The Tussey Mountain Titans didn’t want to leave Pitt-Johnstown’s Sports Center without a District 5 Class AA title for a third straight year.
Two years in a row, Tussey Mountain had to watch another celebrate on the Richland Township court. Last year, that meant that the Titans were denied a spot in the state tournament.
All the reason for Tussey Mountain to savor its 43-37 win over North Star on Tuesday.
“Our main goal at the start of the year was to win a district championship,” Titans coach Todd Gates said. “We’ve finished second here the last two years and we didn’t want to finish second again. Everything from this point on is a bonus.”
The Titans (23-1) advance to the PIAA tournament, where they’ll face the fifth-place finisher out of District 7.
The Cougars’ season ends at 16-8, a nine-win improvement on last year’s mark.
North Star isn’t done yet if the team lives up to coach Randy Schrock’s prediction for its offseason work.
“We’re going to come back strong next year,” Schrock said. “We’re going to have a great summer together and we’re going to get better for it. I’m looking forward to next season with this team.”
Tussey Mountain took a 13-4 lead after a period, breaking away from a 4-all tie with four points from Breana Kendrick, two free throws from Paige Reed and a 3-pointer from Courtney Rupert paving the way.
All four of North Star’s points in the quarter were netted by Courtney Schrock, who had 14 points to lead the Cougars.
Schrock also netted North Star’s first three points of the second quarter to cut the Titans’ lead to six.
A lay-in by Sam Carmean late in the quarter pulled the Cougars within three points at 19-16.
Kendrick’s 3-pointer after the Carmean hoop ignited a 7-2 Titans run to close the first half.
The Cougars turned the ball over 15 times in the first half while Tussey Mountain had only three of their 18 turnovers before intermission.
After stretching their lead to 38-26 after the third, the Titans’ sloppiness with the basketball helped North Star score seven straight points on two field goals by Jackie Stanko and a 3-pointer from Courtney Schrock.
Just after the quarter’s midway point, the Titans began draining large chunks of time off the clock and forced the Cougars to foul their way into the bonus.
“Breana Kendrick came out between the third and the fourth quarter, her shoulder was hurting,” Gates said. “She actually turned (the basketball) over two times at the beginning of the fourth. So we pulled her out. We need her in the game, so that was a little difficult that we were trying to run her in on offense and Amanda (Stoudnour) in on defense ... But you put our guards on the foul line, we’re going to win the game. They don’t miss.”
It was a dilemma that the North Star coaches deemed worthy of answering with fouls.
“They’re a really good free-throw shooting team,” Randy Schrock said. “So we really didn’t want to go down that avenue, but what are you going to do? We had one foul at the 41⁄2-minute mark, which is great typically for us, but we had to be closer to the bonus, otherwise they were going to run the clock out on us.”
Stanko had 11 points for the Cougars, who received nine rebounds from Kayla Rice. The 6-foot Stanko was limited to four rebounds on the evening.
“Our main goal was to not let het put up second shots and putbacks,” Gates said. “We thought is we could control her, we could win the game.”
The Titans’ Rupert scored 15 points. Kendrick followed Rupert’s lead with 13 points.
Shawn Curtis is the sports editor of The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/shawncurtis430.