Note: This article originally appeared in the Mirror on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 1997.
By Neil Rudel
TYRONE — Nobody left wanting a refund.
Everyone left wondering the last time they saw a game this good.
Bishop Guilfoyle beat Juniata Valley, 64-63, in the District 6, Class A semifinals Tuesday night.
Both teams walked out with their heads high, having added a dose of mutual respect.
“I can’t fault our team,’’ Valley coach Mike Fields said. “I thought everybody in the game on both teams, 16-17 players, played as hard as you can expect.’’
The game featured quality play across the board. Both teams showed balance and depth, both made comebacks and clutch shots.
“I thought it was a great game, win or lose,’’ BG coach Dave Benton said. “I’m certainly glad we won, but I would have been proud had we lost.’’
This was a battle of two terrific programs, and their performance showed why each has had more than its share of success over the years.
Bishop Guilfoyle, of course, is steeped in tradition, and its buzzer-beating victory courtesy of Ryan Lestochi’s memorable drive may have been its wildest playoff finish since Denny Tomassetti’s jump shot won the Pennsylvania Catholic Interscholastic Athletic Association title 25 years ago.
Juniata Valley, on the other hand, has built an immediate past second to no boys program in the area.
The Hornets come off two straight trips to the PIAA championship game, toting back the gold ball last year.
“When we get together, it’s a great rivalry,’’ Benton said. “Both teams play hard and play clean. The tempo is to both teams’ liking. And there’s no yakking (trash talk) around — you don’t have time for that.’’
Fields doesn’t see the Hornets’ road through the 6-A consolation as any sort of end of an era.
“It could have ended (last year) if the players accepted that,’’ he said. “They’ve come back strong with a tremendous work ethic over the summer and tremendous mental preparation — that mind set to get back (to Hershey). They have it, and they believe it and I believe it.
“This game can only help us build strength down the road If you can come back against BG, I think you can come back against any team in (Class) A. It should give us confidence.’’
Despite losing last year’s stars, Pete Rogowski and Travis Wisor, the Hornets were still solid this season in going 22-5.
“I never expected to be here,’’ Fields said. “But we changed the offense, and asked the big men to accept different roles, setting the high screen. They accepted it so well. This team is a team.’’
Something Bishop Guilfoyle has always been. Now the Marauders are finally at full strength, having survived portions of the season without standouts Lestochi and Josh Baker.
“We’ve played comparable games, but I don’t know if we toughed one out like this,’’ Benton said. “We needed a good tough win and this was obviously a tough win.’’
Benton is just hopeful the spirit BG needed to beat Valley isn’t spent.
“We always give effort,’’ he said. “I don’t think our effort lacks. I’m looking for emotion. At times we’ve had problems with that. After a win like this, that’s my main worry. I told them afterward, this was not our championship game. Now you have to be ready to play.’’
Not only against Homer-Center in the 6-A final Saturday night, but just in case Juniata Valley shows up somewhere in the inter-districts.
And with the kind of heart the Hornets displayed Tuesday, the heart of a champion, don’t bet against it.
(Rudel is the Mirror’s associated sports editor and columnist.)