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Jersey Shore showing promise with early success

Jersey Shore felt like a mystery entering the season. The Bulldogs lost their Co-HAC-I MVP, returned just three players with varsity experience, but also possessed some you and talented players.

Most really did not know how this season would start unfolding once the games started counting. That included Jersey Shore coach Scott Munro.

Early indications, however, are impressive. Jersey Shore (5-1) is off to its best start in four years and captured last week’s Bill Babcock Tournament championship, beating Sullivan County and Hughesville. The Bulldogs also have a big win over Shamokin, a 4A team to watch in the state rankings.

Jersey Shore is still growing and work remains, but answers are coming.

“I think everybody thought we would be a little down this year and honestly, I didn’t know what we would be this year and I still don’t,” Munro said following a 61-53 win against Sullivan County. “We’re young and inexperienced. We have Nate (Ewing) and Tanner (Lorson) who were starters last year and Trevor (Gee) who was a varsity contributor, but other than that it’s been a crap-shoot. The thing about this group that I didn’t have so much before is they really seem to love playing with each other.”

And that is paying big dividends.

Jersey Shore is displaying excellent chemistry, playing unselfish, and receiving quality impacts from starters and reserves. Four players are averaging more than nine points per game, the defense has improved and the Bulldogs are excelling in the close games that often went the other way the past three seasons.

The Bulldogs opened the season with hard-fought wins against league rivals Shikellamy and Selinsgrove before making a big statement with a 61-60 win against Shamokin. Jersey Shore is undefeated against District 4 competition, has rallied from three second-half deficits and its five wins have come in five tough games decided by nine points or fewer.

Others might have doubted them, but the Bulldogs never doubted themselves and they are embracing this role.

“We always knew we were to be the underdog in most of our games, but we like that. That helps us win those games and do better in the bigger stages,” Lorson said. “The experience of playing in these close games is going to help us down the stretch and in playoffs.”

Lorson, Ewing and Gee are becoming good leaders and also played outstanding basketball at last week’s tournament. Ewing won Tournament MVP honors after scoring 47 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in two games. Lorson recorded a triple-double against Sullivan County, recording 10 assists before he even attempted a shot and Gee produced 29 points and 16 rebounds in two games.

Ewing leads the area in scoring and has become much more than just a terrific shooter. He also is now explosive off the dribble and is averaging 24 points per game. That includes 31-point and 30-point performances against Shamokin and Hollidaysburg, respectively.

“It’s been a different story for Nate because now he’s developed his game a little more where he can go to the rim and score really well or shoot it from outside. It’s really hard to guard because you can’t leave him alone outside,” Munro said. “At Hollidaysburg he was one 3-pointer shy of the school record with six 3s and a couple were seven feet behind the line. The kid can shoot so you can’t just figure I’m going to play him this way or this way. He’s been good at knowing when to score and when to set up his teammates and Nate’s done a real good job.”

Lorson consistently stuffs the stat sheet and is developing into one of the area’s premier point guards. In two tournament games, the junior scored 20 points, grabbed 18 rebounds, dished 16 assists and made seven steals. Gee is playing tough inside, Eli Fishel has delivered some big games and players like Aaron Best, Cayden Hess, Alec Carpenter and Sean Anderson also are making solid impacts.

Yes, there is a long way to go and the season is barely a quarter of the way finished. Still, Jersey Shore is not looking like a mystery these days. The Bulldogs are looking mighty dangerous.

“They’re playing well and we have to keep working,” Munro said. “We have to come to fight every night and we can’t think we’re just going to show up and roll people.”

SO CLOSE: Williamsport split two games at its Christmas Tournament, defeating Harvey, Ohio, 90-83 and losing to Delaware power Glasgow, 56-51 in the final. The championship loss was the latest in a string of tough defeats for the Millionaires (3-7) who have lost seven of their last nine games.

The defeats sting, but there is plenty of promise. Five of the seven losses have been close ones and Williamsport has quality wins over Reading, Crestwood, a preseason top 10 Class AAA team and Harvey. The Millionaires also had a halftime lead against Harrisburg, took defending 5A state champion Abington Heights to the limit and had Glasgow, a team that downed Chester, on the ropes throughout the game.

Few district teams have played as many games as Williamsport, a team with just two senior starters back from a year ago. This team has shown promise and four starters were averaging in double figures entering the tournament final. Right now, it is a case of refining things and moving forward.

The District 2-4 Class AAAAAA race is up for grabs. The big picture is the main thing and Williamsport has the ingredients to cook up a postseason run. It is just a matter of getting all those ingredients simmering at the same time.

“The good thing is we have a week to try and address some of those issues where we really haven’t had time. Its been play and then practice, but its going to be refreshing to have five days to prepare for an opponent and see if we can address some of these issues because it has been an issue,” Williamsport coach Allen Taylor said follwing the Glasgow game. “That’s why we’ve lost seven games. We’ve been in every single game. We’ve had the lead in every game and teams have taken it to another level in terms of physical play. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get some reps and through those reps hopefully we’ll be able to gain some confidence.”

PUTBACKS: Hughesville senior Devon Braden is becoming quite a sixth man. The forward opened the year as a starter but has played his best basketball as a player who brings instant offense and toughness off the bench. Braden has recorded three straight double-doubles and had two more at the Babcock Tournament. In his last three games, Braden has 40 points and 34 rebounds … North Penn-Mansfield split two games at the Josh Palmer Tournament in New York, defeating Thomas Edison, New York, 46-31. Brent Burleigh scored a season-high 21 points, Jayden Andrews made eight steals and Dylan Meyer grabbed 17 rebounds … Muncy senior Noah Rymsza is off to an explosive start and it continued in the opening round at the North Penn-Liberty Tournament when he scored an area-high 38 points in a 67-45 win against Williamson. Rymsza is second among area scorers and has reached 25 or more points four times … Sullivan County lost hard-fought games to Hughesville and Jersey Shore, but sophomore Jalen Thomas made big strides in the consolation game, scoring a career-high 18 points against the Spartans … Four Cowanesque Valley players scored in double figures in a 70-54 win over Campbell-Savona. Skyler Vinluan led the way with 21 and Seth Huyler added 15.

–Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse

Dr. Masse’s Top 5 boys basketball teams

1. Loyalsock (7-0)

Playing at the State College Tournament provided Loyalsock the opportunity to get a taste of life outside District 4 against large school District 1 teams that should help it prepare for the postseason. Loyalsock looked mighty strong, too, routing Strath Haven and 6A State College by 44 combined points. The Lancers allowed just 81 points in the two games, held State College to 15 first-half points and had five players score in double figures. Now, Loyalsock prepares for a challenging week against district heavyweights, defending HAC champion Danville and fellow Class AAA title contender Southern Columbia.

2. Montoursville (4-2)

Despite having four new starters and playing four of their first six games on the road, the Warriors have started well and looked strong in their lone game last week, thumping Selinsgrove, 63-41. Montoursville is receiving key contributions from starters and reserves and, like last year, opponents rarely can key on one or two players because many are capable of delivering big performances. Three players scored in double figures against Selinsgrove and Peyton Mussina is emerging as a weapon off the bench, hitting two 3-pointers in the victory.

3. Jersey Shore (5-1)

The Bulldogs are hoping to make a run in the District 4 Class AAAA tournament and has a key two-game stand this weekend coming against potential playoff opponents Mifflinburg and Milton. Mifflinburg reached last year’s final and looks solid again so the Bulldogs can ill-afford to let their guard down now.

4. Wellsboro (6-2)

The defending District 4 Class AAA champions showed they can do plenty of damage outside the NTL last year and did again last week, thumping St. John Neumann and Lewisburg by 37 combined points. The Green Hornets looked especially strong at Neumann, dominating all facets and romping to a 64-38 win. Wellsboro has allowed more than 45 points just once, has won six straight games and has three players averaging in double figures. Brandyn Tuttle has produced three straight double-doubles and 23 over the last two seasons. Fellow senior Andrew Brelo is showing offensive firepower to complement his defensive prowess and had 19 points and four assists against Neumann.

5. North Penn-Liberty (6-1)

Those who doubt the Mounties’ credentials do so at their own risk, especially after they cruised to their tournament championship and hammered defending District 4 Class AA champion Muncy, 73-45 in the final. Liberty also has defeated South Williamsport and Wyalusing which pushed Jersey Shore hard in the Babock Tournament final. This is a balanced and experienced team that has been trending upward since late last season and that is 11-1 in its last 12 regular-season games. Liberty’s only loss is to Wellsboro and three players are averaging more than nine points per game.

Players of the Week

Austin Loe, Montoursville and Duncan Zeafla, North Penn-Liberty

Loe is becoming a force inside and scored a career-high 32 points against Selinsgrove. The 6-foot-5 junior was a valuable reserve on last year’s district champion and is blossoming as a first-time starter. Loe has reached career-highs in his last two games and has a nice shooting touch. While Loe can take his game outside, he can be devastating at times in the post and also has the ability to command the boards. Zeafla is putting together his best season and earned Tournament MVP honors after playing well in all facets and scoring 35 points in two games. Zeafla set the tone in a first-round win against Galeton when he scored a career-high 22 points.

GAME OF THE WEEK

Montoursville at St. John Neumann

It is tempting to pick one of the Loyalsock heavyweight battles here, but it is tough to argue with an old-school neighborhood showdown so Thursday’s game at the Catholic Community Center it is. Montoursville swept two games from Neumann last season and both were exciting and close. Neumann will have had a week to sit on the Wellsboro loss and likely will be especially motivated so expect quite a battle Thursday.

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