Montoursville wins first district title since 1985

JUDI PINKERTON/For The Sun-Gazette Montoursville’s Owen Kiess celebrates with his team, holding up the District 4 Class AAAA championship plaque after defeating Mifflinburg on Friday at Shikellamy High School.

SUNBURY– As he sat back and watched the game’s final seconds unfold, Montoursville forward Dylan Bower placed his hands behind his head. Even a player who helped make it happen had trouble comprehending the new reality.

Break out the floppy discs, the Commodore 64s and party like it’s 1985.

Montoursville is a district champion again.

Bower, Tyler Reidy and John McCarthy all reached double figures and Montoursville played a near perfect second half Friday at the Shikellamy Field House as it rallied past Mifflinburg, 46-32, and captured the District 4 Class AAAA championship, the program’s first title since 1985. Montoursville (19-6) ended that drought the way it reached the final, receiving strong contributions from each player, showing impressive resiliency and shining when the pressure was highest. Now, a program that went eight years without recording a winning season until two seasons ago is District 4’s best Class AAAA team.

“To bring one to the borough of Montoursville for the first time in 33 years is awesome,” point guard Owen Kiess said after dealing five assists and dedicating the championship to valiant cancer fighter, 9-year-old Callie Cavanaugh. “People in our town have been waiting for one and to bring one to them is amazing.”

“We’ve wanted this for so long and we knew we could do it,” Reidy said after scoring a season-high 10 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. “I can’t even put it into words. It’s just a dream come true.”

To comprehend the magnitude of the story Montoursville, which plays District 3 third-place finisher Middletown in next weekend’s state tournament at a District 4 site, one must go back to the start. This is a team and a program that has risen from the ashes.

When coach Mike Mussina took over five years ago, the Warriors were mired in a slump stretching back to 2009. They won just two games that first season and five the next. A breakthrough took place two years ago when Montoursville won its first playoff game in eight years and reached the district semifinals.

But after four starters graduated from last year’s playoff team, a championship drought ending seemed as likely as Boy George making a dramatic comeback. Others doubted Montoursville, but the Warriors never doubted themselves. They opened the season by beating three defending district champions, downed perennial title contender Shamokin in the quarterfinals, rallied from seven down at halftime to beat Selinsgrove in the semis and than erased a six-point halftime deficit last night before dominating the second half.

Forget the recent past. This team has blazed a new trail and has put itself among the program’s best ever. That is what has captivated the Montoursville community. Boosted by a raucous and loud student section, it felt like the entire borough was at last night’s game.

As time expired, those students stormed the court. Together, they and deliriously happy players jumped for joy, waving No. 1 fingers in the air and creating a moment they will never forget.

“The emotions are running high right now. I’m at a loss for words,” Bower said after scoring a game and career-high 16 points. “At the beginning of the year we thought we could do something special and we did just that.”

“I’m so excited for these kids. The work they put in and getting to this point and taking advantage of the opportunity and somehow we’re district champions,” said Mussina, who was a sophomore shooting guard on that last district championship team. “It’s been so long and I’m so proud of what these kids and what this coaching staff has been able to do.”

The way Montoursville won its championship symbolized its entire season. The Warriors struggled throughout the first half and trailed 19-13 at halftime. Unfazed, Montoursville showed the toughness, balance and unselfishness that provided its championship foundation.

John McCarthy (10 points, 10 rebounds) and Kiess hit consecutive 3-pointers to open the half and tie the game before Bower scored midway through the third quarter to put Montoursville up 21-19 and give it a lead it never relinquished. Bower played the game of his life in his biggest game yet, scoring 12 second-half points and making 6 of 8 second-half shots.

He had plenty of help as well. Luke Warnecke (seven assists, six rebounds) repeatedly carved up Mifflinburg’s defense, Reidy owned the boards and provided stifling interior defense, Kiess skillfully ran the offense and McCarthy hit some tone-setting shots. Put it all together and Montoursville hit 12 of 21 second-half shots and overwhelmed Mifflinburg late in the game, closing it on a 9-0 run.

“The mindset going into the second half was make better passes, rebound and do the little things we can do to play as a team,” Bower said. “We did those things and got the win.”

“We were in that position before. Our mindset was come back out and give it our best shot and we did and the scoreboard proves it,” Reidy said. “After we started making our first couple shots out of halftime we knew we were back in it.”

Montoursville led by three entering the fourth quarter and went on a 6-0 run to build a 33-26 lead as Warnecke scored off a drive, Bower drained another jumper and Warnecke added two free throws. Mifflinburg (16-9) twice pulled within five, the last time on two Jordan Tyson free throws with a little less than three minutes remaining.

The rest of the game became a coronation as Montoursville efficiently ran its offense, squeezed the life from Mifflinburg’s offense, relentlessly attacked the boards and hit a series of clutch free throws. The Warriors made 9 of 10 foul shots last night and ended districts making 36 of 38. Reidy and Warnecke both hit both ends of 1-and-1s, pushing the lead to 45-32 and setting of a celebration 33 years in the making.

After each player received his championship medal, the district chairman handed Montoursville its championship plaque. The players and students again came together, holding a trophy that will forever serve as a tribute to hard work and showing that nothing is impossible.

“I’ll never forget this,” Kiess said. “I’ll have this moment until the day I die.”

Montoursville (46)

John McCarthy 3 2-2 10, Owen Kiess 1 1-2 4, Luke Warnecke 1 4-4 6, Dylan Bower 8 0-0 16, Tyler Reite 4 2-2 10, Hunter Shearer 0 0-0 0, Austin Loe 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 9-10 46.

Mifflinburg (32)

Tanner Stoltzfus 2 0-0 4, Jordan Tyson 0 3-6 3, Austin Raymer 4 3-6 9, Logan Mensch 2 1-2 6, Levi Yoder 4 0-0 8, Adam McArdle-Coe 1 0-0 2, Daniel Zack 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 7-14 32.

Montoursville 6 7 14 19–46

Mifflinburg 7 12 5 8–32

3-point goals: Montoursville 3 (McCarthy 2, Kiess 1), Mifflinburg 1 (Mensch 1).

Records: Montoursville (19-6), Mifflinburg (16-9).