Mansfield players felt their legs going and the fatigue growing. The Tigers were playing their fourth game in eight days Monday at Montoursville. Whenever they felt tired, though, they remembered Laurie Kasper.
The energy soon came rushing back.
Kasper is a long-time Mansfield fan, and her son Nick works as the team's manager. She also is a breast cancer survivor who is now battling bone cancer while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Kasper will not quit and neither will the team she loves.
Bryce Zaparzynski of Mansfield defends Quintin Persun of Montoursville, right, Monday night at Montoursville. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
Bo Burleigh recorded his fifth double-double and Bryce Zaparzynski scored 17 points as Mansfield held off repeated Montoursville rallies and won a hard-fought 50-38 decision. The Tigers won their fourth straight during this eight-day stretch and are 6-2 a year after losing four starters.
"We definitely had to battle. It's hard to hit shots when you're legs are really tired but our team kept fighting," Burleigh said. "You have to give a lot of credit to our players. We have four new varsity players out on the court and we're definitely battling."
So is Kasper, who has provided the team ample motivation. Tigers players and coaches were pink socks to support Kasper. They honor her even more through their play.
Mansfield led almost from start to finish, received solid contributions from starters and reserves and always bounced back when Montoursville (0-5) kept coming back.
Mansfield hit nearly 50 percent of its fourth-quarter shots and added clutch free throws to finally put away determined Montoursville which had cut a 13-point deficit to three at one point. Zaparzynski played one of his best games, scoring 17 points and grabbing six rebounds while Burleigh had 17 points and 11 rebounds. Brady Andrews played excellent defense and Chandler Correll hit some big fourth-quarter shots.
"It's been a tough stretch and you could tell the kids were tired mentally and physically, but they were grinding it out with five freshmen on the bench who played a really tough first game," Mansfield coach Bo Burleigh said. "I really like the unselfishness and the way they work with one another and find a way to win."
Montoursville made sure Mansfield earned another win the hard way. The Warriors, who lost all five starters from last year's team, kept fighting back and did not let Mansfield rest easy until the final seconds. It was a nice step forward for a hard-working team that played its best collective game.
The Warriors trailed 16-3 early in the second quarter but pulled within three late in the half when Niheem Freeman fed Wyatt Entz inside. Mansfield stretched the lead to nine in the third quarter but Montoursville made it 31-26 when Freeman fed Connor Moran. Mansfield led by 13 in the fourth quarter, but Montoursville cut it to 46-36 on a Brycen Mussina 3-pointer and nearly pulled closer following a Quintin Persun steal before the Tigers made some big plays in the final minute.
"We're doing better. There's been worse days and we play with energy and we play with enthusiasm and if we can maintain that we'll be OK," first-year Montoursville coach Mike Mussina said. "I told them if we can just do a little more than we're doing and keep working and keep getting a little better every time than maybe we'll get over the hump and all of a sudden it will be our game by five or six instead of the other way around."
Montoursville played with a lot of energy from start to finish as players were constantly diving for loose balls and hustling up and down court. Moran (10 points, 6 rebounds) and Freeman (5 points, 9 rebounds) had breakout games while Persun had a hand in seven straight points early in the third quarter. Jim McMahon had seven points and five rebounds while Curtis Miller had six points and aggressively attacked the basket.
It was not the result Montoursville wanted, but progress is being made. The effort and energy is there and that is a nice foundation to build upon.
"They have real nice players, real classy," Bo Burleigh said. "It was just fun playing them."
"We do things well. We only gave up 50 points and we've played five games and nobody has gotten to 60 on us. We just had some tough stretches," Mussina said. "As long as the kids stay with it and have the right attitude and put in the effort we'll get to be a better team eventually."
So will Mansfield which also is learning on the fly. The Tigers have played well in the fourth quarter, especially on the road and have won two games in final minute. They are talented, but they are tough too.
Basically, they are the epitome of Laurie Kasper.
"I think there is a lot of upside. We're doing things different than we have before and it's been a change for the kids and I've seen improvement," Kipper Burleigh said. "We're doing a lot more right than we are wrong and I'm pleased with that. They are playing real hard."
Bo Burleigh 4 9-11 17, Brady Andrews 2 0-0 4, Bryce Zaparzynski 6 2-4 17, Jarod Burd 0 1-4 1, Chandler Correll 2 2-2 6, JP Shaw 2 1-2 5, Ryan Campbell 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 15-22 50.
Quintin Persun 2 1-2 5, Connor Moran 4 2-3 10, Curtis Miller 2 2-2 6, Jim McMahon 3 0-1 7, Wyatt Entz 1 0-0 2, Niheem Freeman 2 1-2 5, Nick Christ 0 0-0 0, Zach Bair 0 0-0 0, Brycen Mussina 1 0-0 3. Totals 15 6-10 38.
Mansfield10 14 14 12-50
Montoursville3 14 11 10-38
3-pointers: Mansfield 3 (Zaparzynski 3); Montoursville 2 (McMahon, Mussina).
Records: Mansfield 6-2. Montoursville 0-5.
JV Score: Mansfield 52-45.