Note: This article originally appeared in the Mirror on Sunday, March 1, 1998.
By Neil Rudel
LORETTO — When you’re playing or coaching in a tremendous game, the intensity and level of play is so high that sometimes none of the participants realize the classic unfolding before their eyes.
That was not the case here Saturday afternoon as the Altoona and State College boys combined to author one of the great games in District 6 history, a 72-70 Mountain Lion victory won on Aaron Morris’ three-quarter court sprint and bucket at the buzzer.
As the lead seesawed back and forth, as each team weathered what seemed to be the other’s best shot in this championship game, as virtually every player on the court contributed, there was a sense on the floor that these games don’t come along too often.
“For the fans, it must have been great,’’ State College’s Kenny Krimmel, a central figure in the final minutes with a late 3-pointer that gave the Little Lions the lead, a missed free throw that opened the door and a fateful turnover that Morris cashed in. “Both teams played a heckuva game and showed a lot of heart.’’
Altoona’s rich basketball history is full of great comebacks and super finishes, but this game distinguished itself for 32 minutes and in fact needed every last second to be determined.
“I kept thinking to myself what a great game it was,’’ Altoona center Todd Johnson said.
Art Taneyhill had a sense the game would be special. He believes the teams are evenly matched, evidenced by their season split, and knows each has high-caliber athletes.
“We played twice and I kind of knew it would be this kind of game,’’ he said. “I’ve been part of some great games and this one ranks up there with the best with any win I’ve had.’’
State College shot 53 percent. Altoona shot 47 — 54 in the second half — committed just nine turnovers.
Morris was incredible with 27 points and teammate Mike Carney responded with a clutch 17 from the perimeter, including two bombs in the second half, the second tying it at 70 with 15 seconds left.
Johnson came up big with 10 points and seven rebounds (five offensive) to win the battle with State’s more heralded athlete, Larry Johnson. Matt Durbin had 10 assists and Vince Nedimyer provided his usual toughness while the Mountain Lions also got a big lift off the bench from Darren Galbraith, Ted Moran and Eric Kessinger.
It was enough to offset Krimmel, Chris Roser-Jones and Matt Tanner, who combined for 57 points and Ethan Frank, who hit some clutch shots in the second half.
In the end, it was an extraordinary effort from an extraordinary group of seniors who will go down as one of the finest classes in AAHS history.
Durbin and Nedimyer were key players on the football team that won the district championship and resurrected the ghosts of Mansion Park and now both can add a basketball title to their mantle.
“I was out for a few minutes in the third quarter and I kept thinking ‘we’re playing wonderful,’’’ Nedimyer, a winner if there ever was one, said. “What a great game. The momentum kept going back and forth. State College has a great team. This was a great series.’’
Durbin, whose hustle knocked the ball from Krimmel, said, “it was the greatest game I’ve ever been a part of.’’