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Bridgeport weathers storm, beats University boys, 63-61, to claim sectional title

MORGANTOWN — Thursday night’s Class AAAA Region I, Section 2 boys basketball championship game between University and Bridgeport was an absolute barnburner, with unbelievably wild momentum swings and epic comebacks.

Yet, in the end, the final stat line tells the story: Both teams hit 22 shots, both hit 10 treys and both attempted 14 foul shots. The difference? While the Hawks could only make seven, including just one out of their final six free throws, the Indians made two more from the stripe, draining 7 of 9 in the final quarter, and survived an amazing 29-0 University comeback to capture the sectional crown, 63-61.  

Whether it was hot hands or poor defense, both teams came out firing from beyond the arc, with UHS (16-8) holding an early 9-5 lead. But while the Hawks quickly went on an ugly turnover jag and shooting slump, Bridgeport (11-12) suddenly couldn’t miss. The Indians zoomed out on a devastating 21-2 run that extended a full minute into the second quarter, good enough for a 26-9 lead. Trailing by 18 with four minutes left in the half, the Hawks finally combined strong defense, solid rebounding and some outside shooting to whittle the deficit all the way down to single digits before heading into the break down by 10 at 38-28. 

Early in the second half, UHS squandered several chances to reel in the Indians, and when three missed 3s by the Hawks were countered by three made 3s by BHS, the lead ballooned back out to 17, 54-30 midway through the third quarter.  

And that’s when the UHS mega monster run began, when forward Aaron Forbes went into beast mode.  The senior scored eight straight, then zipped a perfect pass to an open guard for a triple that cut it to single digits, and at the end of the quarter, the lead was down to eight at 54-46. 

The Hawks continued to pour it on the panicked Indians until a foul shot from Hawks energetic sixth man off the bench — guard Rafael Barcinas — tied it up at 54-all, then sent the Hawks fans into apoplexy with a 3-ball and a bucket with 2:11 left for an unreal 59-54 UHS lead. 

But Bridgeport guard Anthony Spadafore finally scored from the floor — the only bucket BHS made in the last 12 minutes of the game — and the Hawks weren’t able to add to their lead. The combination of missed front ends of one-and-ones and some costly turnovers allowed the Indians to settle down, and when Spadafore and Mitchell Duez stroked their free throws, the Hawks could not convert. It was Bridgeport’s small but critical 9-2 run in the closing minutes that made the difference and sealed the win. 

“I was so proud of the way we kept coming back tonight,” exhausted UHS coach Joe Schmidle said quietly after the game. “I have never been part of such a major comeback before — not as a coach or as a player. And it all started with Aaron Forbes, who simply refused to quit. 

“But if you only play 12 minutes out of a 32-minute game, and you don’t hit your foul shots, you aren’t going to win postseason games. It’s as simple as that. When we went up by five, I thought we lost our aggressiveness on offense, and Bridgeport was essentially broke at that point. But we didn’t bury them, gave them a chance, and to their credit, that made the shots they had to make. I told our guys that our season’s not over. We’re still alive, and we‘ll be ready be ready to go next Wednesday.” 

The Hawks will face the Region I, Section 1 champion — the winner of Friday’s match-up between Morgantown and Wheeling Park — on the road next Wednesday, with time and opponent to be determined.  

              BRIDGEPORT (11-12) 

Gavin Tichenor 1 0-0 3 Mitchell Duez 7 4-6 21 Anthony Spadafore 7 3-4 18 Connor Meese 3 0-0 9 Jaden Haywood 2 2-4 7 Thomas Ayoob 2 0-0 5 Totals 22 9-14 63 

              UNIVERSITY (16-8) 

Elija Jackson 3 0-0 9 Diego Reyes 1 0-0 3 Aaron Forbes 6 4-7 16 Charles Nemecek 2 0-0 4 Jaeden Hammack 2 0-0 6 Garrison Kisner 1 0-0 2 Rafael Barcinas 4 2-4 12 James Fortney-Garbart 3 1-3 9 Totals 22 7-14 61 

Bridgeport  20  18  16   9  –  63 

University   11  17  16  15  –  61 

3-pointers – BHS 10 (Duez 3, Spadafore, Haywood, Meese 3, T. Ayoob, Tichenor), UHS 10 (Hammack 2, Reyes, Jackson 3, Barcinas 2, Fortney-Garbart 2).