Williamsport’s Washington with a different role

Nobody is harder on Isaiah Washington than himself. The Williamsport senior guard takes losses as hard as a punch in the stomach.

Williamsport has the right captain, then, to try and turn its season around.

And that might have started last Saturday as Williamsport snapped a three-game losing streak and won at Wyoming Valley West, 64-51. Times have been tough, but as Saturday showed, there is no way Washington will stop working to make this season a good one. He scored 21 points against the Spartans as Williamsport played one of its most complete games.

Growing pains were expected after four starters, including all-state forward Jahad Thomas, and all but two varsity contributors graduated last June. But Washington is not settling. He has won championships and played in huge games and does not expect anything to change. The season is still young and the Penn State-bound guard is only beginning to fight.

“He’s embraced the role of being a leader and trying to assume more responsibility,” Williamsport coach Allen Taylor said. “He’s been there through the fire. He’s been there when we were up, he’s been there when we’ve gone through the process and he understands there are things you have to do.”

That includes not just playing well, which he is doing, but getting on fellow teammates. Washington is surrounded by four-time starters and several reserves who played little or no varsity last season when Williamsport went 23-3 and reached the state tournament’s second round. Washington was at the heart of a turnaround that started his sophomore year when the Millionaires overcame a 6-7 start and won districts while coming within a second of reaching the state quarterfinals a year after going 5-17.

Washington knows what it takes to turn things around. Now, he is trying to tell and show his teammates how to do it again. It might mean not being everyone’s best friend but that is part of the job.

“You might not like doing it but you have to do it in order to sacrifice for the better of the team,” Taylor said. “He’s been through it and now it’s a matter of getting some of these other guys to understand that some things you might have to do, you might not like doing it, but in order for the team to be successful these are the things we need you to do. He’s embraced the role and I have no problems with him leading.”

Washington is doing his part and opened the season with a flourish, scoring a career-high 38 points in a two-point loss to Reading. A night later, Washington added 25 more points and reached 1,000 for his career in a convincing win over South Philadelphia.

Being one of the state’s premier players and earning a Penn State scholarship, though, has made Washington a marked man. Every time he touched the ball in last Tuesday’s loss to Pottsville, all five defenders yelled and made sure they swarmed him.

“Isaiah Washington is a great all-around player. He’s an unselfish player,” Pottsville coach Dave Mullaney said. “He has a great pull-up shot, he can get all the way to the basket and he’s good in transition. He can do it all. That’s why it’s not just about the one guy guarding him. Everyone has to communicate against him.”

Washington still scored 15 hard-earned points against Pottsville but was held to a season-low in a 27-point loss a night later at Wilkes-Barre GAR. The word is out. The way to stop Williamsport early has been to focus nearly all attention on Washington.

“Washington is an amazing player and he still got a lot of points but to do what we did was a great team effort,” Pottsville guard Travis Blankenhorn said. “That was the game plan. He’s the biggest threat.”

The key to the season now, is building more threats. Washington is a terrific player but he cannot do it by himself. The inexperienced players have to grow up fast, jell, sacrifice and help out. If that happens, Williamsport can become a dangerous team. Saturday might have been the first step toward making that happen.

Considering the schedule Williamsport competes against, the road ahead remains tough. Any time one is rebuilding a team that is the case.

At least Taylor knows he has a leader. And he has a strong foundation to build upon.

MILLER TIME: Fresh off an outstanding football season, Jersey Shore forward Zach Miller has made a smooth basketball transition. The senior forward entered Monday’s game against Loyalsock among Bulldog leaders in just about every major category. He had three straight double-digit scoring performances last week and also sparked Jersey Shore with his rebounding, passing and hustle.

Miller scored a career-high 20 points in a 74-68 win over Hughesville before following that up with 18 more points in a 66-31 win over Montgomery. A three-sport standout who has won district championships during the last two scholastic seasons in which he has competed is doing all he can to make it a hat trick. Jersey Shore (2-3) has not reached the playoffs since 2009 but has a solid and experienced nucleus this season and Miller is a big reason the Bulldogs are optimistic.

“Zach Miller is playing with confidence,” Jersey Shore coach Butch Barnhart said after the Hughesville win. “He’s been doing a lot of good things.”

PUTBACKS: Warrior Run appears much improved and went 2-1 last week, beating Montgomery and Montoursville by 13 points each. The Defenders (2-3) are a win from reaching last year’s win total and have some good athletes to build around, including several starters back form last year. Zack Miller, Callen Foresman, Lance Pealer and Jared Bender all have had double-figure nights thus far … Cowanesque Valley looks like a possible NTL Small School title contender and had nice wins over Troy and North Penn on back-to-back nights last weekend. Three players are averaging in double figures and sophomore Bryant Painter has made big strides … Mansfield (6-2) has won three straight after last night’s game at Montoursville It won all 3 games last week by 14 points or more. Bo Burleigh is having a big season and coach Kipper Burleigh is receiving nice contributions from starters and reserves.

Dr. Masse’s area top five

1. Loyalsock (6-0): The Lancers have done an excellent job executing their traditional “Lancer Lightning” thus far. They have topped 90 points twice, including in Friday’s 92-65 win over Southern Columbia and averaged 78.4 points per game entering Jersey Shore. Wes LaPoint continues playing well off the bench and junior forward Ben Sosa has been asserting himself inside. When those two play well inside, Loyalsock is especially potent since it features one of the state’s premier backcourts. Omar Little, Kyle Datres and Mike Pastore all are versatile threats and that trio combined for 48 points and a lot of assists against Southern.

2. St. John Neumann (4-0): The Knights handled their first challenge well Friday, downing previously undefeated Millville, 71-53 and pulling away in the fourth quarter in a hostile environment. Neumann outscored Millville, 21-12 in the fourth quarter and has topped 70 points in all three games. All-state center Alize Johnson is building off his outstanding junior season while Nasza Short and Kamaal Burkholder have been nice additions. Those two combined for 26 points against Millville. The Knights have some good games coming up against Selinsgrove and Wellsboro that should continue challenging them early.

3. Lewisburg (5-0): The Green Dragons have won all five games by double-digit margins, including four by 21 or more points. While the inside game is outstanding with 6-foot-7 Will Sigl enjoying a huge breakout year and 6-6 sophomore Sam Allen playing well, the guards are making Lewisburg especially dangerous. Lewisburg hit six 3-pointers in Saturday’s 61-40 win over Troy and Jesse Flannery had four of them while scoring a season-high 13 points. That kind of shooting will make it tough for defenses to collapse inside and make Lewisburg even tougher to stop. A team that lost three excellent starters from last year’s 22-win team appears just as dangerous this season.

4. South Williamsport (4-1): The Mounties have been one of the area’s most improved teams thus far and are within two wins of reaching last year’s total. South has won some big early-season games and recorded a huge won last Wednesday, rallying to win, 56-51 at Sullivan County in overtime. South has displayed a lot of resilience and has come from behind to win two games in the fourth quarter. Senior Riley Hengler, Brock Jones and Billy Rummings are all averaging in double figures while point guard Riley Thomas also has flourished.

5. Muncy (3-1): Despite losing three double-digit scorers to graduation, Muncy is thriving. The Indians have won three straight and also delivered a huge win at Sullivan County, rallying in the fourth quarter to win 47-42 last Friday. It was the first time Muncy won in Laporte in five seasons as Nick Ring recorded his fourth straight double-double. Ring has 24 double-doubles since last season while returning starter Teddy Clark also is playing well. Its the performance of first-time starters like Leonne Ghezzi and Anthony Barberio, though, which has been especially key. Ghezzi had 29 points against Warrior Run and Barberio a career-high nine against Sullivan.

Player of the week

Riley Hengler, South Williamsport: The senior forward came up big for South last week, scoring 21 points in both wins while also rebounding and passing well. Hengler also forced overtime at Sullivan County when he hit a last-second jumper.

Games of the week

Wellsboro Tournament: The Williamsport Tournament will be fun too but four area teams are competing in Wellsboro Friday and Saturday. Lewisburg, Jersey Shore and Montoursville join the hosts in what should be an intriguing tournament. Lewisburg captured the Montoursville Tournament that featured those same schools last year and both it and Wellsboro reached states last year.