By Josh Shreckengost
West Shamokin senior guard Justin Smulik knocks down a three for the Wolves' first points in their 59-30 win over Homer-Center in the District 6-2A quarterfinals on Wednesday night. Smulik finished with 11 points and hit three three-pointers as the undefeated Wolves advanced to the semifinals.
Rural Valley, Pa. -- The West Shamokin boys varsity basketball team secured the No. 1 seed in the District 6-2A playoffs after they went undefeated during the regular season and captured the Heritage Conference championship last week. Still, the Wolves have made starting slow a bit of a habit this year and Wednesday's quarterfinal match-up against the visiting No. 8 Homer-Center Wildcats was no exception.
On West Shamokin's first five possessions, the Wolves missed two three-pointers and turned the ball over three times which allowed the Wildcats to jump out to a 4-0 lead. Yet once Justin Smulik's three-pointer went down at the 5:13 mark of the first quarter to put the Wolves on the board for the first time, another familiar pattern repeated itself as West Shamokin caught fire from the field and ran out to a lead they would never relinquish.
Smulik hit another three and senior guard Eric Spencer added a triple in the first quarter as the Wolves jumped out to a 14-11 advantage after one period of play. West Shamokin continued its hot shooting from distance and really jumped on the Wildcats in the second quarter as they outscored Homer-Center 17-6 in the frame and carried a 14-point lead into the locker room at halftime, 31-17.
According to Wolves' head coach Judd McCullough, West Shamokin's hot shooting from the perimeter was key to the victory and was a welcome change to the way his team shot during the Heritage Conference tournament.
"I think that was one of the keys to the game, for sure," McCullough said. "Defense is always the first key and guarding [Ryan] Sardone is a difficult chore and we did a great a job at that pretty much all night long. I knew in my heart that we were due for a game where we came and shot the ball better than we have been so that absolutely was a key, to get off to a good start."
The Wolves did an excellent job on Sardone, Homer-Center's 6-5 center. The Wildcats' big man had a solid game the first time the teams met back on January 19. While West Shamokin was able to overcome a five-point deficit and ultimately put together a 61-46 victory, Sardone's ability to dominate the paint and the glass was evident. McCullough and his staff put together an excellent game plan to slow down Sardone and it worked to perfection as he was limited to just six points and five rebounds and only two points in the second half.
"We did a lot of work on of trying to get up on his left shoulder so that if he he went up he would have to finish over his right shoulder with his left hand," McCullough said. "We wanted to double as fast as we could if it ever got in to him. And obviously work hard to not let it get into him. Our guards did a good job. It was a team effort, but obviously Ezeck [Olinger], Justin, Trevor [Smulik], some of those guys in the trenches did a good job of bodying him up and making it difficult for him."
The Wolves came out of the break just as hot if not hotter than when they went into the locker room at halftime and outscored the Wildcats, 19-6 in the third period to take full command of the contest. West Shamokin led by 27 points at the end of three quarters and activated the 30-point running clock early in the fourth.
The Wolves had four players score in double figures and seven different West Shamokin players found the scoresheet. Olinger led all scorers with 12 points and also contributed five rebounds, three assists and three steals. Justin Smulik and Eric Spencer both had 11 and combined for six three-pointers. Trevor Smulik recorded a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds and was also excellent in distributing and defending the ball as he finished with a game-high six assists and game-high four steals. Senior point guard Bo Swartz also had a nice game with seven points, four rebounds, two assists a steal and a block. Similar to West Shamokin's defense on Sardone, the Wolves' offensive output was a complete team effort.
"That's been our calling card, or one of them all year long," McCullough said. "Not just balance in scoring, but balance in rebounding as well. The guys do a great job of playing as a team and that's something we're extremely proud of and something we take a lot of pride in and it was another great effort tonight."
West Shamokin will now host No. 5 seed Penns Manor in the District 6-2A semifinals on Saturday night at 7 p.m. The win over Homer-Center was the Wolves' first-ever District 6 quarterfinal win (West Shamokin beat Penn Cambria in an 8-9 pigtail game in 2018) and the No. 1 seed will be looking to advance to its first-ever District 6 championship game with a win over the Comets.
"We know Penns Manor so well and they know us so well," McCullough said. "We do a lot of shooting at the end of the year, I'm going to be careful with their legs because the obviously expended a lot of energy playing here tonight. We'll structure practice accordingly."
To watch a complete rebroadcast of West Shamokin's 59-30 win over Homer-Center in the District 6-2A quarterfinals, please click the link below: