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Central teams rise to the top

Dragons prevail in 72-70 thriller

March 6, 2008
The Altoona Mirror
Note: This article originally appeared in the Mirror on Saturday, March 4, 1995.

By Neil Rudel

Associate Sports Editor

LORETTO — It will be a while before basketball fans in the Cove stop talking about this one.

Central High School won its second District 6, Class AAA championship in three years by beating Lewistown, the field’s top seed, 72-70 Friday night at the DeGol Arena in the Stokes Fieldhouse.

It is not so much that Central won, though, but how it won that left the capacity crowd numb from witnessing a playoff gem.

Even after clutch sophomore point guard Joey Kitt drained a 12-foot jumper with two seconds left, Central held its breath and the building got quiet at Lewistown’s Scott Kochenderfer valiantly bounced what would have been a 40-foot game-winner off the rim.

Which cued a red and white celebration.

“I believe,’’ Central coach Reggie Nevins said, “this is as good as it gets.’’

Lewistown stalked Central’s night-long double-figure lead and finally tied the score on Justin Henry’s putback with 14 seconds left.

Henry missed the ensuing foul shot and Kitt, continuing to show uncanny poise for an underclassman, created off the dribble for what proved to be the game-winner. A left-hander, Kitt was moving right for his shot, just inside the free-throw line.

“I looked at Ben (Bithell) and they sort of backed off me and he was double-teamed,’’ Kitt, his braces shining while accepting congratulations, said, “When I saw that, I shot it — and hoped it would go in.’’

Nevins did not call timeout on the push.

“If he (Henry) had made the foul shot, we would have,’’ he said. “But on the miss we have a play. If we couldn’t get the ball to Ben, our second look is a play on the baseline, but Joe saw an opening.’’

Kitt, who became a starter 10 games into the second, wound up with 12 points, hitting 5-of-7 from the floor to go with seven assists.

“He makes such good decisions off penetration,’’ Nevins said. “We felt we had to start him.’’

The Dragons came out breathing fire and exploited Lewistown’s press for 31 first-quarter points. Many of the shots were lay-ups or high-percentage short jumpers as Central ended up hitting 28-of-46 (60 percent) from the floor.

“They’ve seen us twice,’’ Lewistown coach Wayne Brookhart, whose team fell to 25-2, said. “They know our weaknesses and they played smart.’’

“We worked against a press in practice last night,’’ Nevins said, “and I went home with a negative feeling. I think the wider court tonight helped.’’

Bithell, who led all scorers with 25, ignited Central’s early onslaught with 13 first-quarter points.

“Ben came out on fire,’’ Nevins said.

Tom Wareham, out with the flu when the Dragons lost at Lewistown by 20 in their last meeting, added eight in the first quarter, which Central carried 31-14.

“He’s a big difference,’’ Brookhart said. “He’s a tough kid.’’

Central also got floor stability from Corey Hamilton and Roy Ebersole and 16 bench points from Matt Imes and Colin Klotz.

Kochenderfer, also a sophomore, scored 11 in the second quarter to help Lewistown shave the deficit to 48-35 at halftime, but Central maintained a nine-point comfort zone (57-48) through three.

After Kitt sliced through Lewistown out of a mini-Dragon delay to put Central up 66-55 midway through the fourth quarter, the Panthers went on a 9-0 burst to set up the stretch run.

Kochenderfer’s bucket made it 68-66, then Bithell was called for his fourth foul on a debatable charge with 1:44 left. Kochenderfer, who scored 21, found Chris Wilson underneath for a 68-68 tie before Imes, a cool 6-foot-3 freshman who hit 5-of-6, took a pass from Bithell for a 70-68 lead with 37 seconds left.

Henry then rebounded Wilson’s miss to tie the game at 70.

Lewistown’ only other loss came to Milton.

“We had a super season,’’ Brookhart said. “But when you get this far, everybody’s good.’’

GAME NOTES: Central improved to 20-6 ... Bithell hit 10 of 18 from the field and raised his career total to 2,053 — 47 shy of Don Appleman’s Blair County all-time record (2,100) ... Henry’s 24 led Lewistown ... Nevins on Imes: “He plays so relaxed, kid of like Ben was as a freshman.’’ ... Lewistown hit 30 of 58 ... Central outrebounded the Panthers 24-21. Bithell grabbed eight and Wareham seven ... Henry led all rebounders with 12 ... Dragons made 14 turnovers, three more than Lewistown ... The game, the last of a tripleheader, was scheduled for 8:30, but did not begin until 9:05.

CENTRAL (72): Bithell 10 4-5 25, Wareham 4 3-5 11, Kitt 5 2-2 12, Hamilton 0 4-5 4, Harmon 0 0-0 0, Imes 5 0-0 10, Ebersole 1 2-3 4, Klotz 3 0-0 6, Lafferiere 0 0-0 0, Lehman 0 0-0 0, Bassler 0 0-0 0. Totals — 28 15-20 72.

LEWISTOWN (70): Henry 12 0-1 24, Scanlon 0 0-0 0, Wilson 3 0-0 6, Bell 2 0-0 4, Curry 1 2-2 5, Kochenderfer 7 6-8 21, Collins 1 0-0 2, Shilling 0 0-0 0, Coulter 4 0-0 8. Totals — 30 8-11 70.


Central 31 17 10 14 — 72

Lewistown 14 21 12 23 — 70

3-point goals: Central 1 (Bithell); Lewistown 2 (Curry, Kochenderfer). Technical fouls: none.

Officials: Gary Dixson, Frank Garritano, Lou Idzojtic.

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