MILTON Despite two losses to HAC-I champion Shamokin throughout the season, Jersey Shore knew coming into its District 4 Class AAA semifinal it had a prime opportunity to defeat the Indians. The two previous games were close and Tuesday's thriller was no different.
The Bulldogs led as late as midway through the fourth quarter after an offensive rebound and putback by Brody Smith, but the game's 18th lead change wasn't quite its last. Shamokin quickly regained the lead on a Josh Pappas basket and the Indians hit enough foul shots over the game's final two minutes to defeat the Bulldogs and end their season with a 61-54 victory.
"It was a game of runs," Shamokin head coach Chris Zimmerman said. "You kind of get a sense of the way the game is going that they are going to make their run and give them a lot of credit because we knew they weren't going to go away. This is the third time we've played them and the first two times were kind of back and forth, so we had a feeling they'd make a little bit of a run but we made the last one."
The Indians (21-3) will face Central Columbia for the district championship later this week at a time and place to be determined. The Blue Jays beat Danville in Shamokin's home gym in the other district semifinal, 64-48.
The third meeting between Jersey Shore and Shamokin definitely was played to a playoff atmosphere. The opening eight minutes was hectic and emotionally charged on the court and in the stands and the lead changed hands nine times.
Jersey Shore survived the first quarter with a two-point lead, but Shamokin opened up a six-point advantage in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs trimmed that deficit to one before the half and led briefly in the third quarter before Shamokin put another streak together and jumped to a four-point lead after three. Just as predicted by Zimmerman, though, the Bulldogs (14-10) weren't done yet and they scored seven consecutive points to begin the fourth quarter to take a 3-point lead.
Ryan Eck and Zach Miller scored those seven straight points to open the fourth quarter, but Shamokin sophomore Jake Weaver halted the run with a bucket and the Indians called a timeout, trailing 48-47.
The lead switched hands again at 50-49 after a Pappas hit a 3-pointer his third of the game - and the Indians pushed the lead to three after a pair of Weaver free throws with 4:12 remaining.
Shore had one more answer with a pair of Eric Huling free throws and the putback by Smith, but those points led to the last lead of the season for the Bulldogs. After the Pappas basket made it 54-53 and Jersey Shore missed converting on the offensive end, the Bulldogs were forced to foul and watch Shamokin parade to the foul line.
At the time that seemed like a good strategy as the Indians hit only 10 of 21 foul shots up to that point, but when it mattered the most Shamokin made seven of its final 11 attempts while Shore could only muster an Eck free throw over the game's final 1:31.
"When you are playing a good team you have to execute and finish shots and we just missed too many shots," Jersey Shore coach Butch Barnhart said.
Four different Indians made at least one foul shot over the final 1:44. A free throw by Austin Stine with 47 seconds left made it a two-possession game for the first time since the end of the third quarter.
Weaver, a sophomore, made 10 of his 12 free throw attempts and finished with a game-high 22 points. Pappas, who was a tough guard because of his ability to step outside the 3-point line and drive to the basket with his left hand, added 16. Stine, returning from injury, gave his team an emotional lift and seven points.
Four Bulldogs scored in double figures led by Eck's 15. Miller added 13, Smith 11 and Huling 10.
"Our kids have played hard all year and the effort has been there, but sometimes at the end of the game there I thought we were trying to force some things and Shamokin was a little bit more relaxed," Barnhart said. "They weren't forcing their shots and we were forcing them and I think that was the difference in the game."
Jersey Shore (54)
Jake Butzler 0 0-0 0, Eric Huling 1 8-8 10, Stephen Baier 1 1-2 3, Brody Smith 3 4-4 11, Cody Confair 1 0-0 2, Brennan Eiswerth 0 0-0 0, Ryan Eck 5 5-8 15, Zach Miller 5 3-4 15. Totals: 16 21-26 54.
Ryan Sebasovich 1 1-4 3, Isaiah Reiprich 1 2-3 4, Jake Weaver 6 10-12 22, Dan Delbaugh 1 1-3 3, Feliph Taylor 0 0-0 0, Austine Stine 3 1-2 7, Zach Moyer 2 1-3 6, Josh Pappas 6 1-5 16. Totals: 20 17-32 61.
Jersey Shore18 11 12 13 54
Shamokin16 14 15 16 61
3-point goals: Jersey Shore 1 (Smith); Shamokin 4 (Pappas 3, Moyer).
Records: Shamokin 21-3, Jersey Shore 14-10. Next: Shamokin vs. Central Columbia (District 4 Class AAA Championship), TBA