Sullivan plays strong D in victory

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette 23,22 in the fourth Sullivan County's Kaiti Beinlich (23) tries to drive around Hughesville's Jayden Leighow in the fourth quarter.

HUGHESVILLE–The three 6-footers inside are tough enough. Add quick, relentless guards in and Sullivan County’s defense performs like a vise that slowly squeezes the life from opposing offenses.

The Griffins did it again Wednesday at Hughesville and continued a defensive start that really is frightening. That is if one is the opposing team.

Sullivan continued one of the best starts in program history, allowing only nine field goals, forcing 21 turnovers and defeating Hughesville, 39-27. The Griffins (6-0) have not let an opponent reach 30 points and are allowing just a staggering 19.2 points per game. They showed why last night against a strong team that scored 46 in last year’s game at Laporte.

“I knew we could play great defense but they’ve surpassed my expectations,” Sullivan coach Shannon Pietroski said. “We watch the film and if you can imagine yourself being the point guard on the other team, looking at them I would be very intimidated because all you see is arms and legs. We’re fortunate because what we’ve been trying to get from them for 2 1/2 years is the hunger and you see the hunger now with these wins and this victory tonight.”

Sullivan overwhelmed its first five opponents and left no doubt that it is a serious District 4 Class A contender against the Class AAA Spartans. The Griffins allowed only 16 points over the final three quarters, forced Hughesville (3-2) into a 25 percent shooting performance and pulled away throughout the second half.

Sarah Parrish, Kaiti Beinlich and Stef Kramer are all 6-feet or taller and wreak havoc inside. Once the ball gets inside, those three gobble up the paint and make it tough finishing. And just getting it inside is difficult when guards like Ashley Faus and Bethany Weinhardt are swarming the perimeter. Those two combined for six steals and ignited the transition offense.

Even when Hughesville had good looks, they often were off the mark. Sullivan’s height not only produces blocked shots, but also altered shots. Shots that Hughesville and other Sullivan opponents might usually make sometimes are rushed or inaccurate simply because Sullivan’s length and speed has a way of getting into a player’s head.

“Our bigs are unbelievable. They’re bigger than most of the girls in the conference and they work hard and do a good job on the backline to keep girls from scoring layups and easy baskets,” Weinhardt said. “Our defense helps us win a lot of games. If we do have off nights on offense we can get steals and blocks and get up the floor and score layups.”

Sullivan can do damage offensively, too. Hughesville also plays terrific defense and made things difficult for Sullivan, but the Griffins did enough to take a second-quarter lead and never relinquish it. Weinhardt and Beinlich each scored 10 points while Faus added eight. Beinlich recorded her third double-double, adding 13 rebounds, Faus and Weinhardt each had three steals and Sarah Parrish and Stef Kramer combined for 15 rebounds, three blocks and four steals.

Hughesville led 11-9 after the first quarter and the Griffins went more than nine minutes without a field goal between the first and second quarters before scoring 11 straight quick points and taking a 20-14 halftime lead. Hughesville pulled within one in the third quarter, but Weinhardt’s second 3-pointer stopped the run and sparked a 9-1 run that put Sullivan up 29-20. Hughesville never pulled closer than six again.

Weinhardt also hit a first-half 3-pointer during a key run and started opening up the inside more for the 6-footers. Faus scored six points early and Sullivan continued showing that it is more than just a team that has a strong inside game.

“I’m not a 3-point shooter all the time, but when I’m on I’m on,” Weinhardt said. “We’re such an inside team that if me or Ashley or Stef Kramer can make 3-pointers and some outside shots it helps us a lot.”

Emily Akers made several outside shots for Hughesville, draining five 3-pointers and finishing with a game-high 15 points. Akers also had six rebounds and Alisha McKinley delivered 10 points and six rebounds. The Spartans ferociously competed, but made just 4 of 26 second-half shots. Akers last 3-pointer cut the deficit to 31-25 with six minutes remaining, but Sullivan scored the next five points and started sealing the win.

Still, Hughesville showed why it has plenty of room to grow. The Spartans forced 10 first-half turnovers, held Sullivan to its fewest points this season and prevented a team from reaching 40 points for the fourth time.

“We had to go full-court man and there was no quit in the girls. They battled,” Hughesville coach Craig Weaver said. “The hustle and desire are there. At times when we needed to close the gap we missed the shot, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed. They’re a great bunch of girls, the JV to the varsity. That makes it even more fun coming into the gym.”

Like Hughesville, the Griffins combine talent with tenacity. The post players are not only tall, but active. Beinlich was a force at times inside, Parrish scored five quick points at a key juncture in the first half and sophomore Alexis Randall played strong off the bench. Add in guard Leah Beinlich complementing the guards when she entered and Sullivan continued displaying a potent blend.

“We talked about how this was going to be our first real competitive game and we need to make a mark,” Pietroski said. “We told them we need to put a stamp on it show that we can play with anybody if we play hard and our defense is on.”

Through six games, that defense has yet to be off.

Sullivan County (39)

Sarah Parrish 2 1-1 5, Kaiti Beinlich 3 4-9 10, Ashley Faus 4 0-0 8, Stef Kramer 1 2-2 4, Bethany Weinhardt 3 2-2 10, Alexis Randall 0 0-0 0, Leah Beinlich 0 2-3 2. Totals 13 11-17 39.

Hughesville (27)

Makenna Budman 0 1-5 1, Emily Akers 5 0-0 15, Alisha McKinley 4 2-2 10, Jayden Leighow 0 0-2 0, Kendra Smith 0 0-0 0, Justine Yeager 0 1-2 1, Lilly Houseknecht 0 0-0 0. Totals 9 4-11 27.

Sullivan    9 11 11 8–39

Hughesville    11 3 8 5–27

3-pointers: Sullivan 2 (Weinhardt); Hughesville 5 (Akers 5).

JV score: Hughesville, 42-34.

Records: Sullivan County (6-0), Hughesville (3-2).