Williamsport opens districts Saturday

They have been ranked among the state’s Top 10 teams all season. People have debated where they belong on that list, but Williamsport coach Allen Taylor has known the answer all along.

It does not matter.

Everything Williamsport wants to achieve is in front of it. Being at the top when it is all over is the important thing. The Millionaires (20-2) begin their postseason quest Saturday when they play Wyoming Valley West in the District 2-4 Class AAAA semifinals at Berwick Middle School. They could not be entering on a bigger high, either, after downing nationally-acclaimed Princeton Country Day, 73-59, Wednesday.

“We don’t worry about state rankings and all that stuff. The only thing that matters is where you end up at the end of the season and we need to see teams like this (Princeton Day),” Taylor said. “This is a team that we needed to play to prepare us for playoffs. This was a very good game to play, especially with the environment. It was a playoff atmosphere and was exactly what we needed.”

Williamsport played its best game against its toughest opponent, yet, and never trailed after taking a late first-quarter lead. Every player, whether starter or reserve, Taylor used made a positive impact. Princeton Day has Division I recruits up and down its roster but the Millionaires played better as a unit and led by double digits for long stretches, ending the game on a 12-1 run.

They showed no fear, either, taking it right at the much bigger Princeton Day players. Isaiah Washington epitomized that when he threw down a dunk over 7-footer Malik Kuwornu.

Jahad Thomas played like the all-stater he is and Washington and Chris Kinley showed why they are Division I-bound. But it was players like Achilles Watson, Herb Stelly, Thomas Ross and Greg Ousley delivering strong performances that might have been even bigger moving forward.

“We’re peaking at the right time. We have our first playoff game coming up Saturday and just beat a pretty solid team,” said Kinley, who nearly had a double-double on Wednesday night. “We have a lot of momentum going into playoffs and we’re hoping to make a big run, but there’s a lot of stuff we can work on and improve on.”

This is an experienced team that still seethes about losing on a buzzer-beater to Harrisburg in the second round of last year’s state tournament. Williamsport has been on a mission since that night in Shamokin and as big as Wednesday’s win was, the Millionaires seem to understand that it does not mean much unless they use it as a launching pad.

“We can’t be cocky,” point guard Herb Stelly said. “We have to focus on what they do and how we can defend them and we just have to do what we do.”

“We’re going into that game and want to play exactly like this again,” Thomas said. “We’re not underestimating anybody. We want to go out and finish strong.”

Valley West (15-8) started strong when it played Williamsport earlier this season, taking a 7-point halftime lead before the Millionaires rallied for a 66-53 win. The Spartans also finished the regular season strong, winning 13 of their last 16 games. Following the Williamsport loss, Valley West won 11 straight.

Jaquan Ingram and Brett Good spark a balanced offense, averaging 14.3 and 10.4 points per game. Valley West thumped Wallenpaupack, 59-43, in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.

Both Valley West and Williamsport looked good Wednesday. The Millionaires showed how good they can be, too, looking as strong collectively as they have all season. Williamsport hit 51 percent of its shots and the bench was a big influence. Ross keeps getting better and Ousley has the potential to be a force if he keeps recovering from injury.

Brice Harris and Brandon Fedoriw played well defensively off the bench, to,o and everything started coming together.

“We talked about a disciplined focus and that’s what we had,” Taylor said. “The guys understood the task at hand but what I told them is don’t get caught up in beating Princeton Day Academy. Get caught up and focus on what you have to do to win the game, what you have to do to dominate. That’s what they did. They focused on what they had to do individually and collectively and I think that was the difference in the game.”

That is the task starting Saturday, too.

It will be another challenging game for Williamsport but every game is at this point of the season. These are the fun ones.

These are the ones Williamsport likes the most.