By Josh Shreckengost
West Shamokin junior guard Bo Swartz converts a fast-break layup in transition in the fourth quarter of the Wolves' 66-43 victory over Heritage Conference foe Purchase Line on Wednesday night. Swartz had an excellent all-around game with 11 points, three rebounds, three assists and two blocks as West Shamokin (8-0) remained undefeated on the season.
Rural Valley, Pa. — As the wins keep piling up for the West Shamokin boys varsity basketball team, the target on the team's back grows collectively bigger and as the season wears on, the Wolves are keenly aware that each opponent will push harder than the last in an effort to be the squad which knocks them from the ranks of the unbeaten.
Though Purchase Line entered Wednesday evening's contest with a 1-6 overall record and just a 1-5 mark in conference play, the Red Dragons gave the Wolves all they could handle through the first eight minutes of play. At the end of one quarter, West Shamokin held the slimmest of leads, 17-16 and the Wolves knew they were in for a battle.
Yet as the team has done repeatedly in 2021, the Wolves responded with a fury, particularly midway through the third quarter, and ran away for a 23-point victory, 66-43.
"First, I want to tip my cap to [Purchase Line head coach Steve] Woodrow and that team, they really played their butts off and Mello [Sanchez] is one heck of a player," West Shamokin head coach Judd McCullough said. "It was a really impressive performance on his part and we really had to step our game up. Coming out of the timeout [in the third quarter], our guys didn't panic. Obviously, we've talked about it — our guys have it in them and we were able to create a little more uptempo game and force some turnovers and that always helps lead to runs. We were lucky and fortunate enough to get that going."
Sanchez led all scorers with 21 points and hit several deep threes throughout the game to keep Purchase Line within striking distance. Though the Wolves won the second quarter, 29-23 lead at the break, the Red Dragons went to the locker room with momentum.
"We know what it's like — every coach does — when you go play the top dogs or you have that top team coming in, and your speeches are passionate and I'm sure Coach Woodrow's message was 'they're the top guys, let's go after them' and his teams always battle," McCullough said. "Our guys just battled their butts off and we came out with a victory."
The Wolves opened up a 12-point lead early in the third quarter, but Sanchez answered with a couple of threes to bring the game back to within six points, 33-27. That's when West Shamokin put together a 13-0 run to take control of the game. By the end of the third quarter, the Wolves were ahead, 46-34 and continued their offensive barrage into the fourth quarter.
West Shamokin guards Jack McCullough, Bo Swartz and Eric Spencer forced several turnovers which the Wolves turned into easy transition buckets. Brothers Justin and Trevor Smulik worked in the paint along with Ezeck Olinger and West Shamokin was able to control the rebounding advantage while limiting any second chance opportunities for the Red Dragons.
West Shamokin poured it on in the fourth quarter as they outscored Purchase Line, 20-9 and cruised to their eighth win of the season. Once again, the victory featured an impressive team effort by the Wolves, with equally distributed scoring and well-balanced rebounding and defense.
It was an excellent night for several West Shamokin seniors, altogether fitting on an evening when the six Wolves' senior boys basketball players were recognized before the game. Jack McCullough finished with 14 points, four assists, four steals and three rebounds. Justin Smulik and Ezeck Olinger both scored 14 points in the win and Smulik chipped in with five rebounds and four assists while Olinger grabbed seven boards and notched two steals.
While his team was able to find another gear against the Red Dragons (1-7 overall, 1-6 in Heritage Conference play), McCullough knows that his team can still improve while adding more consistency to areas which he and his coaching staff have identified over the course of the season's first eight games.
"There were capital letters on the top of the board today and the message was 'finish'," McCullough said. "Against Northern Cambria, we didn't finish. I thought we simplified our passing and finished around the basket and that's what good teams have to do."
The West Shamokin boys varsity basketball team recognized its seniors prior to the team's 66-43 home victory over Purchase Line on Wednesday night. From left: Vince Buffone, Wyatt Lager, Ezeck Olinger, Eric Spencer, Jack McCullough and Justin Smulik. (Photo provided by: Paula Ann Smulik)
To watch a complete re-broadcast of West Shamokin's 66-43 win over Purchase Line, please click the link below: