Somerset boys’ basketball coach Scott Close finally had an opportunity to sport his orange jacket proudly on Saturday afternoon at Mount Aloysius College.
The Golden Eagles captured their first District 6 Class AAA championship with a 69-62 victory over Huntingdon.
“We have never won a district title before and this will be the first banner; we get to hang a brand new banner in our gym with this one,” said Close, whose team advances to the PIAA Tournament to face Lancaster Mennonite, the District 3 seventh-place finisher, on Friday at a site and time to be determined. “We’ve had a lot of real good guys before that tried real hard. This is the fourth time we’ve been here in the last six years and we finally got one.
“The first team that we brought here (to the district championship) bought me that (orange) sports coat. They said ‘if we can’t win the championship, how about wearing that so when you do win it, then we’re there with you.’ It’s been a real nice community effort.”
Golden Eagles’ sophomore guards Dylan Barnes and Jacob Heiple combined for 57 points with 30 and 27, respectively.
“Sophomores playing well beyond their years,” Close said. “They did a great job for us all year. They took over the game for us. No disrespect to any of the other players because they got shut down in previous games and others have had to step up. A lot of guys on the defensive end worked their tails off so we could have those two run the offense.”
Somerset sprinted out to an 8-0 lead before the Bearcats came back to trail 11-10 after the first.
There were four lead changes as both squads scored 16 points in the second quarter and the Golden Eagles held a 27-26 advantage at the intermission. Heiple had 13 points and Barnes had just six at the break.
Four ties and three lead changes had the Bearcats taking the advantage 45-44 heading into the fourth. Barnes scored 12 of his points in the third quarter.
After a tie at 50 with 4:04 remaining, the Golden Eagles never trailed again. Huntingdon pulled within a point, 52-51, but could get no closer the final 3:16 of the game.
“At halftime our coach told us to come out hard and play defense,” Barnes said. “Defense won us that game. Our defense was mostly geared to (Nate) Gearhart. We had Michael VanLenten on him and that was out goal to shut him down. At the end we were able to contain him.”
Barnes was 13 of 16 from the free-throw line while Heiple was 12 of 13. As a team, Somerset was 26 of 31 from the line including going 14 of 16 in the fourth quarter.
Bearcats’ coach Nicholas Payne said foul shooting was the difference in the game.
“They stepped up and hit their foul shots,” Payne said.
“On the board, we had three difference makers - one was transition, one was free throws and the other was 3-pointers. Our defensive plan was to play one-on-one man defense and there are two great guards that put up 57 points. We thought post play was our advantage, but we just didn’t have a good game inside.”
The Bearcats (15-9) were led by 22 points from junior Nate Gearhart, who reached the 1,000-point scoring milestone in the second quarter.
Devon Claar supplied 12 points and Hudson Speck came off the bench to add nine, all from 3-point range, before they both fouled out in the fourth.
Huntingdon’s Kobren Frederick had a game-high 12 rebounds while Somerset got 11 from freshman George Coyle, eight from Barnes, seven from Heiple and six from Michael VanLenten.
“The grade that they had from the beginning of the year to right now is incredible,” Close said about his team’s ability to not get rattled in the big-game situation.
“I think we were 6-6 to start the season and we told them not to hang their heads. We are a young team and we will grow and move forward. The last 12 or 13 games, they’ve just shown that they’ve bought into the system and played real hard.”
Cory Isenberg is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/CoryIsenbergTD.