West Shamokin's Bo Swartz dishes to fellow junior Trevor Smulik, who knocks down a three pointer from the wing during the third quarter of the Wolves' contest against the United Lions.
By Joe Rhoades
West Shamokin faced its toughest test of the season on Wednesday, facing the only other Heritage Conference team without a loss in section play. United was riding a 10-game win streak before the Wolves put the brakes on the visiting Lions, using a second-half explosion to stay undefeated with a 68-50 victory.
The victory held added importance as it tested the Wolves' conditioning as much as it did their resolve. Judd McCullough’s group hadn’t been on a court together in the three days prior to their clash with the Lions. The six-year head coach was afraid fatigue would become a factor, but instead of showing signs of slowing as the game went on, his team managed to get stronger as minutes ticked off the clock.
The first two quarters resembled a boxing match, as both teams traded blows both on the scoreboard and on the hardwood as well. A physical brand of basketball accompanied both squads through the first half, but it appeared that United paid the toll for that style of play.
United held its final lead of the night with 3:31 in the second quarter, this after exchanging leads throughout the second quarter. West Shamokin threw another punch, finishing the quarter on an 8-2 run that sent the team into the locker room with a 33-27 lead.
“I obviously give a lot of credit to the guys out on the court who are going and gutting it out. I’ve felt like we’ve come out in practice and throughout the season and have gotten in tremendous shape — but we haven’t had a practice since Saturday because of snow days, unfortunately,” McCullough said. “I was concerned with that kind of fatigue in the second half. That means they really reached deep. Natural fatigue starts setting in and I think they were playing with a lot of adrenaline and they knew what was at stake tonight.”
The Wolves began the second half how they ended the first, with another run, the later looking like a left hook that left the Lions stumbling through the remainder of the game. West Shamokin built a 12 point advance with just under two minutes left in the third, and their lead would not shrink below double-digits for the duration of the game.
A few more jabs from the Wolves increased the lead to an 18-point advantage, and that’s how the group finished off the heavy-weight bout, winning by a final of 68-50.
The win moved West Shamokin to 9-0 on the campaign and 8-0 in Heritage Conference play, while the loss dropped the Lions to 10-2 and 8-1 in section play.
Wolves’ junior Trevor Smulik came up one rebound shy of a double-double, dropping 24 points and grabbing nine rebounds to go along with two assists. Justin Smulik, who came on strong in the second half, finished with 13 points, four rebounds, three steals, and two assists. Ezeck Olinger countered United’s size with a strong performance himself in the post, finishing with 12 points, four rebounds, and fours assists in the victory.
“It is a tremendous win and it is what it is in that regard. It is the biggest win, not to take away from what we’ve done so far, but it is a part of our journey,” McCullough said. “We need to continue to stay hungry and focus on every game, one at a time — but tonight was a big one.”
The two clubs, who both have their sights set on a berth in the Heritage Conference championship game, will have a rematch at United on Feb 22 to close out the regular season.
Until then, the Wolves will continue to build continuity and navigate the strange waters that are the 2021 high school basketball season.
“This is a special group. They play together, and that’s something we focus on and they buy into that,” McCullough said. “It’s very difficult getting 16, 17, 18 year-old kids to buy in to a team-first mentality in this day-and-age. It’s a credit to them, they’re unselfish, and they’re a special group."
To watch a complete re-broadcast of West Shamokin's 68-50 win over United, please click the link below: