By Josh Shreckengost
West Shamokin senior guard Lydia McIlwain nails a three in the third quarter of the Wolves' 53-40 win over visiting Penns Manor on Wednesday night. McIlwain hit five three-pointers on her way to a career-high 21 points as West Shamokin remained undefeated on the season.
Rural Valley, Pa. — Prior to the 2021 season, West Shamokin girls varsity basketball head coach Frank Nagy named a couple of teams he thought might finish ahead of his Wolves in the Heritage Conference standings. Penns Manor, the Wolves' opponent on Tuesday night, was one such team.
The Comets entered the contest with a 5-1 record, their only loss coming in the form of a one-point defeat at the hands of Homer-Center, the team which West Shamokin beat in overtime on Monday night. For their part, the Wolves came into the game sporting a perfect 5-0 record. The early-season showdown between two of the top teams in the Heritage Conference lived up to the hype in the first half, with lead changes and plenty of hard play.
At the half, the Comets led by two points, 29-27 and Nagy implored his team during the break to ratchet up its defensive pressure in the the second half, something the Wolves did to perfection. West Shamokin suffocated the Penns Manor offense in the third quarter and turned the tide of the game.
"Obviously, we'll take any win against [Penns Manor], we knew we'd be in for a battle," Nagy said. "Our girls did a phenomenal job in the second half defensively. We did a much better job of defending the post in the second half and that allowed us to stretch it out and get some stops that maybe we didn't in the first half. At halftime, the girls really focused. They understood what we needed to do and they turned it up. Credit to the girls for busting their butts there [in the second half]."
The Wolves were able to hold the Comets scoreless for the first 5:29 seconds of the third quarter and were able to turn the two-point halftime deficit into a seven-point lead before Penns Manor was finally able to get on the scoreboard. Penns Manor head coach Jason Miloser echoed Nagy's assessment that the Wolves' defense in the period was the turning point in the game.
"West Shamokin just played really, really well defensively and it seems like when they're playing that tough defense, it just seemed like we were trying to do too much with each possession," Miloser said. "We just really need to learn to be patient when those scoring droughts come along and make sure we're not trying to rush our shot in those situations."
Miloser and his staff came out with a gameplan to stop the Wolves' leading scorer, senior shooting guard Sophie Fusaro, who came into the contest with a scoring average of 24.6 points per game. While the Comets did a nice job on Fusaro in the first half, fellow senior guard Lydia McIlwain picked up the scoring slack in a big way. McIlwain hit five big three-pointers in the game and finished with a game-high 21 points and the importance of her performance was not lost on her head coach.
"She had some monster threes and not just in the first half, our first points of the game were off a three from her," Nagy said. "When we were close in the third quarter, she knocked down a couple big threes, one from the left wing and one from the top of the key. Homer-Center came out in the second half and ran a box-and-one on Sophie. We prepare for those situations and while in previous years it might concern me, I know Lydia can score, Abby Oesterling can score, Lily Jordan is doing a nice job. We have other scorers. Penns Manor did a nice job [on Fusaro], but I thought we did a nice job of taking what the defense was giving us. That's something we preach and I thought the girls did a nice job of it tonight."
The Wolves outscored the Comets by a wide margin in the second half and turned several turnovers into transition buckets. West Shamokin's 26-11 scoring advantage over the final two quarters of play was keyed by several different players who all contributed mightily to the Wolves' victory. Fusaro ended up with 14 points and also added seven rebounds and four steals. Oesterling played yet another stellar all-around game as she produced seven points, six rebounds and a game-high eight assists. Freshman forward Lily Jordan had eight points and sophomore forward Melissa Spohn scored three points, but hauled down nine rebounds.
West Shamokin will now travel to Marion Center for another Heritage Conference showdown on Friday night and while the game against the Stingers might be one the Wolves should easily win on paper, Nagy isn't taking any opponent lightly, especially while his team continues to remain undefeated.
"They're young, they're athletic and they were tied with Penns Manor at the end of the first and only down four at halftime," Nagy said. "Marion Center is capable, they're young and we know we'll have our hands full with them."
To watch a complete re-broadcast of West Shamokin's 53-40 win over Penns Manor, please click the link below: