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Cougars rally comes up short

Hazleton Area falls in District 2 Class 4A title game to Williamsport.

Dontahe Jordan of Williamsport deflects the shot of Dan Maguschak of Hazleton during the second quarter Friday.

Don Carey/the times leader

BERWICK – Williamsport’s Dontahe Jordan toted along his runner-up medal from last season to Friday night’s championship game.

“I asked him why he had it,” Williamsport coach Allen Taylor said. “He said, ‘Coach, I just want to remind these guys we’ve already been down this road and got this medal already.’”

Hazleton Area did everything possible in the fourth quarter to send Jordan and the Millionaires back to Central Pennsylvania with the same hardware.

The Cougars, though, couldn’t complete an unforeseen rally attempt as Williamsport hung on for a 60-57 victory in the District 2 Class 4A boys basketball title game at the Berwick Middle School.

“Everybody talks about our team and how they play with such heart,” said Hazleton Area coach Mike Joseph, whose team cut a 16-point deficit entering the fourth quarter to four with 39.5 seconds to play.

“I don’t think you can find eight minutes of a better display of heart and grit and togetherness of a team you saw there at the end.”

The loss put Hazleton Area (20-6) into a PIAA 4A play-in game Tuesday against the District 1 ninth seed. Central Bucks West and Glen Mills played for that spot Friday night.

Williamsport (21-3) will be off until Saturday, March 7, when it plays D3 sixth seed Cedar Crest in the first round of the 4A state playoffs.

Those state slots looked all but certain entering the third quarter. Williamsport dominated the second quarter to take a 30-15 halftime lead, and despite Hazleton Area’s best efforts in the third the Millionaires increased the lead to 48-32 in the fourth.

“We talked about it in the locker room at halftime that we weren’t going to get 15 back in the first two minutes,” Joseph said. “We got off to a good start in the third quarter, but they answered at the other end and we ended up losing that quarter by a point.”

The 16-point deficit appeared to be too much to overcome as Hazleton Area spent the first four minutes of the fourth trying to whittle it down to under double digits.

Once the Cougars did on Christian Laputka’s three-pointer at 4:31, the capacity crowd ended its passive demeanor.

Laputka moved Hazleton Area within 58-52 with two minutes to play with a basket, and the Cougars created two turnovers in the next 65 seconds but came away empty on the offensive end. After a free throw miss, Joey Madochick cut Williamsport’s lead to 58-54 with 39.5 seconds remaining.

Laputka then made an incredible defensive play, racing down court to block a layup by Williamsport’s Isaiah Twine and give the Cougars possession.

Williamsport’s defense, though, clamped down and forced Hazleton Area to waste 18 seconds before a three-point miss by Adam Davis with six seconds left. After a pair of Williamsport free throws, Davis hit a three at the buzzer for the final points.

“This team has a lot of fight and is very resilient,” Taylor said.

So was Hazleton Area, which saw its 11-6 lead early in the second quarter reversed by Williamsport’s strong transition game.

Davis and Paris Cleveland led Hazleton Area with 14 points each. Laputka added 11.

HAZLETON AREA (57): Laputka 3 4-6 11, Madochick 4 0-0 9, Cleveland 6 2-4 14, Magushak 4 1-2 9, Davis 5 0-0 14, McCann 0 0-0 0. Totals 22 7-12 57.

WILLIAMSPORT (60): Twine 1 2-2 4, Lynch 3 3-3 10, Jordan 4 4-4 12, Ruane 5 0-0 13, James 2 0-0 4, Worthy 1 2-2 4, Engel 1 0-0 2, Haynes 0 1-3 1, Monroe 4 2-3 10. Totals 21 14-17 60.

Hazleton Area 9 6 17 25 57
Williamsport 6 24 18 12 69

3-Point Field Goals— HA 6 (Madochick, Laputka, Davis 4); WIL 4 (Lynch, Ruane 3)

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