Mike Mastovich: 'Extremely excited': Greater Johnstown basketball teams seek District 6 titles on same night

Feb. 24—The Greater Johnstown High School boys and girls basketball teams each will embark on a road trip to Cresson Tuesday night.

The path is familiar to the Trojans boys, who will face second-seeded Central, a 67-43 winner over Juniata, in the District 6 Class 4A championship game at Mount Aloysius College at 7:30 p.m.

Coach Ryan Durham's team is the defending District 6-4A champion. Greater Johnstown has won four district crowns in the past six seasons and took gold 30 times overall dating to 1924.

The Trojans girls, however, will make their first appearance in the district title game in 10 years and only their second overall. Coach Xavier Thomas' squad will play top-seeded Juniata at 6 p.m. in Cresson.

"I don't want to say we expected it, but we wanted it a lot," said Greater Johnstown girls sophomore NaLonai Tisinger, who totaled 20 points and 14 rebounds in the third-seeded Trojans' 65-55 victory at second-seeded Penn Cambria in Wednesday's semifinal.

"It was just a 'finally' type of moment," Tisinger said. "We finally got here."

In 2014, then-coach Rich Price's Trojans beat Forest Hills in the quarterfinals and Westinghouse in the next round before losing to Huntingdon in the District 6 Class 3A title game.

Greater Johnstown claimed District 6-3A gold in 2002 and won the girls program's first PIAA playoff contest that same season. Then-coach Steve Warner's team, led by sophomore Crystal Andrews, beat top-seeded Lewistown 79-77 in overtime. Junior Chasity Ingram drove the paint and scored a layup with five seconds left in OT to secure the win.

Greater Johnstown beat District 7-5 Mars 57-49 in the 2002 PIAA tournament at Hollidaysburg Junior High School before bowing out against District 7 Blackhawk in the second round (61-45) at Franklin Regional High School to close a historic season.

This season, Thomas' nine-player roster includes three sophomores and two freshmen as starters who are looking to build on an 11-12 record.

"You can talk about the playoffs and competing for a championship at practice, but they've got to go through a game to experience it," said Thomas, himself a member of Greater Johns-town's boys state runner-up basketball team in 2005. "They put a ton of work in during the offseason. So, I'm happy they've got a chance to be in this game and the season isn't over."

The youthful Trojans showed poise as Penn Cambria rallied in the second and fourth quarters on Wednesday.

Sophomore Zayona Thomas tallied 16 points, freshman Aubreyonna Nash supplied 14 and freshman Marcella White scored 11.

"I tell them always it's good to be nervous in these situations," Coach Thomas said. "Everybody gets nervous, but once you get out there, the whistle blows and you're live, everything is action time and you can't be afraid to be great.

"You're going to make mistakes. Bad things are going to happen, but don't be afraid to be great because right after that bad play, that next big good play can happen."

Durham's boys team is seeded first with a 20-4 record, but the Trojans look to rebound after a 63-56 loss to Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic in the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference title game on Feb. 17.

"Everybody has taken accountability for their mishaps, coaching and players alike," Durham said. "Then, just realizing our approach has to be a little more detail-oriented.

"Playoff basketball is possession by possession, and we need to value possessions offensively and defensively."

Durham said competing for a championship on the same night and site as the Trojans girls program adds to the significance of the postseason experience.

"It's exciting for the school, exciting for the community and personally, it's really exciting because Xavier Thomas was my assistant coach for years," Durham said. "We grew up together. We played together.

"To watch him develop as a head coach and see what he's done with the girls program is very special. I'm just very proud of the work he has done."

The Johnstown boys are a veteran group led by junior Donte Tisinger, a NCAA Division I recruit. Seniors Dion Dixon, Jahmir Collins and Dom Alberter, as well as sophomores Amier Robinson and Raheem Braswell are playoff tested.

"It's about good distractions when you have so much excitement and enthusiasm in the school," Durham said of the girls-boys doubleheader. "I'm sure the kids get it in the hallways. When we're in the grocery stores, shopping, we hear it from the community. People congratulating us. It's very exciting for our students and our school and our community."

Greater Johnstown Athletic Director Kerry Pfeil said the school will send two buses to Mount Aloysius for students and cheerleaders.

"We're looking to take 60 to 70 students on our fan buses," Pfeil said. "At the school, there has been a lot of buzz from the administration right down to the students themselves. The student population is extremely excited about watching their peers play on Tuesday night."

Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.