ENOLA - As Sullivan County players sprinkled out of their locker room and made their way down a ramp to make the right hand turn to exit the East Pennsboro High School on Tuesday night, they were greeted by a group of fans lining the hallway. Applause echoed throughout the corridor as the fans, who drove 2-plus hours to see their local heroes, showed a final sign of appreciation after a season-ending 76-41 loss to Vaux in the second round of the PIAA Class A boys basketball tournament.
Zach Meyer, Kelby Mullen, Derek Wilkins and Lucas Hatton were making their final walks to the school bus as teammates of the Griffins' basketball program. That quartet over the years has given their community three special seasons of basketball. The Griffins have played in three consecutive state tournaments, collected the program's first two state playoff victories and have won 64 games in those three years, including 45 in the past two that also saw the Griffins win a District 4 gold medal last year.
"I'm proud of what they have accomplished," Sullivan County coach Glenn Vaughan said. "I'm proud of not just the basketball players and the team they were, but I'm proud of who they are as individuals. They work hard in the classroom and they are respected by everybody and that is why the community and younger students and classmates drove here to watch them play tonight. I'm proud of the group and it was tough to say goodbye."
Lucas Hatton of Sullivan County shoots as Vaux’s Daron Johnson defends Tuesday at East Pennsboro High School. View additional photos at cu.sungazette.com.
The past two seasons have ended in a similar fashion for the Griffins losing in the second round of the PIAA tournament to a high-powered program from Philadelphia.
Vaux became the first team outside of St. John Neumann to defeat the Griffins this year. Sullivan County (23-4) entered last night 23-0 against opponents outside its biggest league and District 4 rival the past couple of seasons.
Sullivan County entered last night as heavy underdogs against the state's top-ranked Class A team, but began with a 1-0 lead before a second ticked off the clock after Zach Meyer made 1 of 2 free throws after an administrative technical foul was issued to the District 12 champs. The game was tied twice in the opening half of the quarter, but the Cougars' full-court pressure began forcing Sullivan turnovers and rarely did they miss converting on the other end. A 6-0 Vaux run forced Vaughan to use his first timeout and gave the Cougars an 11-5 lead.
"As soon as they went to full-court pressure, we kind of became like deer in the headlights," Vaughan said. "We worked on the press break but it is so hard in practice to simulate their quickness, their speed and their athleticism. I thought after the first few turnovers our kids really got flustered and out of sorts in the first half and then it was downhill from there."
Sullivan adjusted to the press in the second quarter and took better care of the ball, but Vaux knocked down three 3-pointers during the eight-minute stretch and extended its lead to another nine points after winning the first quarter, 18-9. All three treys came from the near corners of the 3-point line in front of Sullivan County big men as they sagged in the paint to protect against drives to the basket. Lester Mattox hit two of 3-pointers in the quarter and Vaux led 40-22 at the half.
"We had to dare them to hit open shots because of how big we are we weren't going to match their quickness," Vaughan said.
The 40 first-half points were more than any opponent scored against Sullivan County this postseason. Prior to surrendering 76 points to the quick and talented Cougars, the most points the Griffins allowed in four postseason games was 37 (twice).
"We pride ourselves on defense and we just gave up 76 points," Vaughan said. "It wasn't necessarily all because of our defense because a lot of it was our offense leading to easy baskets for them."
Sullivan County never dented the lead in the second half and the Cougars pushed the advantage to 29 points after three quarters.
Sullivan County junior Conner Wylie finished with a double-double. He scored 10 points and added 11 rebounds. He will be the lone returning starter from this year's team that won a school-record 23 games.
Kelby Mullen added 11 points and Lucas Hatton again showed his defensive prowess by holding Rysheed Jordan, a top Division-I recruit, to 11 points. Jordan had averaged nearly 26 points a game.
Mattox led a balanced Cougars' attack with 17 points. He made three of the Cougars' seven 3-pointers. Trayvand Massenburg added 11 points and Daron Johnson 10.
Rysheed Jordan 5 0-0 11, Sammy Forman 3 3-4 9, Amir Butler 4 3-3 11, Trayvand Massenburg 2 0-0 4, Lester Mattox 7 0-0 17 , William Taylor 0 0-0 0, Khalief Tinley 3 1-2 7, Deron Johnson 4 0-0 10, Karon Snead 0 2-4 2, Greg Edwards 2 0-1 5. Totals: 30 9-14 76.
Sullivan County (41)
Conner Wylie 3 4-6 10, Derek Wilkins 3 0-0 6, Kelby Mullen 4 2-2 11, Zach Meyer 1 1-4 4, Lucas Hatton 2 2-2 6, Sean Flannery 0 0-0 0, Bob Polcrack 0 0-0 0, Tyler Sturgis 0 0-0 0, Bobby Frank 0 0-0 0, Adam Szlanka 0 4-6 4, Robert Hoffman 0 0-0 0, Miguel Gonzalez 0 0-0 0, Jordan Beinlich 0 0-0 0. Totals: 13 13-18 41.
Vaux18 22 21 15 - 76
Sullivan County9 13 10 9 - 41
3-point goals: Vaux 7 (Mattox 3, Johnson 2, Jordan, Edwards); Sullivan County 2 (Mullen, Meyer).
Records: Vaux 21-8, Sullivan County 23-4.