By ANDY CLOSE
EMPORIUM — Nate Sestina calmly gathered himself before throwing down a two-handed dunk with 50 seconds remaining in Cameron County’s 60-36 North Tier League title-clinching win over Coudersport Wednesday.
It was the perfect exclamation point to a stellar regular season for both the junior forward and his Red Raider teammates.
“This feels good,” Cameron County coach Jon Songer said simply afterwards. “I tell you what, the kids came out ready to play. They were excited, they knew what was on the line, playing for the North Tier League title at home. This was one of our goals at the beginning of the year and the kids accomplished it.”
The two teams played to a four-point game in their first meeting Jan. 17 at Coudersport (a 52-48 Cameron County win), but there would be no such drama this time around.
The Red Raiders (20-2, 15-1) led from start to finish, and, even though the Falcons were still within single digits after a jumper from Darren Keglovits with 36 seconds left in the third quarter, the outcome was never seriously in doubt.
“We came in as an underdog tonight and I thought we kind of played like it,” Coudersport coach Brian McCusker said. “You have to give credit to Cameron County. They outplayed us in every aspect of the game.”
That started with Sestina, but certainly didn’t end with just him.
With the Falcons (17-5, 14-2) hanging tough early, down just six as the clock drifted toward halftime, Keith Spehalski, from beyond the three-point line, lobbed a perfect alley-oop to Sestina, who jammed it home.
It was one of the many times the Red Raiders student section, affectionately known as the ‘Cameron Crazies,’ seemingly shook the roof above the Cameron County gym.
Sestina ended the half with a perfect outlet pass to Dominic Guisto, who converted an easy layup as time expired in the first half, putting Cameron County up nine with all the momentum.
“Nate’s such a great passer,” Songer said. “He’s tremendously offensively skilled and is able to find the open man.”
Sestina was dominant in the third quarter, scoring the Red Raiders’ first eight points of the half, but it was the play of Spehalski, Trae Smith and Dylan Clingan that put the game away.
After Coudersport cut the deficit to nine late in the third, Spehalski drilled his second three of the game to put the lead back to double figures for good.
Clingan, who scored 13 points, converted an early fourth quarter jumper to extend the lead, and Smith stretched the margin to 20 on a triple with 3:22 remaining, by which point the Red Raider faithful could sense their first league title since 2010.
“I thought our guards really stepped up,” noted Songer. “Dominic Guisto, Keith Spehalski, Trae Smith — all those kids are underclassmen and they were ready for the challenge.”
Smith was especially effective in the second half, finishing with seven rebounds to go along with his 13 points.
“He reminds me of Dylan,” Songer said of Smith. “He’s long, athletic and is able to finish around the rim.”
Coudersport never led, despite the game being tight for most of the first half.
Andrew Rigas hit a pair of second-quarter three’s and Keglovits was able to convert from the free-throw line, in large part because of his four offensive rebounds against the bigger Red Raiders.
“If you’re playing catch-up the whole game, it has an impact,” McCusker said. “We were a little bit tired and they played a good, physical game and I think they tired us out because they were more physical than us.”
With the regular season complete, both teams turn their attention to the upcoming District 9 Class A playoffs.
Cameron County appears locked in to the No. 3 seed at this point, and while it’s not certain who they will play, it’s possible the two teams could meet again.
“We’re not done,” Songer said. “These guys worked their butts off in the offseason and we’re going to get back to practice tomorrow and get after it.”
NOTES: Cameron County (2010, 2014) and Coudersport (2011-12) have combined to win four of the last five North Tier League titles, with the lone exception being Smethport in 2013 … Sestina finished with 13 rebounds, 8 assists and 6 blocks … Smith added 4 steals and Clingan 4 assists … Keglovits led Coudersport with 7 rebounds … Sestina has scored at least 20 points in 18 of 22 games this season … Coudersport’s 36 points were 16 below its season average.
Scott Furman 2-0-0-4, Philip Andrus 2-0-0-4, Andrew Rigas 2-0-1-6, Alex Hershey 5-0-0-10, Ethan Hite 1-0-1-2, Darren Keglovits 2-4-6-8, Zach Layag 1-0-0-2, J.T. Maynard 0-0-0-0, Austin Ricke 0-0-0-0, Michael Chambers 0-0-0-0, Daniel Malekos 0-0-0-0, Totals 15-4-8-36
CAMERON COUNTY (60)
Dominic Guisto 1-0-0-2, Keith Spehalski 2-0-0-6, Trae Smith 4-4-7-13, Dylan Clingan 6-0-0-13, Nate Sestina 11-4-7-26, Luke Newhouse 0-0-0-0, Dominic Nellis 0-0-0-0, Jordan Causer 0-0-0-0, Andrew Grimone 0-0-0-0, Totals 24-8-14-60
Coudersport 12 10 8 6—36
Cameron County 15 16 11 18—60
Three-point FGs: Coudersport — Rigas 2; Cameron County — Spehalski 2, Smith 1, Clingan 1