Hughesville’s title run driven by its defense

Hughesville has produced some prolific offensive players throughout the 2000s. But what transformed the program and made it one of District 4’s best is stifling defense.

Defense provided the foundation that a district dynasty was built upon as Hughesville captured four district championships from 2006-11 and reached the state tournament six consecutive seasons. Fitting then that Hughesville used swarming defense build on its tradition and reach District 4’s summit again.

The Spartans struggled some defensively throughout the regular season, but turned up the pressure once playoffs started and captured the District 4 Class AAA championship Saturday, defeating Southern Columbia, 45-36. Hughesville (16-9) shut down three consecutive high-powered offenses in districts, including No. 2 Loyalsock and No. 3 Mount Carmel, and held Southern to single digits in three of the four quarters.

“The reason our record isn’t extremely good is because we didn’t guard all year at a high level. We guarded at a B level and Hughesville doesn’t do that,” Hughesville coach Nick Tagliaferri said. “We found more of a defensive identity the last two-three weeks. The whole team is buying into the system. We kept guarding and rebounding and that’s what it takes to win at this time of the year.”

Hughesville allowed just 45.3 points per game during districts and no team scored more than 47. The Spartans handed Mount Carmel just its second loss in 10 games, snapped Loyalsock’s six-game winning streak, then ended Southern’s seven-game winning streak. The defense forced all three teams into long offensive funks, and Southern never generated any offensive momentum after scoring 122 points in two district wins.

“Being smart and poised is helping us, but everything starts with defense,” Taylor Mason said after blocking seven shots.

While the defense struggled at times during the regular season, it received a huge lift when Pat Rogers and Devon Bushor returned from injuries that kept them from playing much during the regular season. Rogers and Bushor played excellent games against Loyalsock and Southern and Rogers was one of the game’s MVPs Saturday, slowing down explosive Julian Fleming. Brandon Buck also came up big in both games and Landon Henry has become one of the area’s best defenders.

Hughesville is back on top in District 4 and it is because the defense never rests.

“Our defense has improved a lot,” Conrad Sheatler said after scoring eight points and grabbing six rebounds. “When we got Patrick back from his injury and Devon back that was big. They are both lockdown defenders which we didn’t have when we were 8-8 and that has helped a lot.”

BAKER’S DOZEN

At midseason, Williamsport was banged up, had lost two of three games, and dropped to 7-4. The Millionaires have not lost since. And Williamsport once again is District 2’s best Class 6A team.

The Millionaires captured the subregional championship Saturday, beating Hazleton, 64-56, and winning their 13th straight game. It has been an impressive run with the Millionaires (20-4) beating a series of strong teams, including Hazleton, Harrisburg, CD East and State College. Williamsport has its best record in four years and has started peaking at the perfect time entering the state tournament against Penn Wood.

“It says a lot about how we can continue to grow as a team,” Rondell Carson said after scoring 10 points and grabbing seven rebounds. “We have a lot more chemistry than we had in the beginning of the year and I feel as though if we played all the teams we lost to we would win now.”

Hazleton is one of those teams. The Cougars defeated Williamsport, 78-69, in December, but the Millionaires took control in the fourth quarter and showed how far they have come.

“We began to play a lot smarter and guys started to embrace their roles as season progressed,” Williamsport coach Allen Taylor said. “I think that’s a large part of what contributed to our success (Saturday).”

UNSUNG HERO

Muncy forward Peyton Hulyo scored a career-high 12 points Thursday, helping the Indians defeat Canton, 63-49, in District 4’s third-place Class AA game and reach the state playoffs for the first time since 2013. Even if he scored zero, however, Hulyo would have still made an impact.

Hulyo might average fewer points per game than any Muncy starter, but no way would the Indians (13-12) be state tournament-bound without him. Hulyo is one of the team’s top defenders, rebounders and hustlers. He grabbed five rebounds against Canton, added three steals and sparked a defense that helped Muncy open a 20-point, fourth-quarter lead.

“I love to play defense and rebound. I’ve told all the coaches that,” Hulyo said. “I’m not a big scorer and I help the team in other ways than scoring the ball.”

“The rebounds, the defense, the hustle … he gets in every column usually other than scoring,” said point guard Nate Paisley, who had nine assists. “(Thursday) was just his night. We found him in the bottom of that zone and he put them in for us.”

Hulyo was a valuable two-way starter who helped Muncy capture a District 4 Class A football championship last fall. The qualities that Hulyo showed them have been evident throughout the basketball season. Hulyo is a motivator and an energizer. He does all the dirty work that does not show up in a boxscore but that is so critical to winning. Simply put, he makes his teammates better.

“Petyon was great,” Muncy coach Jason Gresh said. “God bless the kid, for two years now he’s just wanted to score 10 points in a game. Well, this is the one to do it if you’re going to pick one. A do-or-die is an awesome time to do it. But even without that he does all the little things you just can’t quantify.”

UNSUNG HERO II

Lewisburg senior guard Adam Cole plays a similar role. Cole is the team’s defensive specialist and is a good offensive facilitator. On a team that has three players averaging more than 12 points per game, Cole can get lost in the shuffle but he is a huge reason Lewisburg captured the District 4 Class AAAA championship and battered Selinsgrove, 81-57.

The Green Dragons started the season 2-3 playing without an injured Cole. When Cole return, Lewisburg took off and its season’s complexion changed. Lewisburg is 17-3 since then and the team’s lone senior has helped pull everything together.

“It all comes back to the tone Adam Cole sets for us,” Lewisburg coach John Vaji said. “He’s a super team player. He doesn’t care about his points. He just wants to do whatever it takes to win.”

NEVER FEELING THIS AGAIN

When Montoursville girls basketball coach Travis Heap gave Lexi Marchioni and Marlene Bassett their silver medals following the 2015 District 4 Class AA championship he also gave them a message.

“Travis put that silver medal around our heads and said, ‘remember how this feels,'” Bassett said. “He told us we’re never feeling this again.”

Bassett, Marchioni and Montoursville received their shot at redemption Friday, playing Mifflinburg for the District 4 Class AAAA championship. Heap was right, too. This time the medal ceremony was a joyous occasion. This time, Montoursville left with the gold.

The Warriors dominated the final five minutes, pulling away after Mifflinburg had tied the game and winning, 42-35. Montoursville (24-2) captured the program’s first district title since 2000 and Bassett and Marchioni played major roles. Lauren O’Malley added 15 points, Gillian Mitchell sparked a swarming defense and Rebecca Reeder hit two clutch late-game free throws as Montoursville exorcised those two-year old demons.

“I still replay that memory in my head of handing them the silver medal and talking to both of them and saying remember this feeling and telling them we never wanted to experience this again,” Heap said. “Our main goal was the district championship when we started the season. We got there and took care of business. This is a huge accomplishment for the girls.”

Montoursville won three hard-fought playoff games, overcoming an 11-point deficit in the semifinals against Jersey Shore and shining down the stretch against 20-win Mifflinburg after the first 27 minutes went back and forth. Each game was decided by single digits and Montoursville consistently did whatever was necessary to win, whether it was playing stifling defense or heating up offensively late.

And after waiting the last two years for another championship opportunity, that makes this title even sweeter.

“None of us have experienced something like this,” Marchioni said. “A few of us have district soccer medals but it’s nothing like basketball. There’s a lot of seniors on the court so it means a lot.”

BUZZER-BEATING PROS

When Averie Hess hit a game-tying 3-pointer late in Friday’s third-place game against Lewisburg, Jersey Shore seemingly had the game exactly where it wanted it. The Bulldogs have made last-second wins a staple this season and appeared in position to earn another one.

True to form, Jersey Shore delivered another pulse-pounding finish. Olivia Edler threw a laser-like pass from near midcourt, finding a wide-open Averie Hess who it a buzzer-beating, game-winning layup as Jersey Shore edged Lewisburg, 35-33. The Bulldogs (19-6) won on a buzzer-beater for a third time this season and have hit game-winning shots in the final 15 seconds of games four times.

“It never ceases to amaze me how they just gut something out and find a way to get it done,” Jersey Shore coach Darrin Bischof said. “I’m really proud of them because we could have folded when they took the lead and we didn’t and that’s just a testament of who they are.”

Jersey Shore is state tournament-bound for the first time since 2001 and plays Berwick in Friday’s opening round. The Bulldogs have proven themselves to be one of the district’s most resilient and exciting teams. Jersey Shore has excelled in pressure-filled games all season and they almost seem most comfortable in the last-second thrillers like Friday’s game against Lewisburg.

The Bulldogs have made a 10-win improvement this season and have captivated their community. Jersey Shore has drawn big crowds to each postseason game. Even if the fans do not see Jersey Shore win, they almost are assured they will see something exciting happen.

“It’s nice because we’ve come so far in such a short time,” Hess said. “To see our community come out and cheer for us and support us the way they do is really nice.”

Dr. Masse’s Boys Basketball Top Five

1. Williamsport (20-4); 2. St. John Neumann (25-0) 3. Lewisburg (19-6); 4. Hughesville (16-9); 5. Loyalsock (21-6)

Players of the Week

Kevin Anderson, Neumann and Sal Brown, Lewisburg: Anderson helped Neumann win its fifth straight District 4 Class A and recorded his fourth triple-double in a 60-31 win over Millville, scoring 16 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and dealing three assists. Brown was magnificent, averaging 25.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in three district playoff wins. He scored 33 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked five shots in the championship.

Dr. Masse’s Top Five Girls Basketball Teams

1. Montoursville (24-2); 2. Jersey Shore (19-6); 3. Sullivan County (21-4); 4. Hughesville (16-9); 5. Loyalsock (16-9)

Players of the Week

Marlene Bassett and Lexi Marchioni, Montoursville: Both seniors came up huge in those close wins over Mifflinburg and Jersey Shore. Bassett nearly recorded two double-doubles and Marchioni had 11 second-half points, five assists and five steals against Mifflinburg.

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