By MIKE HUTCHENS
Messenger Sports Editor
Nobody said it’d be easy.
The Union City boys made it harder than it had to be, though.
Fifth-ranked UC barely avoided a second straight late-game collapse, instead holding on for a 62-58 victory over Huntingdon Friday night in the Region 7A quarterfinals.
The Golden Tornadoes (22-7) missed five throws, a layup and committed a turnover after leading 60-52 with less than two minutes to play.
They did get a pair of pressure-packed free throws from Marcus DeBerry with 13.7 seconds left, however, to sneak into tonight’s tournament semifinals, where they’ll try to beat Lake County for the third time this season to earn a spot in the championship game as well as a berth in the sectionals.
The semifinals and Thursday’s title tilt will be played at Humboldt High School after District 14A swept District 13 in the first round of the region — the Vikings earning that perk by virtue of a 54-52 comeback victory over Union City in the 14A title game.
In that contest, the Twister missed four free throws and were guilty of three turnovers while blowing a 12-point lead in the final 5 1/2 minutes.
Against Huntingdon Friday, UC twice was on the verge of pulling away from the Mustangs with double-digit advantages — the second 54-42 with 5:44 to play after DeBerry made two of three foul shots.
Instead, though, the combination of Union City failing to seal the deal and a gritty Huntingdon bunch that refused to fold made things far more interesting than the Purple and Gold faithful would’ve liked.
“I thought we were playing not to lose there at the end instead of trying to close them out,” UC head coach Shane Sisco said. “We became very tentative in the second half and the deal with our free throw shooting is we seem to be worry what will happen if we miss them rather just stepping up there and making them like we’re capable.
“We’ve been a good free throw shooting team until the last two games. And at some point, we’re going to have to respond in a late game situation to make that a non-issue.”
Justice Scott (22 points) and Dylan Poole (18) combined to keep Huntingdon in the game until the very end.
Poole’s stickback bucket with 42 seconds remaining drew the Mustangs within 60-58 after Scott had made a 3-pointer and converted an old-fashioned three-point play to ignite the visitors’ rally.
DeBerry calmly bottomed two charities to double the Tornadoes’ shaky two-point lead, though, in the waning seconds, and Union City held on despite two more missed free throws with seven ticks left.
“Credit Marcus for stepping up there and making two big ones,” added Sisco, whose club was 9-of-19 overall from the stripe — 6-of-12 in the fourth quarter. “Making free throws can be just as contagious as missing them and, hopefully, the confidence he showed by hitting two in that situation will rub off on some of the other guys.”
UC led by as many as 13 (29-16) late in the first half after DeBerry drained a 3-pointer.
Donte Simpson regularly attacked the bucket and had a dozen of his team-high 21 markers over the first two periods and Kheric Brooks’ bucket just before the intermission buzzer made it 33-22 at the mid-game break.
Behind Scott and Poole, Huntingdon roared back with a 14-3 surge in the first five minutes of the third stanza to forge a 36-all tie, aided by a handful of Tornado turnovers.
The Twisters answered the Mustangs’ flurry with one of their own, running off eight straight points to go up 44-36 after a DeBerry triple.
Khiry Lewis started the run with a bucket inside and Simpson went end-to-end to add another deuce.
It was 48-42 after three.
Sisco said he stressed to his troops afterward that they’d accomplished their only true mission.
“It’s survive and advance — no matter how it looks. That’s what I told the kids,” the coach added. “I told ’em we’re 32 minutes of good basketball away from getting to the region championship game and the sectionals and you never know what can happen when you get that far.”
Simpson, who was lauded by Sisco for having “his best overall floor game of the season,” was joined in double figures by DeBerry, who finished with 16 points for the victors.
Huntingdon ends its season with a 15-14 mark and finished third in the District 14A Tournament..
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.
Published in The Messenger 2.25.13