HARRISBURG When a nine-point Sullivan County third-quarter lead turned into a slight deficit in the fourth, the Griffins didn't stop believing in one another. It's been the Sullivan way this whole season starting way back in November when few expected this team to reach the PIAA tournament for a fourth consecutive year after having to replace four starters.
Those doubters have molded this team, so when its back was seemingly against the wall during Friday's PIAA Class A first round game against Mount Calvary, the Griffins never panicked and gave their non-believers something more to chew on - another state playoff victory after defeating the District 3 runner-up Chargers, 52-47, at Central Dauphin East High School.
"We showed a lot of poise there that we wouldn't have in December," Sullivan County coach Glenn Vaughan said. "This team has grown up a lot."
The Griffins (20-6), who won a 20th game for the third consecutive year, will play Math, Civics and Science in Tuesday's PIAA second round at a time and date to be announced. The District 12 champion defeated Delco Christian, 100-50.
Sullivan County, which had won first-round PIAA games the past two seasons, jumped to a 29-20 lead early in the third quarter after scoring six consecutive points coming out of halftime. That advantage slowly dwindled, however, as the Griffins' turnover count mounted when Mount Calvary extended its pressure with more intensity.
Defense quickly turned into offense for the Chargers and they tied the game at 35-all with a Neftaly Perales 3-pointer before the end of the third quarter. Sean Flannery answered with one of his three 3-pointers to begin the fourth quarter, but Mount Calvary (22-5) took a 41-40 lead with 4:40 left on a Josh Jeter basket.
The senior guard, who was averaging just a shade over six points a game, was nearly unstoppable in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 of his 15 points by shaking Sullivan defenders with his dribble and shooting over the top of them.
Trailing for the first time since the second quarter, Sullivan turned to Conner Wylie. The senior scored 12 first-half points before being held to one in the third quarter, but when it came to winning time Wylie returned to the limelight. He scored eight fourth-quarter points and assisted on a Bob Polcrack 3-pointer that gave the Griffins the lead for good at 43-41.
"Bob does a good job of moving to my open vision when I am getting double or tripled team and when I saw him there I have complete faith in Bob that he'll make a three for us," Wylie said.
Wylie and Jordan Beinlich scored the last nine Sullivan County points and closed the game out despite Mount Calvary closing to four points with 40 seconds left after Sullivan built a seven-point fourth-quarter lead.
"We just came together when we fell behind and coach Vaughan tells us to play just like it's zero to zero," Beinlich said.
Beinlich, one of four first-time varsity starters, finished with eight points. Adam Szklanka added 11, including three 3-pointers, and Flannery nine.
"When we got down 41-40 it was nice to see everybody chip in and everybody did their part to help us get back in the right direction," Vaughan said.
The Griffins knocked down seven 3-pointers to keep Mount Calvary honest as it sunk its defense in the paint trying to slow Wylie with two to three defenders.
Wylie added eight rebounds, including the final one as Sullivan players and an always strong following celebrated another state playoff victory.
David Sturgis matched Jeter with 15 points for the Chargers, who were held to eight points in the second quarter as Sullivan built a 23-20 halftime lead. Mount Calvary leading scorer Jason Kuntzelman was held to five points, as Sullivan County mainly a man-to-man team throughout the season mixed in some zone against the Chargers to contain their quick and athletic guards.
"That was big," said Wylie on containing Kuntzelman who entered the game averaging over 15 points a contest. "We stressed quite a bit during practices guarding him and I have to credit my teammates for guarding him really well."
Sullivan County (52)
Sean Flannery 3 0-0 9, Conner Wylie 8 5-6 21, Adam Szklanka 4 0-1 11, Jordan Beinlich 2 4-8 8, Bob Polcrack 1 0-0 3, Bobby Frank 0 0-0 0. Totals: 18 9-15 52.
Mount Calvary (47)
Josh Jeter 6 1-2 15, Neftaly Perales 3 0-0 8, Hayden Crick 1 0-0 2, Jason Kuntzelman 2 1-4 5, David Sturgis 6 0-0 15, Jack LaChance 0 0-0 0, Kyle Wolfe 1 0-0 2. Totals: 19 2-6 47.
Sullivan County9 14 12 17 52
Mount Calvary12 8 15 12 47
3-point goals: Sullivan 7 (Flannery 3, Szklanka 3, Polcrack); Mount Calvary 7 (Sturgis 3, Perales 2, Jeter 2).
Records: Sullivan County 20-6, Mount Calvary 22-5. Next: Sullivan vs. Math, Civics and Science, TBA (Wed.).