JERSEY SHORE - Paige Packer hears coach Greg Bruce telling her not take defensive chances. Still, she cannot resist. Defense makes her go.
And so far, all of Packer's instincts have been right. A defensive stopper and a terrific floor leader, Packer made nine steals and dealt eight assists Wednesday as Jersey Shore defeated visiting South Williamsport, 44-29 and improved to 2-0. Packer has 19 steals in two games and the Bulldogs have allowed just 55 points so far.
"Paige loves to pick that ball off," Jersey Shore coach Greg Bruce said. "She doesn't care about scoring points. She's just as happy dishing off and seeing someone else scoring."
"I love doing it. That's my favorite thing to do," Packer said. "I could make 100 steals and have no points and still be happy."
She and all her teammates are all pretty happy these days. The Bulldogs are playing outstanding together and forwards Sara Danley and Grace Naehu dominated the inside, combining for 35 points and 19 rebounds. Packer consistently found those two underneath while Isabella Bubb kept other possessions alive, grabbing nine rebounds.
Naehu (16 points, 6 rebounds) had seven points in the first quarter as Jersey Shore built a lead it never relinquished. She also came up big in a game-breaking third quarter, scoring six points. Danley (19 points, 13 rebounds) owned the fourth quarter and ended any hopes of a South comeback, scoring 10 points and not missing a shot from the field.
Danley and Naehu were a force and nearly never missed last night. Danley made 8 of 9 shots from the field while Naehu made 7 of 8. Some came on putbacks, others off Packer assists as both post players displayed a soft touch around the basket.
"They are a rival to us and we knew it was going to be a tough game," Danley said. "I felt like we were in a rhythm. It felt like we were dominating."
"Sara and Grace played great," Bruce said. "They were really getting after it on the boards and that helped a lot with some of the shots we shouldn't have taken. They were there to get the rebounds and score off those."
Packer set the tone in the game's opening four minutes, blowing past defenders, making steals and making outstanding passes. The senior point guard had four assists and four steals during that time as Jersey Shore took an 11-4 lead. Packer did a little bit of everything Wednesday, also grabbing five rebounds and anchoring Jersey Shore's tenacious zone defense.
Packer, Danley and Naehu all are seniors who are determined to help Jersey Shore reach the playoffs in a non-open format for the first time since 2007. They also have set the tone early this season and the Bulldogs are playing as unselfish as they are well.
"I love the girls that we play with now," Packer said. "It didn't feel like a complete team last year. With these girls, it's like coming home."
"We've been playing together since the seventh grade," Danley said. "We work really well together."
South trailed just 16-15 with three minutes remaining in the half, but struggled from that point on and connected on just three more field goals over the game's final 19 minutes. Jen Jackson and Anna Steer both had solid games and combined for 18 points and 17 rebounds. Sophomore Alana Stugart scored a career-high nine points and hit three 3-pointers.
Steer did her best to spark a fourth-quarter rally, scoring all nine of her points over the final eight minutes. She pulled South within 13 with 2:11 remaining but a Courtney Morlock steal and assist to Danley clinched the win. Danley repeatedly answered any time South threatened to rally.
"We have to get the kids to be aggressive for all four quarters and not just in the fourth quarter when it's needed more," South coach Mike Allison said. "If we get the kids on that page with playing hard for four quarters we'll be all right. The hustle was there so we can work on some game things."
Jersey Shore's unselfishness helped it make at least 50 percent of its shots in three of the four quarters. Bruce received solid minutes from his bench as well and Brianna Stetts had five rebounds. Jersey Shore took advantage of its size and controlled the glass, outrebounding South, 39-28.
Jen Jackson 3 3-6 9, Anna Steer 1 7-8 9, Kalynn Wheeland 0 0-2 0, Lizz Cummings 0 0-0 0, Roxie Keller 0 0-0 0, Alana Stugart 3 0-0 9, Bettina Peluso 0 0-0 0, Paige Lentz 1 0-0 2. Totals 8 10-16 29.
JERSEY SHORE (44)
Paige Packer 2 0-2 4, Grace Naehu 7 2-3 16, Sara Danley 8 3-5 19, Isabella Bubb 1 1-2 3, Brook Rozenberg 0 0-0 0, Courtney Morlock 0 0-0 0, Erin Engle 0 0-0 0, Brianna Stetts 1 0-0 2, Mercedes Boatman 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 6-12 44.
South11 4 3 11-29
J. Shore14 5 11 14-44
3-pointers: South 3 (Stugart 3).
Records: Jersey Shore 2-0. South 0-2. JV Score: Jersey Shore 48-22.