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Charleroi wins on buzzer beater

| Monday, Dec. 31, 2012, 12:21 a.m.
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Leonard Pope (45) makes a touchdown catch past Cleveland Browns outside linebacker L.J. Fort (58) in the second quarter of an NFL football game on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

After Charleroi forward Eric Johnson committed a costly turnover with under a minute remaining, Charleroi assistant Coach Ryan Encapera told the junior not to hang his head, that the game would come to him.

The game did indeed come back to Johnson and he ended it.

Johnson hit a turnaround jumper from the short corner as the buzzer sounded to give the host Cougars a 53-52 victory over Belle Vernon Area in a consolation game of the Charleroi Federal Holiday Classic.

“It wasn't quite how we drew it up, but he hit the shot,” Charleroi coach Bill Wiltz said. “The plan was to get it to him near the basket, but the play didn't develop like it was supposed to. We got a good bounce and it just came to him and he hit the shot.”

Belle Vernon Area played without leading scorer Jason Capco, but that didn't matter as his teammates pulled together a game full of hustle and heart.

“We played real hard. I'm proud of those guys for how hard they played,” BVA coach Eric James said. “It's a hard thing to lose like that after playing that hard. It's hard on them and its hard on me.”

BVA (2-7) took advantage of the Cougars' sloppy play in the first half and led by as many as 11 early in the second quarter. The Leopards' Ryan Thomas scored nine of his team-high 11 points in the first half.

“I had a feeling that we were going to come out a little lethargic,” Wiltz said. “I give them credit because they played hard and they took advantage. We were coming off a loss Friday. I know it'll be easier coming into practice tomorrow coming off a win.”

In the second half, the Cougars (5-3) came out with more intensity on the defensive end, holding the Leopards to only eight points in the third quarter.

Jake Sweitzer hit a pair of shots to give the guests a 29-21 lead before the Cougars went on an 8-0 run to tie the score. Baskets by Jesse Kallam and Cody Menges put BVA back on top until Sheldon Lynnaman's three and Brandon Bowman's tip-in gave the Cougars the lead at the end of the third.

The teams exchanged baskets in the final frame and Charleroi was able to tie the game at 45-45 thanks to a Jim Diaz 3-pointer.

Diaz led all scorers with 14 points.

Sweitzer followed with two free throws and Johnson matched those with a tip-in with 50 seconds left. The Leopards had a chance to win in regulation, but Thomas missed a runner and Sweitzer missed a followup as the horn sounded.

In overtime, Phil Baldini scored the first four points for the Leopards, but the Cougars tied it on a Johnson tip in.

BVA had a chance to take the lead on their next possession but Baldini missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Johnson turned it over and BVA took over. Kallam attacked the basket and was fouled but only hit 1-of-2 free throws with nine seconds remaining. Charleroi took over, setting up a play that led to Johnson's game-winner.

“We still have a lot of things that we have to work on,” James said of his squad. “We have to sure up some things on offense and defense. As far as heart and playing hard ... our guys are tough. Those guys (Charleroi) played hard, though. They hung around and played hard. We need to really learn how to win and learn how to put teams away when we have them down.”

Wiltz is hoping to see his team clean up their play heading into the heart of section play. The Cougars, who are 3-0 in the section, host Brownsville Friday.

“That's a big game for us,” Wiltz said of the Brownsville matchup. “Our goal was to come in and win the tournament. We didn't do that, but we played some good teams and it helped prepare us.”

One team that Wiltz didn't play was California. Both teams are expected to contend for the section title. California has all ready beaten Brownsville and sits atop the standings tied with the Cougars. The two were originally paired to meet in the consolation game Sunday, but the coaches decided to wait to play within the section.

California 77, Bentworth 38

The Trojans didn't get a shot to play the Cougars, but they did face another one of their section rivals.

Bentworth was outgunned by the Trojans in the other consolation game at the Classic.

Tanner Huffman led the way for California (7-1), scoring a game-high 23 points. Classmate Brian Fisher also eclipsed the 20 point barrier with 21 points. He needs only 12 more points to join Huffman as a 1,000 point scorer.

The Bearcats (4-4) trailed 21-19 at the end of the first quarter but only managed to score 19 points over the rest of the game.

Steel Valley 67, Yough 38

Steel Valley repeated as tournament champions with a lopsided win over the Cougars (5-3). Dom Miele led Yough (4-5) with 14 points. The Cougars resume Section 3 AAA play Friday when they host Mt. Pleasant. No other game details were available.

Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jsellew@tribweb.com or 724-684-2667.

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