Steady improvement brings Fry to 1,000-point mark

His first varsity start came against an eventual state semifinalist that won its first 30 games. It came in front of a big, boisterous crowd and against an opponent that featured current Division I standout Alize Johnson. Two other future all-staters, Nasza Short and Kevin Anderson, also played.

But Muncy guard Jeff Fry was unfazed. Replacing injured starter Teddy Clark, Fry provided a spark, attacked Neumann and made the Knights earn a hard-fought win. Fry scored a team-high 16 points, hit four 3-pointers and offered a glimpse of big things to come. As many excellent games as Fry has played since that night, that freshman performance probably defines who he is as much as any other game or moment.

“You know you have something special when we go to Neumann in playoffs his freshman year and had to start him and he was just attacking Alize,” Muncy coach Jason Gresh said. “He was going after him. There’s a kid (Johnson) who is dominant and this freshman is fearless. It was unbelievable. That’s when you know you have something special here.”

Fry has only grown since then and has become one of Muncy’s all-time best players. He solidified that status Thursday against South Williamsport, becoming only the fifth player in program history to reach 1,000 career points. That game kind of symbolized who Fry is as he scored 25 of his 29 points in the second half after Muncy trailed by 14 at halftime. Muncy lost a 77-72 overtime thriller, but it was the sixth straight game in which Fry topped 20 points. He made it seven Saturday against CMVT, scoring 26 points in a 49-26 win.

“Jeff has had one great career,” Sullivan coach Glenn Vaughan said after Fry scored 20 points against the Griffins last Tuesday. “He is a heck of a player.”

Fry is a three-year starter who has averaged in double figures in each of the past three seasons. He is the area’s leading scorer (21.7 ppg) and also is a good rebounder, passer and defender. The past two seasons, opponents have essentially thrown every junk defense they can at Fry. The opponent’s best defender always guards him. But nobody and nothing has really slowed him down. He has carried that go-to player label well and has helped elevate the play of those around him.

That is apparent this year as Muncy (6-7) is in the running to host a first round District 4 Class AA playoff game despite featuring mostly first-time starters and/or contributors. Fry is not a talker, but a doer. He is the captain and he attacks every practice, every game like it was his last. He sets the example and Muncy imitates it well.

“He’s matured so much over the years. He’s not a rah-rah type kid, but he’s going to lead by example,” Gresh said. “He’s going to work hard. I don’t know if we’ve ever had to ask Jeff to work harder in a drill and that’s really impressive. I’ve never had to get after Jeff to get on this or that. Whatever he is doing it’s always 100 percent.”

Fry is a three-sport athlete who was a two-way starter last fall, helping the football team capture its first district championship since 1986. Still, basketball is Fry’s passion, his true love. No matter what else is going on, Fry finds a way to keep working on his game. Fry played on three AAU basketball teams last summer and never really experienced a vacation.

He does not do that because people are asking him to, Fry does it because he loves it. He wants to get better, he wants to help Muncy thrive. Not only do his teammates understand that, but his opponents as well. Following the Sullivan loss, Vaughan as well as several players commended Fry for his efforts.

“He’s a phenomenal player,” Sullivan guard Taylor Baldwin said after guarding Fry.

Fry’s name will hang on that 1,000-point banner forever now. More than the points, future players should remember how he achieved the milestone more than that he achieved it. Fry was five points away from 1,000 with 30 seconds remaining against Sullivan. Nobody would have blamed him for going after his points there with hope of victory gone and a road game following Thursday. But when Fry brought the ball downcourt and saw a double team approaching he did not jack up a long-distance 3-pointer. He dished to the open man.

Put that first varsity start as a freshman together with that play and one understands who Fry is. He is more than a prolific scorer. He is an outstanding player, period. He also is quite a leader.

“Jeff does everything. He scores, he rebounds, he runs the court and he sets an example,” Gresh said. “Jeff is not a guy you have to put the fight in. Jeff brings the fight every night. That’s a big deal.”

So is Fry.

COMING ON: Sullivan County endured some costly injuries as well as a seemingly never-ending road trip throughout the season’s first half. The Griffins started 3-6, but appear to be hitting their stride and have won three straight, including the 42-31 win at Muncy. Sullivan has reached the Class A state tournament in five of its last six seasons and still has the potential to go again despite the slow start.

The Griffins have built an excellent tradition around strong defense and have allowed just 95 points in their last three wins. Point guard John Saxe (18 points, seven rebounds against Benton) appears recovered from a nagging wrist injury and Jon and Jordan Pedro make a strong inside tandem. Taylor Baldwin plays excellent defense and Alex Baumunk had a double-double against Benton. Sullivan would have preferred a fast start coming off last year’s 23-win season, but maybe going through the hard times early will make Sullivan a better team later.

“If you don’t challenge yourself you’re not going to get more mature as the season goes on. Coach Vaughan challenged us early in the season and we’ve become more mature as a team,” Baldwin said. “We’ve grown closer and figured out that fighting adversity is something we’re going to have to do all year so we might as well get good at it.”

AROUND THE AREA: South Williamsport (4-8) lost some good players from last year’s team, but is making good strides and has beaten two likely playoff teams in the last two weeks. Four Mounties scored in double figures in the thrilling Muncy win and Pat West had a career-high 19 points and 16 rebounds. Aaron Guerrisky added 19 points, but the team’s balance in that win should take some pressure of South’s leading scorer. Dean Seman had 10 points, eight rebounds and four assists, A.J. Flick scored 12 points and Peter Sinibaldi added nine … Loyalsock bounced back from two losses and rallied past Milton, 62-53 in overtime Saturday as Marcus Williams scored 17 points. Hunter Webb added 12 rebounds and Loyalsock (12-4) overcame a five-point third-quarter deficit … Speaking of Milton, Ryan Emery became the third area player that reached 1,000 career points last week. Emery, a three-year starter averaged 19.7 points last week and had 24 in a 67-63 overtime win at Hughesville … Montoursville (6-7) won two of three games last week and Noah Fagnano and Brycen Mussina are having good seniors seasons. Both averaged more than 16 points last week … Wellsboro (13-3) has surged to the top of the District 4 Class AAA standings and has won five straight. Ten players have scored in double figures this season and Brandyn Tuttle had a double-double in Friday’s win against Cowanesque Valley. Quinn Henry continues looking stronger after suffering a late-season football injury and could give Wellsboro a big weapon moving forward.

Dr. Masse’s top five in boys basketball

1. St. John Neumann (12-0): Beating Class AAAA heavyweight Lewisburg 63-57 in a playoff-atmosphere was impressive, but giving Class A Millville its first loss two nights earlier without two-time all-state center Kevin Anderson might provide a turning point. As tremendous an all-around player as Anderson is, Neumann showed that it is a good team period, as it defeated Millville, 61-50 and snapped the Quakers nine-game winning streak without him. Jaiden Cioffi, Noah Persun, Anthony Marrazzo, Andrew Fish and Dalton Gough also continue making big contributions, making Neumann especially dangerous moving forward. When Anderson did return against Lewisburg all he did was record a triple-double, scoring 26 points, dealing 11 assists and grabbing 10 rebounds.

2. Williamsport (11-4): The Millionaires have won four straight games and Rondell Carson has been at the center of that success. Actually, Carson has been one of the team’s and area’s top players all season. Carson, a 6-2 forward, plays like he’s 6-10 and is averaging nearly a double-double this season. Carson was a defensive stopper and grinder the past two seasons, doing a lot of the dirty work that goes unnoticed in boxscores but that is crucial to winning. He is still all those things, but Carson also is becoming an explosive offensive player as well. Carson has developed good post moves, handles the ball well and dominated White Plains, New York Saturday, scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in a 70-44 win.

“Now he can put the ball on the floor outside the 3 and drive to the basket, he can hit that 17 or 18 foot jump shot and his free throw shooting has improved a little bit,” Williamsport coach Allen Taylor said. “He’s not just a defensive player or rebound player or a guy who takes charges. Now he’s a guy that’s giving us double figures every night. He’s averaging in double figures and then on top of that he’s averaging close to double figures in rebounds not to mention what he does for extra possessions with tipped balls, drawing charges and forcing turnovers. He does a lot for this team.”

3. Lewisburg (10-4): The Green Dragons gave Neumann its toughest game this season and also recorded quality wins over Southern Columbia and Montoursville. Lewisburg has won eight of its last nine games and can beat teams in a variety of ways. Lewisburg also is a tough-minded team that battled back at Neumann after trailing by 14 early and that turned a six-point second-quarter deficit into an eight-point win against Montoursville. Nate Liscum is becoming quite a weapon for Lewisburg and had 43 points in those two games. Liscum is one of the area’s best shooters, but also is good at attacking the basket and had nine rebounds against Neumann. Sal Brown also is coming on strong and had 21 points against Montoursville.

4. Central Mountain (10-3): The Wildcats have won five straight and handed Loyalsock its worst loss this season, going on the road and winning 73-55. Central Mountain has nice balance and depth and built a 28-point second-half lead at Loyalsock. Wyatt Bumbarger delivered two 20-point performances in three wins last week while Kyle Everhart hit five 3-pointers in Saturday’s 66-48 win over Jersey Shore. Collin Jones is providing a nice weapon off the bench and had 25 points along with 14 rebounds in the Loyalsock and Jersey Shore wins.

5. North Penn-Mansfield (14-3): The Tigers have played an NBA-type schedule lately but it has not slowed them down. Mansfield has won seven straight and remains undefeated in the league while staying a game ahead of Wellsboro. Four players are scoring in double figures and Mansfield has won its last five games by 14 points or more. Shane Kelly consistently delivers double-doubles and Konnor Manikowski and Nick Kasper are doing a nice job stretching defenses and hitting perimeter shots.

Players of the week

Brock Burleigh, Mansfield and Jaiden Lynch, Neumann: Burleigh is making a good case for repeat all-state honors and is averaging a double-double once again. Burleigh averaged 23.3 points and nearly 10 rebounds in three wins last week. The senior forward scored a season-high 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds against Towanda. Lynch is fast becoming one of the area’s premier all-around players and set new career-highs in points last week. Lynch had 22 in the big win over Millville before scoring 23 against Montgomery. Sandwiched in between those performances, Lynch hit a series of big third-quarter shots that held off Lewisburg comeback attempts.

Game of the week

Loyalsock at Montoursville: Wednesday’s cross-creek rivalry game is a rematch of an overtime thriller that Loyalsock won last month. That was one of the most exciting area high school games played this season so the rematch should be mighty fun too, especially with the Lancers fighting for a league title and Montoursville trying to improve its potential playoff seeding. This rivalry went dormant for a decade but it is coming back strong and that is good for the entire area.

Masse may be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse