter and outside. Devon Barrett hit the opening three-point basket, leading the team with seven points in the quarter. Avery Francisco accounted for six points in the frame, but also added in five rebounds to help the Tide hold a 17-12 advantage after one quarter.
Francisco had a strong night by finishing with a double-double, leading the team with 16 points and 11 boards.
The second quarter belonged to the Warriors, specifically to point guard Matt Fluck. In the second quarter alone, he accounted for 11 of the team’s 15 points; which kept the Warriors in the thick of the contest. The score went back-and-forth between the two squads for the lead the entire eight minutes, with West Branch holding onto a one-point advantage heading into the break. Fluck finished the night with a game-high 19 points, and one rebound shy of a double-double.
Clark was proud of Fluck’s play in the quarter, especially considering he was concerned heading into the night.
“Matt kept us in that first half, and he didn’t even know if he was going to play today. He turned his ankle on Tuesday, which really swelled up. He didn’t do anything for two days, and didn’t even run until the opening tip,” he said. “He kept us in it with his heart and determination. He wanted us to win this game.”
The second half started similar to how the first half did, with Curwensville having the ball, and outscoring the Warriors to take a three-point advantage heading into the final quarter.
That final quarter ultimately made the biggest difference for both squads.
Curwensville had many opportunities for points, attacking the basket, and even getting second-chance shots. But, none of those opportunities came through. Meanwhile, the Warriors were turning up the heat and causing the Tide to make mistakes, some leading to fast breaks, while others leading to easy opportunities at the foul line. In the entire game, the Warriors went to the line 16 times, making 13 of the shots, while Curwensville was held to just seven free throws, only one coming in the fourth quarter.
“Free throw shooting; it hurt us in games prior, so we really stepped up when it mattered,” Clark said.
Curwensville only secured five points in the final quarter, shooting just 2-for-6 in the final eight minutes, while turning the ball over five times. Wassil knew the Warrior defense was tough, but to him his team cost themselves some opportunities when they had the ball.
“A lot of it was early in the second half. We had some shots near the basket in the paint that we didn’t convert. You can’t miss those opportunities against a team that talented. That and some turnovers made a difference late in the game,” Wassil said. “They did a good job of pressuring on our guards a little more, and extending their defense, but still matching up with our big guys inside. We weren’t strong enough with the ball passing at times, and it led to some steals for layups or foul shots. That was the biggest difference, giving away possessions.
“Early on, we did a good job getting the ball inside. We just have to do a better job at converting those possessions into points. At times, we worked well on offense, but just didn’t make shots. We got a tough one (first playoff game) up at Coudersport, but the kids are tough, and will bounce back.”
Clark felt the Tide were playing strong defense all game long, keeping their tall center Larry Cowder away from the ball. But it was the play in the final quarter of Cowder that helped put Curwensville away. Cowder towered over the entire Tide team with his height, and played as such when he accounted for three steals in the final quarter, leading to either points or long possessions. He scored 10 of his 18 points in the last quarter.
West Branch also won a close jayvee game to start the night, 41-34.
The Warriors finish their regular season 13-9, and have a week to prepare for their playoff run, but Clark was still feeling excellent about what his team accomplished on this night, and what it meant for the community.
“It’s great for these guys. I mean, we both won it (MVL Title), but it’s a good win for our program. We get 2018 up on our banner, which is great, and just a great team win. Excited for this group,” Clark said.
On the opposite side, for Wassil even in a loss, to see what the team accomplished this year means a lot to him, and to the school. Their even 11-11 record to him doesn’t reflect how good his team played this season, nor how much he has done since coming back as head coach beginning last season. For him, it’s a unique perspective because he can look at this season based on his time as both a coach and as a player, and give reflection.
“It’s one of those things, for me, easier to put into perspective, being a coach and have gone through things as a player. You can’t take things like this for granted,” he said. “Our kids right now are pretty upset that we didn’t get the outright title, but I think in a few days they will realize what we did was a pretty good accomplishment.
“I told them that; going 7-1 in the league is a great accomplishment, and they should be proud of that. They are starting to rebuild our program from where we had some struggles to where we are now, sharing the title, is a great accomplishment.”
SCORE BY QUARTER
Curwensville 17 9 15 5 – 46
West Branch 12 15 11 14 – 52
Curwensville – 46
Terry 4 2-3 10, Barrett 3 0-0 7, Stewart 0 0-0 0, VonGunden 2 0-0 6, Bloom 0 0-0 0, Bakaysa 3 1-2 7, Francisco 7 2-2 16. TOTALS 22 5-7 46.
West Branch – 52
Hoover 0 0-0 0, Fluck 7 4-5 19, Eboch 0 0-0 0, Arnold 0 4-4 4, Gutierrez 2 1-1 5, Guerra 2 1-2 6, Kolesar 0 0-0 0, Cowder 7 3-4 18, Emigh 0 0-0 0. TOTALS 18 13-16 52.
Three-Point Baskets: Barrett, VonGunden (2)/Guerra, Cowder, Fluck
Golden Tide Scoreboard:
|12/08||@ Clearfield||52 – 54||0 – 1|
|12/11||WEST BRANCH||57 – 54 ot||1 – 1|
|12/15||@ Mo Valley||61 – 49||2 – 1|
|12/20||GLENDALE||82 – 47||3 – 1|
|12/28||@ Freeport Tourney|
|12/28||vs. Freeport||54 – 85||3 – 2|
|12/29||vs. Mercyhurst Prep||32 – 46||3 – 3|
|01/03||@ Ridgway||32 – 52||3 – 4|
|01/05||BROCKWAY||ppd.||3 – 4|
|01/09||DUBOIS CENTRAL CATH||58 – 49||4 – 4|
|01/11||HARMONY||90 – 74||5 – 4|
|01/12||BROCKWAY||ppd.||5 – 4|
|01/16||@ Elk County Catholic||46 – 78||5 – 5|
|01/19||KANE||58 – 45||6 – 5|
|01/22||MO VALLEY||60 – 53||7 – 5|
|01/23||RIDGWAY||44 – 57||7 – 6|
|01/26||@ Brockway||48 – 53||7 – 7|
|01/30||BROCKWAY||50 – 58||7 – 8|
|01/31||@ Glendale||60 – 49||8 – 8|
|02/02||JOHNSONBURG||33 – 49||8 – 9|
|02/06||@ DuBois Central Catholic||62 – 55||9 – 9|
|02/07||@ West Branch||ppd.||9 – 9|
|02/09||@ Sheffield||69 – 44||10 – 9|
|02/12||CLEARFIELD||29 – 49||10 – 10|
|02/14||@ Harmony||71 – 66||11 – 10|
|02/16||@ West Branch||46 – 52||11 – 11|
|TBD||District 9 Playoffs|