DAVIDSVILLE – His senior captains provided Conemaugh Township High School boys basketball coach Chuck Lesko with a dramatic, WestPAC playoff-clinching birthday present on Monday night.
Senior Cameron Stumpf had spent a significant portion of a key conference section game against visiting Windber on the bench with four fouls.
But in the final quarter, Stumpf grabbed a rebound with 37 seconds left and made the put-back to give Conemaugh Township a 52-51 lead. The score that stood after Windber could not convert on its final two possessions.
“You expect your seniors to make big plays in big moments,” said Lesko, who turned 53 on Monday as his team earned the second seed in the WestPAC North. “They’ve been around. Cameron is a senior captain. He’s obviously our vocal leader. For him to have that big moment, I’m glad it was him.”
Stumpf had 11 points and eight rebounds despite the limited playing time.
Senior captain Tyler Poznanski put in another strong performance, with 25 points and 11 rebounds. Poznanski had a conventional three-point play – basket and foul shot – and a 3-pointer in the final quarter, as Conemaugh Township improved to 10-3 overall, 8-3 in the North.
The Indians beat Windber (10-5, 8-4) twice this season, which would give them a head-to-head edge.
The WestPAC semifinal round will be played on Thursday at the higher seeds’ home courts. The championship games in both boys and girls competition will be played on Saturday at Windber High School.
Conemaugh Township will play at South Division-winner Berlin Brothersvalley.
Portage won the North at 10-0 and will host South runner-up Shade, which clinched a semifinal berth with a win over Meyersdale via a buzzer-beating 3-pointer on Monday.
Both Windber and Conemaugh Township appeared to have control of Monday’s game at different junctures.
After Conemaugh Township led 6-3 early, Windber reeled off 10 consecutive points for a 13-6 advantage after an Aiden Gray (10 points) basket at 1:59 of the opening quarter.
Conemaugh Township bounced back to lead 23-22 at halftime, and Windber held a 43-38 advantage entering the fourth quarter.
“Something about these two teams getting together. It seems like it usually ends up coming down to the wire,” Windber coach Steve Slatcoff said. “It usually is the team that ends up making the most plays that ends up winning the basketball game. Unfortunately tonight we fell on the short end of that. It’s back to the grind and getting better.”
Blake Klosky hit a 3-pointer to set a 50-all score, and his free throw with 1:38 remaining provided Windber its final lead, 51-50.
The Ramblers went 10 of 18 on the free throw line in the game and were 3 of eight in the decisive final quarter.
“When you’re playing good basketball teams, you’ve got to do all of the little things right, especially down the stretch in tight games,” Slatcoff said. “Unfortunately, we just weren’t able to do enough of those tonight to be able to beat a real good basketball team.”
John Shuster led Windber with 12 points before fouling out late. Caden Dusack had 10 points, and Keith Charney had nine points and eight rebounds.
Township made plays late, especially when Stumpf followed his rebound with the game-winning basket.
Windber didn’t score on the ensuing possession, but Conemaugh Township’s Jackson Byer – who had seven points with an important third-quarter 3-pointer – missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 5.4 left.
Windber’s Charney grabbed the rebound and got the ball near the top of the key before unleashing a desperation shot ahead of the buzzer. It fell just short.
“It’s Windber. That’s all you have to say,” said the Indians’ Pozananski. “Last year they knocked us off twice. This year we beat them twice, very close games. The rivalry has been forever and nothing feels better than beating Windber.
“It was a close game and they’re a great team. We just squeezed it out in the end.”
Poznanski wasn’t surprised that Stumpf came through in a crucial moment.
“Cam is one of the hardest workers in the gym. He stays after. He puts in the work,” Poznanski said. “That rebound, that was huge. That turned the momentum of the game and put us in the lead, 52-51.”