HOLLIDAYSBURG - While the fourth-seeded Tyrone Golden Eagles have just two seniors on their roster, junior guards Brandon Gripp and Jordan Miller have proven again and again why that hasn't been an issue.
The two combined for 46 points, including eight 3-pointers, as Tyrone defeated West Branch in the first round of the District 6 Class AA playoffs, 66-58, at the Hollidaysburg High School Gymnasium.
Gripp finished with 29 points while Miller added 17 more for Tyrone (18-5).
"Those guys have been huge for us all year," Tyrone coach George Gripp said, "Once they get going they can rattle off five or six in a row. It was good for those guys to stay in a groove tonight."
The duo came out hot early on, as they made five treys to give Tyrone the advantage after the first quarter, 22-14.
"We keyed on Gripp and Miller," West Branch coach Danny Clark said. "Gripp is going to get his points, we just tried to make sure no one else went off."
Despite having the lead, the elder Gripp was thankful for the early success from the field.
"Thank God for the hot start," Gripp said. "We needed it."
Already playing without senior guard and leading scorer Parker Emigh due to a torn ACL, the Warriors saw Mike Pennington, who had 11 first-quarter points, exit the game with what Clark said was a high ankle injury.
"He was our guy in the first quarter," Clark said. "We lost him and it just forced others to step up."
While the Golden Eagles never allowed West Branch (12-11) to take the lead, they failed to capitalize on numerous opportunities to put the game away, watching their lead falter to just four halfway through the second quarter.
"We didn't play our best game," Gripp said. "We had the lead to 16 a few times. When we felt like we were on the brink of putting the game away, we had a turnover or missed a foul shot to stop our own momentum."
"That's what we do," Clark said. "We kept battling back and were right there when it mattered."
Tyrone saw its nine-point halftime lead jump up to 17 with 4:43 remaining in the third, only to let it dwindle to single digits, and all the way down to six with under a minute to play.
"Those guys never gave in," Gripp said. "They played hard until the end and luckily we made enough plays to come out on top tonight."
"Our kids battled," Clark said. "I'm excited for the future."
The younger Gripp took it upon himself to protect the lead, hitting a key 3-pointer with just over two minutes to play to once again extend the lead to double digits.
"They went to a box-and one," Brandon Gripp said. "When they started coming back I would either shoot or give it to Erik [Wagner] at the post."
With a younger team, Gripp enjoys the experience that each game provides.
"It's huge for our guys," Gripp said. "Every game that we move on it's more experience for these guys that we cherish. Hopefully we can keep it going."
The Golden Eagles will move on to play Northern Cambria in the quarterfinals on Thursday at a time and place to be announced.
WEST BRANCH (58): Trude 5 1-3 14, Pennington 3 2-2 11, A. Krise 4 0-0 9, Zwick 1 3-6 6, Koch 3 0-0 7, Rockey 0-0 7, S. Krise 2 0-1 4, Martin 0 0-0 0, N. Kerlin 0 0-0 0. Totals - 21 6-12 58.
TYRONE (66): Gripp 9 6-8 29, Belinda 2 0-0 4, McKeehen 0 0-2 0, Wagner 2 5-7 9, Ingle 1 0-0 2, Miller 7 0-1 17, Politza 2 1-3 5, Mitchell 0 0-0 0. Totals - 23 12-21 66.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
West Branch14 13 14 17 - 58
Tyrone22 14 17 13 - 66
3-point goals: West Branch 10 (Pennington 3, K. Trude 3, A. Krise, Zwick, Koch, Rockey); Tyrone 8 (Gripp 5, Miller 3).
Records: West Branch (12-11); Tyrone (18-5).