Kittanning uses 3rd-quarter surge to down Freeport
Kittanning is on the verge of qualifying for the WPIAL playoffs in three straight seasons for the first time in school history.
The Wildcats edged closer to securing a Class AAA playoff berth with a 72-61 victory over Freeport on Friday night at Lt. Charles Hutchinson Gym.
Noah Kunst's career-high 28 points and a 20-4 third-quarter surge by Kittanning led to the victory.
Kittanning (7-11, 4-6) has a one-game lead over Highlands in the race for the fourth and final playoff spot from Section 1-AAA.
The magic number for the Wildcats is one. Any Kittanning win or a Highlands loss sends Kittanning to the WPIAL postseason, which starts Feb. 14.
With the Wildcats ahead 32-31 at halftime, Kittanning started the third quarter with a 14-2 surge to take control of the game.
“We had the ball to start the (second) half,” Wildcats coach Bill Henry said. “I just stressed at halftime that every possession counts on offense or defense, and we were able to build on the lead. We held them to one shot. That was the key.”
Kunst and center Eric Hulings each contributed eight points in the third period.
Freeport defeated Kittanning, 65-40, in early January.
“Coming into this game, all I was thinking was revenge,” Kunst said.
“They beat us at their place. I got three fouls right at the beginning of the game. That just took me right out of my game. I said this time, I'm going to play my game and lead our team to victory.”
The Kittanning offense was adept in getting space for Kunst to shoot.
“We just like to set a lot of screens, and Noah's good at using those screens,” Henry said. “He sees the screen, he knows what side to cut from.”
The Wildcats led 52-35 at the end of the third quarter.
“They switched up defenses quite a bit in the third quarter,” Yellowjackets coach Mike Beale said. “Josh Beale got lost in the shuffle. We got him a little bit more involved later.”
A 3-point field goal by Mason Eddinger brought the Yellowjackets to within 62-56, but Freeport couldn't get any closer.
Freeport fell to 8-10, 2-8 in Section 1 and is all but mathematically out of the playoff running.
“We said the playoffs start for us tonight,” Beale said. “Kunst just really hurt us. We knew going in what he was capable of doing. Defensively, we didn't have an answer for him. We shot well early, but you have to make your foul shots, and we missed a couple of layups.”
Codey DiGiacobbe had a season-high 19 points to lead Freeport, including 10 in the fourth quarter. Eddinger added 15.
Kunst also led Kittanning with 10 rebounds.
“I just love the student support we get with Jubilaition Nation,” Kunst said. “I really appreciate being part of that for three years.”
DiGiacobbe dished out nine assists and Josh Beale had seven Freeport rebounds.
George Guido is a freelance writer.