Wellsboro accomplishes mission Outman and Griscavage set
The mission immediately was made clear. That lone district championship banner hanging inside Wellsboro’s gym would soon receive company.
Wellsboro was going to win a district championship. When Wellsboro coach Todd Outman and assistant Charlie Griscavage took over in 2010 they made sure it was district championship or bust. Northern Tier League championships were nice, but winning the program’s first district title since 1952 was the ultimate goal. Sadly, Griscavage passed away three years ago, but his spirit lives on through his players and coaches.
And together, they have reached that goal. Finally, after 66 years, Wellsboro is a district champion again.
Wellsboro made strong strides those first seven seasons after Outman became coach and last Saturday it took a giant step forward, beating Loyalsock 53-47 and capturing the District 4 Class AAA championship.
“We just wanted to get this win for Coach G and play for him and we got it done,” point guard Quinn Henry said after scoring 12 points in the final. “I will always remember this for the Callie Strong and Coach G and finally getting it done after years of trying. There’s nothing better right now.”
“There’s lot of elation. There’s some sadness because Coach Griscavage is not here,” Outman said. “We started this years ago and he was with us today. He kind of led us as well as the kids did to the championship.”
This has not been an easy journey for a team that will play Notre Dame-Green Pond in Saturday’s state tournament. It was filled with heart-breaking defeats and near brushes with championship immortality throughout the decade. That first team Outman and Griscavage coached won 21 games but lost in the flnal seconds to Central Columbia in the district quarterfinals. Two years later, Wellsboro led Loyalsock at halftime of the district final but lost. Two years later, it was the same thing and Danville stifled Wellsboro’s championship dreams in 2016.
But Wellsboro (26-1) kept working and grinding, never losing sight of its mission. Fast forward to Saturday. Wellsboro steadied itself after a big Loyalsock second-quarter run, took a one-point lead at halftime and controlled the second half. Emotions came pouring out over the final seconds as jubilant fans waved shirts in the air and players sprinted toward each other to celebrate a title 66 years in the making.
“We’ve been working all season to get this for Coach G and we finally got it,” forward Brandyn Tuttle said after scoring 11 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. “You’re just in awe. I just couldn’t believe we did it after all this time.”
There was a good feeling entering this season for all those affiliated with Wellsboro basketball. The Hornets returned a strong core from last year’s 21-win team that reached the district semifinals. They had size, shooters and depth. They also were hungry. If ever there was a year for this title drought to end it seemed this was it.
Prough missed the first three games with a broken collarbone suffered during football season and Loyalsock defeated Wellsboro in the second game of the season. The Hornets have not lost since. Wellsboro romped through the NTL and shined against a good non-conference schedule, beating District 4 Class AAAA champion Montoursville, St. John Neumann, 6A Whitehall and Jersey Shore. It then made quick work of Bloomsburg and Southern Columbia in districts.
That set up Wellsboro against its old nemesis. This time, Wellsboro would not be denied. The Hornets stormed out in the third quarter, took a 10-point lead and bent some down the stretch, but never buckled. Wellsboro slowed a potent offense, received steady contributions throughout the roster and, at long last, climbed that summit.
“We’ve had good teams before and we had a great season and set a standard that first season,” Outman said. “After these guys watched for seven years they made sure it was going to happen.”
Dalton Prough scored 27 points and reached 1,000 for his career. Tuttle controlled the paint and Henry set a strong early tone, hitting two 3-pointers. This championship foundation, however, has been built upon old-school defense. The Hornets led the area in points allowed and every player Outman uses swarms opponents. Andrew Brelo has been especially strong defensively off the bench and players like Joe Grab, Holden Kennedy and Tanner Button provided valuable defensive minutes against Loyalsock.
Wellsboro held Loyalsock well below its season average, held Southern to 29 points and has held 12 teams to fewer than 30 points, including Montoursville. Wellsboro started going on the attack eight years ago and its ability to stop opponents from attacking it, knocked down that last championship obstacle.
“We write on the board before every game, ‘defense,'” Brelo said after the Bloomsburg win. “That’s what is going to win us the game.”
Wellsboro has won 25 straight games. It finally has won The Game as well. The Hornets are hoping to make a state tournament run as well. Nobody there wants this historic season to end.
When it does, whether it’s Saturday or two weeks from Saturday, Wellsboro has left an indelible mark on program history. In the basketball classic, “Hoosiers,” the movie ends with a young child shooting baskets as a photo of the 1952 state championship team hangs on the wall. Like those Hickory Huskers, this Wellsboro team has set the standard.
They are one of the school’s greatest of all-time.
“It is kind of a relief. It’s surreal,” Prough said. “It’s special. I can’t even express what it means.”