Kittanning's defense shuts down rival Ford City
Clashes between Ford City and Kittanning are often memorable, but the only theme that can be taken from this year's meeting is defense.
The Wildcats pushed out to a nine-point halftime lead and made it last through their own second-half struggles to beat Ford City for the third straight season, 36-30, in a nonsection game Wednesday night at Kittanning.
Noah Kunst scored 13 points, and Alek Shaffer had 10 points and eight rebounds for Kittanning (2-2). Blake Bower led Ford City (1-2) with 10 points and nine rebounds, and Jesse Sequeira added eight points for the Sabers.
“The kids know each other, and you really can't get away with anything because they all have been playing against each other for years,” Kittanning coach Bill Henry said. “They know each other too well, and with the crowd and the emotions, sometimes they get a little too excited and lose their way.”
It took Ford City nine minutes to score its first field goal — a layup by Jake Bowman — but the Sabers then scored three in the span of 30 seconds to take an 8-7 lead early in the second quarter.
“We always start so slow. We were down 7-1 in the first quarter, and we were always climbing from behind,” Ford City coach Greg Hutcherson said.
“We have to start stronger to give ourselves a chance.”
Ford City's one-point lead was the only one it had.
Kittanning retook control with a 14-2 run that included 3-pointers by Shaffer and James Webb, and the Wildcats led by as many as 12 before Ford City's Jon Karabin hit a 3-pointer to end the half at 24-15.
“We changed up our defense and tried to spread the floor out a bit more, and that helped us, but we also hit a couple big shots,” Henry said. “Hopefully, that's where we're headed this season, but for today, that little stretch was enough for us.”
Ford City responded by switching its defense in the second half to a box-and-1 that isolated Kunst, the Wildcats' leading scorer.
The plan worked as Kunst was limited to just two points in the second half, and Kittanning went more than four minutes before scoring its first second-half basket.
“It was the first time these guys had seen that, and they have to realize that it becomes a 4-on-4 game, and there are some openings,” Henry said. “We predicted it would happen some time, and it took us a while to get used to it.”
But while the Sabers solved Kittanning defensively, they couldn't produce enough offense to grab a lead.
Bower hit a jump shot from beyond the foul line to cut the lead to 30-29 with 3:15 left in the game, but that shot was the Sabers' last field goal, and Kittanning slowly pulled away from the foul line.
“We picked it up on the defensive end, and I can't ask for anything more than what they did. (The box-and-1) worked perfectly, but we didn't want to sit in it and have them start to stall,” Hutcherson said.
“I thought we did an awesome job on defense, but we didn't score points in the fourth quarter. We didn't make open shots.”