ALLENTOWN Sullivan County players stood in an imperfect circle just outside the paint prior to Tuesday's PIAA Class A second round game with Math, Civics and Science and sized up the District 12 champions as they went through their warm-ups. The bleachers at Parkland High School were still fairly barren as some Griffins took quick glances, as not to be noticed at the physically imposing Mighty Elephants, and some were followed by smiles.
Six-foot-5 Conner Wylie towered above the circle stone-faced. The senior has believed in his teammates for four years and that belief has never wavered. It remained steadfast when his team hit some bumps in December and remained there when the Griffins fell behind by 20 points last night to the state's No. 2-ranked team in Class A, according to the Harrisburg Patriot-News.
The Griffins outscored heavily-favored MC&S in the second half and showed a willingness to fight to the finish before falling to the athletically superior Mighty Elephants, 57-39.
"I knew coming out of the (halftime) locker room that we weren't going to let up," Sullivan County head coach Glenn Vaughan said. "There was no feeling sorry for ourselves or anything like that. We've been like that all season. Our kids haven't given up on anything all season."
Sullivan County, which won 14 of its last 16 games entering Tuesday night, finished the season 20-7. The senior class finished their four-year careers with 84 wins.
"It's hard for me to describe what kind of ride this has been the past four years," Wylie said. "My teammates have been great every single year and it just kept getting better and better."
Math Civics and Science (13-14) will continue its season in the state quarterfinals on Friday against Church Farm, a 56-52 winner over Mahanoy Area, at a time and place to be determined.
With 6-foot-9 Class of 2015 Penn State commit Mike Watkins commanding the paint for MC&S, Sullivan County gambled with the outside shooters of the Mighty Elephants. While the plan kept Watkins from being an offensive force (despite a highlight-reel dunk in the second half after a teammate underhanded the ball off the glass) it allowed MC&S to knock down five first-half 3-pointers as it built a 34-14 lead.
"Our whole plan was to keep them out of the paint and it turns out they start knocking threes down," said senior Sean Flannery while still chuckling in disbelief about the Mighty Elephants' accurate shooting. "There's not much you can do about it when they are hitting shots."
The District 12 champs' efficiency from three left the Sullivan bench shaking their heads.
Samir Doughty, who had 45 points in a first-round victory, made two 3-pointers in the first eight minutes and his first three of the game gave the Mighty Elephants the lead for good after Sullivan took a brief 4-2 lead on a Wylie basket.
"That really hurt in the beginning of the game when they hit a couple of shots," Vaughan said. "Whether we like it or not, it's going to make us doubt the game plan a little bit, but they were faster and more athletic and had a lot of advantages against us so against a team like that you have to give them something and if you are going to give them something it has to be contested threes and you hope a couple miss and you can rebound."
Doughty finished with 13 points and Watkins 10.
Watkins did play a significant role defensively, blocking and altering several Sullivan shots. The Griffins, who were at times timid or slow to pull the trigger with their shots, were held to eight first-quarter points and only six in the second before scoring 25 over the final 16 minutes.
There were times, though, when the Mighty Elephants didn't need Watkins' shot blocking ability as their press never allowed the Griffins to cross halfcourt. The pressure, and four 3-pointers, allowed MC&S to turn a one-point first-quarter deficit into a 20-8 lead after a quarter.
Sullivan never gave in during the second half and outscored the Mighty Elephants, 25-23, and forced MC&S to bring back Watkins and another starter Keith Griffin with 2:38 remaining.
"We were pretty angry we were down that much, but they were a really good team so we just came out in the second half and fought and fought," Flannery said. "We never really gave up and that is what we are about."
With just over 40 seconds remaining in the game, Vaughan brought out Wylie, Flannery and Bob Polcrack together for a picturesque ending and the Sullivan fans behind the bench and student section above the basket in the balcony gave their seniors a final applause of appreciation for making a season many thought would end minus a postseason a memorable one.
"That's the way I pictured a great season ending, with three senior teammates walking off the court," Wylie said.
Sullivan County (39)
Sean Flannery, 0 0-0 0 Conner Wylie 5 0-0 10, Adam Szklanka 4 3-4 11, Jordan Beinlich 2 0-0 4, Bob Polcrack 4 0-0 9, Bobby Frank 1 0-0 2, Miguel Rodriguez 1 0-0 3, Tyler Sturgis 0 0-0 0, Taylor Baldwin 0 0-0 0, Miguel Rodriguez 0 0-0 0, Tommy Choplick 0 0-0 0, . Totals: 17 3-4 39
Math, Civics and Science (57)
Kamari Peel 1 0-0 2, Louis Myers 3 2-2 8, Mike Watkins 4 2-2 10, Samir Doughty 5 1-2 13, Keith Griffin 4 0-0 8, Tyrese Hester 3 0-0 8, Donovan Barnes 1 0-0 3, Calil Moultrie 1 0-0 3, Luis Reyes 0 0-0 0, Saheed Peoples 1 0-0 2, Nasir Groomes 0 0-0 0. Totals: 23 5-6 57.
Sullivan 8 6 11 14 - 39
MC&S20 14 9 14 - 57
3-point goals: Sullivan 2 (Polcrack, Rodriguez); MC&S 6 (Doughty 2, Hester 2, Moultrie, Barnes).
Records: MC&S 13-14, Sullivan County 20-7. Next: MC&S vs. Church Farm, Fri.