While the girls’ side of the Heritage Conference slugs it out until the final day, the West Shamokin Wolves established their presence early and often on the boys’ side.
West Shamokin wrapped up an unbeaten regular season Monday night, taking care of the final piece of business on the schedule with a 62-52 win over United. The Wolves are 18-0 overall and swept all eight conference opponents. They are the No. 1 seed, with home-court advantage throughout the conference tournament,which begins with semifinals Thursday. West Shamokin faces No. 4 Marion Center (10-8, 9-7), and United (15-4, 12-3) and Penns Manor (12-4, 11-4) play in the other semifinal. The championship game is Saturday at the home of the highest remaining seed.
“I’m really proud of the kids and excited for them,” West Shamokin coach Judd McCullough said. “They didn’t take anything for granted, respected our opponent each and every night and came ready to play and play together as a group and play with a lot of confidence.”
West Shamokin subdued United from the free throw line. The Wolves went 19-for-28 — Trevor Smulik was 11-for-14 en route to 18 points — and United was only 4-for-10.
Four Lions scored in double figures, but one of them wasn’t leading scorer Austin Kovalcik, who was saddled with foul trouble and managed only four points in the second half. United scored only five points in the second quarter and fell behind by 10, a deficit it never made up.
Jonny Muchesko scored a team-high 17 points, Brad Felix had 11, and Ben Tomb and Jacob Boring had 10 apiece.
“Give United credit,” McCullough said. “Ben Tomb played his butt off. Muchesko really played well. Their role players did a good job and battled to the end, and we did a good job defensively, especially against Kovalcik.”
West Shamokin’s Ezeck Olinger continued a late-season scoring surge with 16 points and joined Trevor Smulik in double figures. Jack McCullough had 10, and Bo Swartz, Justin Smulik and Eric Spencer split the rest.
“We have a lot of weapons,” Judd McCullough said. “When teams game plan against us, Trevor, probably the best player in the conference or one of the top players, gets the lion’s share of the attention, and he’s been a willing team players and is sharing the wealth. And we have guys around him that are really stepping up and know their roles.”
Every top seed has a target on its back, especially an unbeaten one, and the Wolves hold that spot in the District 6 Class 2A rankings as well. The district tournament begins three days after the conference final.
“We have to continue to stay the course, stay hungry, stay humble, not take anyone for granted, respect our opponent and game plan like we have all year,” McCullough said.
A third meeting with United could develop in the district playoffs. For now, the Wolves plan to focus on Marion Center, a team they beat 46-32 early in the season and 68-32 last week.
“I feel good that the kids had such a good performance the last time, and I respect Coach Ralph (McGinnis), and they have a tremendous amount of talent on that team. (Conner) Fariman is a tough matchup. (Justin) Peterson is a good guard. (Preston) Fox can be an impact player. (T.T.) Lynn had brought his game to another level and is a nice piece for them. And I don’t think we got their best game. We can’t take them for granted and need to go in as prepared as any other game.”
United closes the regular season this evening at Saltsburg.
PENNS MANOR 47, SALTSBURG 44: Playoff-bound Penns Manor might have got caught looking ahead, in the estimation of coach Andy Lansberry, and barely held off Saltsburg.
Lansberry is certain of one thing: The end was pretty crazy.
Penns Manor had a two-point lead and grabbed a rebound. In the ensuing scuffle in an effort to tie up the ball, a Saltsburg player was called for an intentional foul. An intentional foul awards two shots and possession of the ball, so the Comets were basically getting ready to put the game away when Dimitri Lieb stepped to the free throw line with the lane devoid of players from both teams.
“So Dimitri shoots one, and then the ref changes his call, in mid-free throw,” Lansberry said. “He comes over and says to bring them back out (into the lane). I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”
Lieb made the second shot for a three-point lead “and we ended up playing a good defensive possession for the first time all night,” Lansberry said.
Penns Manor led 10-6 after the first quarter and 24-17 at halftime. Saltsburg (6-7) charged ahead during an 18-7 third quarter and took a 35-31 lead into the final period. The Comets regained the lead but were shaking from the free throw line, going 6-for-10 in the fourth quarter.
“They have a lot of skill on that team and the play hard and they’re well-coached,” Lansberry said. “I give (Saltsburg coach) Don Stitt so much credit. He had them ready to play, and he’s a great coach, and they hustled their butts off.
“We came out flat, just no energy, and it was their senior night and they came out on fire and we just played horrible. I think we were looking ahead to United a little too much.”
Grant Grimaldi led Penns Manor with 16 points. Max Hill scored 15 and Bryan Koches had 10. Koches and Hill each hit two 3-point field goals.
Tristan Roessler scored 12 points for Saltsburg and was followed by Braden Staats with nine, Logan Bonnoni with eight and Gino Bartolini with seven.
Penns Manor and United play in the Heritage Conference semifinals on Thursday, but the site is not set. A Saltsburg win over United this evening would put the Comets in position for a home game. The teams split the regular-season series.
“We know we’re going to play a great team, and we look forward to the challenge,” Lansberry said. “We just talked about staying focused and getting in the gym and having two good practices and a good game.”
APOLLO-RIDGE 52, VALLEY 48: Apollo-Ridge held off Valley and avoided an upset in a WPIAL Class 3A Section 3 game.
Apollo-Ridge (8-3, 6-3 section) followed a nine-point first quarter with a 20-point second and held a 29-15 lead at halftime. The Vikings extended the lead to 15 and then held on as Valley (1-11, 1-7) outscored them 22-13 in the fourth quarter.
Jake Fello and Keighton Reese combined for seven 3-point field goals and 32 points for Apollo-Ridge. Klay Fitzroy matched Fello with 18.
Apollo-Ridge plays host to Springdale this evening.
PENNS MANOR 51, SALTSBURG 35: Penns Manor created some separation from Saltsburg in the second quarter but didn’t pull away until the final period.
The Comets (14-5, 10-5) broke a 12-12 first-quarter tie by outscoring the Trojans (0-11) in the second quarter. Leading by nine going into the fourth quarter, Penns Manor outscored Saltsburg 15-8.
Megan Dumm led that fourth-quarter burst with 11 points, including nine on three of her four 3-point field goals. She finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and six steals.
Kassidy Smith scored 16 points, and Anna Peterman turned in 11 rebounds, eight assists and six blocked shots on their senior night.
“I can’t say enough about how much Kassidy and Anna have meant to our program,” Penns Manor coach Jason Miloser said. “They have been tremendous people, leaders and players throughout their high school careers. The qualities they both possess will make them very successful throughout the rest of their lives. I am looking forward to seeing them do great things in our world.”
Penns Manor likely is looking at a matchup at Homer-Center in the conference semifinals on Thursday. The Comets are the fourth seed, and Homer-Center can claim the top seed with a win over Purchase Line on Wednesday. If Homer-Center loses, the Comets will travel to United.
“We know that no matter who we play on Thursday we will have to play well,” Miloser said. “We need to have a couple good days of practice and get ourselves ready to play a very good team.”
Abbie Dickie scored 19 points for Saltsburg, which plays host to United this evening.
APOLLO-RIDGE 58, ST. JOSEPH 39: Apollo-Ridge bolted to a 20-5 lead and romped to a win in a WPIAL non-section game.
Brinley Toland and Sydney McCray each scored 17 points for Apollo-Ridge (6-4, 5-2 section). Morgan Gamble chipped in 13 points. Emily Bonelli added eight.
St. Joseph fell to 6-10.
Apollo-Ridge plays at Greensburg Central Catholic this evening.
SOUTHMORELAND 50, LIGONIER VALLEY 29: First-place Southmoreland cruised past Ligonier Valley in a WPIAL Class 4A Section 3 game.
Amanda Woods scored eight points for Ligonier Valley. Haley Boyd had seven rebounds and four assists, and Lizzy Crissman had four blocked shot. Abby Painter had six rebounds and a block.
Southmoreland is 14-3.
Ligonier Valley (0-12) plays at Derry this evening.