Smethport stuns Clairton in PIAAs
CLARION — The bigger the game, the bigger the situation, the more likely of something spectacular happening — after all, this is Clairton we are talking about.
It would be hard to come across a bigger situation than what the Bears were up against with seven seconds left against Smethport with a trip to the Class A Western Region semifinals on the line.
Surely, Bryon Clifford's 3-pointer at the buzzer was going lift Clairton to another improbable victory, after all, this was Clairton, and this group of Bears just doesn't lose games like this.
But how the previous 31:59 of the game played out, Clifford really had no chance.
Clifford's 3-point attempt as time expired caromed off the rim that cemented one of the most frustrating losses this decorated senior class has endured as Smethport stunned Clairton, 37-35, at Tippin Gymnasium.
“We make shots like that,” Clifford said. “I felt like it was going in, but it popped right out.”
It was only Smethport's second-ever state playoff win and advanced the Hubbers (24-3) to Friday's rematch against District 9 foe Johnsonburg, a 54-49 winner over Shade.
“Nobody ever thought we could make it this far,” Smethport coach Dan Ziegler said, “nobody but the 15 guys in the locker room and the fans of Smethport.”
Clairton got 13 points from Terrish Webb and Aaron Matthews added nine rebounds. Clifford, who had been averaging 18 points per game, was held to four points on 2-of-14 shooting. Clairton shot 1-of-9 from the foul line.
Smethport was led by Zach Smith's 19 points and 13 rebounds, and Clary Schuler added 12. The two combined for 28 of Smethport's 35 field goal attempts.
“They are an average team, at best,” Clairton coach Matt Geletko said. “There was nothing they did that caused us to lose. Now the refs …”
Clairton surely never thought they could lose, and actually, didn't feel like they wouldn't have lost if it wasn't for the help of the District 9 referees.
“That was probably the worst officiated game that I have ever been a part of,” Geletko said. “Anybody who was here at saw this game would agree. We kind of knew coming in here that these guys never saw a team like us before.”
Even though fouls (15-13 in favor of Clairton) and foul shots (13-9 in favor of Smethport) were nearly even, Geletko was furious with the lack of calls for his team. Geletko had to be restrained a couple of times before eventually picking up a technical foul in the third quarter.
“My biggest problem was that they let them get away with so much,” Geletko said. “I am dumbfounded at what I witnessed. They set moving screens every time, they shuffled their feet every time they drove to the hoop, and nobody ever saw it. I figured they were kind of blind, but every time I asked a question, they never saw it.”
Geletko may have a point. It was Clairton's lowest offensive output of the season, their worst shooting performance of the year, Tyler Boyd fouled out in the fourth, and Clifford had one of his worst games as the Bears managed only 15 points by the half.
“It felt like it was five versus eight out there,” Clifford said. “We weren't doing anything wrong out there, and they were calling fouls.”
Smethport did have something to do with the Bears struggling offensively. The Hubbers played a deliberate half-court game to be able to neutralize Clairton's quick-scoring offense.
“They like to get up and down, and we thought we could take them out of the game,” Ziegler said. “We thought that we could impose our will on them and play our game. We tried to run a lot of sets and be patient.”
With the score 25-24 heading into the fourth quarter, the teams traded a couple baskets before Smethport put together four straight points to take a 36-31 lead with two minutes left.
Two consecutive Smethport turnovers allowed Clairton to get the deficit to 36-35 before they imploded. A missed layup by Clifford followed by three straight misses on the front end of one-and-ones prevented Clairton from going ahead.
After Smith hit one of two foul shots to make it 37-35 with 11 seconds left, Clifford had a chance to win it.
“It wasn't what the play that was called, but I ended up with the ball in my hands,” Clifford said. “It just didn't go in.”