WILKES-BARRE — Up by 18 points at halftime, Wyoming Area was draining the excitement out of the District 2 Class 4A boys basketball third-place game.
And draining the final minutes — at least it seemed at the time — out of Nanticoke Area’s season.
“Our halftime was anything but boring,” Nanticoke Area coach John Beggs said.
A motivational talk by Beggs, a tenacious Nanticoke Area defense and a suddenly-cold Wyoming Area offense led to a complete reversal in the second half Tuesday night.
The result — Nanticoke Area rallying from a 20-point deficit to defeat Wyoming Area 52-48 to claim the final D2-4A spot in the PIAA Class 4A state tournament.
Nanticoke Area (20-5) will play on March 9 in states against the champion of the D1/11-4A subregional tournament. That tournament was in the semifinal stages on Tuesday night.
Wyoming Area, which was vying for its first state berth since 2006, finished its season at 15-10.
“Halftime, the coach gave us a hard speech,” said Nanticoke Area’s Colby Butczynski, who scored nine of his 15 points in the fourth quarter as the Trojans finally overtook Wyoming Area. “It motivated us to come back. He said ‘Even if you don’t win, try your best and fight for the win.’ And we did that.”
Wyoming Area led 33-16 at halftime as it closed out the second quarter with a 15-0 run. The Warriors hit three consecutive 3-pointers in the later half of the second. One came from Aaron Zezza and two by Dylan Melberger, who finished with 15 points after averaging 3.0 points during the Wyoming Valley Conference season.
Zezza opened the third quarter with another 3-pointer, moving the lead to 36-16. But cracks began to show in the Warriors’ effort thanks to Nanticoke Area cranking up the defensive pressure.
The Trojans forced nine turnovers in the period and got the deficit under double digits, 43-35, when freshman Luke Myers closed out the quarter with a 3-pointer.
With Zezza and leading scorer Sam Greenfield in foul trouble, Wyoming Area coach Pete Moses was hoping to exit the third still ahead by at least 10.
“When they each got their third (fouls), we had a pretty significant lead,” Moses said. “We had been trading baskets in the third quarter and I felt like let’s just escape the third with a double-digit lead and then I can reenter my starters in the fourth up by 10.
“It kind of happened for me because it was 43-35 at the end of the third. I felt pretty good. I was coming out in the fourth with my five starters up by eight.”
Nanticoke Area guard Nate Kreitzer was making most of his noise from the foul line until the fourth. He then took over.
After Butczynski opened the fourth with an inside basket, Kreitzer followed with seven consecutive points as part of his 25-point night. His drive to the basket with exactly three minutes to play gave the Trojans a 44-43 lead. It was Nanticoke Area’s first advantage since 1:41 of the first quarter.
The Trojans then kept rolling while Wyoming Area kept reeling. The Warriors didn’t score their first points of the fourth until Greenfield hit a pair of free throws with 20 seconds left. Their only field goal came on a 3-pointer by backup Danny Wiedl with 3.4 ticks remaining.
Wiedl moved the Warriors within 50-48, but Butczynski added a pair of free throws to seal Nanticoke Area’s second consecutive trip to states.
District 2 Class 4A Third-Place Game
Nanticoke Area 52, Wyoming Area 48
WYOMING AREA (48) — Dylan Melberger 5 0-0 15, Aaron Zezza 4 0-1 11, Kyre Zielinski 2 3-4 7, Sam Greenfield 3 2-4 8, Matt Wright 2 0-1 4, Justin Alder 0 0-0 0, Danny Wiedl 1 0-0 3, Dominic Deluca 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 5-10 52.
NANTICOKE AREA (52) — Nate Kreitzer 7 9-12 25, Colby Butczynski 4 7-10 15, Luke Myers 2 0-0 6, Jake Krupinski 2 1-1 5, Dylan Szychowski 0 1-1 1, Andy Kozlofski 0 0-0 0, Collin Brown 0 0-0 0, Joe Fox 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 18-24 52.
Wyoming Area`15`18`10`5 — 48
Nanticoke Area`11`5`19`17 — 52
Three-point goals — WA 9 (Melberger 5, Zezza 3, Wiedl), NA 4 (Kreitzer 2, Myers 2).
Reach John Erzar at 570-991-6394 or on Twitter @TLJohnErzar