By Josh Shreckengost
West Shamokin senior guard/forward Justin Smulik (3) drains a three-pointer from the top of the key in the second quarter of the Wolves' 74-35 win on Monday night. Smulik led all scorers with a game-high 20 points and grabbed six rebounds in the contest as West Shamokin (12-0, 10-0 Heritage Conference) remained unbeaten on in 2021.
Rural Valley, Pa. -- Basketball players often talk about being "in the zone." That magical feeling when mind and body are working in perfect synchronicity and every shot seems to fall and the basket looks as big as a rain barrel.
Rarely do entire teams get "in the zone" at the same time, but that's exactly what the West Shamokin boys varsity basketball team did in the first half of their Heritage Conference tilt against Visiting Saltsburg on Monday night. Led by senior guard/forward Justin Smulik, the Wolves came out white-hot and ran out to a 25-0 lead before the Trojans were able to register their first field goal with 2:13 remaining in the period.
"It was a shocker probably to both teams," West Shamokin head coach Judd McCullough said. "If you look at Saltsburg on tape, they've been playing very well defensively, I just think the ball was going in the hole for us. We played really well defensively and obviously in transition offense. We just jumped on them and were able to put them out of the game kind of quickly."
Smulik scored the first seven points of the game with a couple of layups and a three-pointer with the assists on two of those baskets going to younger brother Trevor. The Smulik brothers have gotten better each game following Justin's return from a knee injury at the beginning of the season and Monday night may have marked their finest performance to date. While Justin had been coming off the bench following the injury, he started against Saltsburg and rewarded McCullough's faith with a game-high 20 points to go along with six rebounds.
"We have a very unselfish group and Justin did a great job of just being patient and working his way back in[to the rotation] and waiting for that starting job to come back," McCullough said. "Really, he earned it, but no one in that group was demoted. It was almost like pick out of a hat to see who comes out of the rotation, that's how well we're playing. I think it's going to be a matchup-based thing going forward, but Justin absolutely deserved to get back in there. I was really happy to see him having a strong game coming back."
The Wolves led by 20 points at the end of the first quarter, 30-10 and increased that advantage to 34 points by halftime, 54-20. The lead triggered the PIAA's running clock rule in the second half, the fifth such time that West Shamokin has achieved the feat so far this season. Justin Smulik scored 18 points in the first half while brother Trevor added 12 in the opening 16 minutes.
True to form, the Wolves used a complete team effort to dismantle the Trojans as nine different West Shamokin players found the scoresheet while 13 different Wolves recorded at least one rebound. Aside from Smulik's game-high 20 points, brother Trevor added 15 points, five assists, four rebounds and two blocks while Jack McCullough hit four longballs for 12 points to go along with five assists and three rebounds. Senior forward Ezeck Olinger had another solid game in the paint with 11 points and seven rebounds and point guard Bo Swartz once again distributed the ball efficiently as he dished out a game-high seven assists.
Now 12-0 and firmly aware that his team wears a target on its back every night, the Wolves will face Homer-Center on the road Wednesday night. The Wildcats gave the Wolves all they could handle in the first half of an early-season contest at West Shamokin as Homer-Center jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter. Still, as good teams often do, West Shamokin was able to rebound and turn that deficit into a 16-point win all the way back on January 19. McCullough knows that the Wildcats will be fired up for a possible shot at revenge on Wednesday.
"They came out and really kind of did what we did to Saltsburg in the first quarter, they had us down 18-5 after we had cruised to a couple of early season victories," McCullough said. "They really smacked us in the face in that first quarter, but we were able to regroup, not panic and ended up winning that game handily. We've got to be ready to play. That [Ryan] Sardone kid is just a monster inside. They have a lot of good guards who are playing better basketball right now. We need to be ready and the Homer Dome is a difficult place to play. If we continue to come out of the gates, just take it to a team and set the tempo, I think we have a good chance to win that one, too."
To watch a complete re-broadcast of West Shamokin's 74-35 win over Saltsburg, please click the link below: