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Montgomery showing it’s on the right path to wins

Cameron Yeagle jumped high, stretching his right arm as far as it could go before slapping the basketball back in play and saving a Montgomery possession.

Only 20 seconds remained last Friday against Northeast Bradford and Montgomery trailed by 25, but the Red Raiders had not backed down all night and certainly were not going to give in now. It is early, much work remains and growing pains likely will occur, but that play and so many other hustling ones like it provide Montgomery with something it has lacked the last few years:

Hope.

Montgomery opened its season losing to Northeast Bradford and South Williamsport at the Kyle Lynn Memorial Tournament, but the tenacity and will with which it played provide strong building blocks. This is a program that has one win over the past two seasons and that went winless a season ago. Making NEB and South earn their wins the hard way already shows improvement and if Montgomery plays with that kind of intensity every game, the wins will start coming.

It is a process, but Montgomery is showing growth and letting opponents know that it will not be rolling over any time soon.

“They believe in what we’re running, they believe in the system,” first-year coach Junior Parrish said following the season-opening 55-30 loss against NEB. “I told them just now we’re going to be taking steps all year that you guys don’t even recognize until the end of the year and then it’s just moving forward from there. I think we’re going in the right direction.”

It certainly appeared that way against NEB. The Panthers return four starters from last year’s team that reached the Class AA state tournament’s second round. They have size, quickness, shooters and chemistry and buried Montgomery early in the first quarter a year ago. This time, a team featuring just two returning starters, stayed with NEB most of the night, trailing 28-17 at halftime. NEB opened a 20-point third-quarter lead, but Montgomery fought back and pulled within 14 early in the fourth.

It was a similar story the next day against South Williamsport. The Raiders trailed by only eight at halftime and still were within striking distance early in the fourth quarter.

Sure, Montgomery would like more than moral victories, but fighting back against a quality opponent marks a crucial rung climbed up the ladder. The Raiders had their chances, especially early against NEB, running good sets and working for quality shots. They simply missed a lot of those shots. And that is OK because those are things that are fixable as the year continues.

“I’m not worried about that (effort) with this team. This team is going to fight. The energy in practice is totally different,” Parrish said. “The biggest thing with this team is just learning the techniques of the game. In the first half we had open shot after open shot. The only complaint I have is grab a rebound and box out. But we had 13 turnovers and they only scored two points off those so to me that is effort. That’s them saying, ‘I messed up, so let’s get back and make up for it.'”

Senior forward Steve Prince provided fantastic leadership last fall for a young football team and was key in it rallying from an 0-4 start to finish 4-6. He is playing a similar role now and setting a tone at practice each day. Instead of sulking about winning only three games in three seasons, Prince is doing all he can to make this last season a memorable one. His teammates are falling in line, too, and this could become a season that leads to bigger things.

It helps having pieces like sophomores Logan Almeida and Maurice Walters to build around. Almeida is building off a promising freshman season and produced eight points, six rebounds and four assists against NEB. Walters added 10 points and seven rebounds. Freshman Rayne Parrish hit a 3-pointer that sparked a late third-quarter push, sophomore Austin Kuhn buried a 3-pointer that made it a nine-point game late in the first half and sophomore Coltin Hans attacked defensively.

The pieces are there, the confidence is growing and, even without a win yet, Montgomery already looks like a different team.

“My biggest thing with this team is we have the athletes and they have to believe in themselves and not just rely on one or two players. We have to bring it and play team defense and team rebounding,” Parrish said. “We’re just missing those plays. The points we’re losing by we’re beating ourselves … but it’s coming.”

NO EXCUSES

South Williamsport easily could have pointed toward its youth when explaining its opening-night 52-42 loss against North Penn-Liberty. Coach Rob Houseknecht, though, will not take that bait. Yes, the Mounties lost four starters from last year’s District 4 Class AA semifinalist and are playing mostly sophomores and freshmen. Still, the expectations remain the same. South defeated Class A title contender St. John Neumann in a scrimmage and now it is a matter of building off Saturday’s win and showing that, while the names have changed, the results don’t have to.

Like Montgomery, having players going all out provides a plus in that pursuit. Senior point guard Ethan Laudenslager dazzled with 17 points, 11 rebounds and five assists, but several newcomers also made an impact. Noah Persun brought the defensive energy, Landon Sanford scored nine points off the bench, freshman Lee Habalar grabbed five rebounds and Port Habalar delivered some key second-half plays.

“When I tried to get them to go and go they were out there diving for loose balls. They’re putting their effort into it and it’s great to see,” Houseknecht said. “That’s something that’s hard to coach and I’m glad to see that they are going after it like that.”

PUTBACKS

North Penn-Liberty looks like a potential District 4 Class A title contender and excelled in pressure-filled moments as it captured the Kyle Lynn Memorial Tournament for a second consecutive year. A night after dominating the final four minutes against South, North Penn-Liberty edged Northeast Bradford, a team with four starters back from last year’s Class AA second round state tournament participant, 46-44. Point guard Noah Spencer earned MVP honors and produced 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists against South … Canton won the Galeton Tournament title in impressive fashion, routing Galeton and Williamson by 65 combined points. Twelve players scored in the semifinals and 10 did so against Williamson. This is a balanced and deep team and four players reached double figures … Nick Shedleski scored 23 points, helping Lewisburg take third at the Knights of Columbus Tournament in Shamokin with a 60-35 win against Shenandoah Valley … Joe Grab helped Wellsboro rally past North Penn-Mansfield, 58-54, as it took third at the Loyalsock Tournament. Grab scored a career-high 26 points and added six rebounds and five assists. North Penn-Mansfield’s Logan Tokarz scored a career-high 16 points in the opener against Loyalsock.

Dr. Masse’s Top 5 Boys Basketball Teams

1. Montoursville (1-0)

The Warriors have not had a lot of time working together after the football team’s successful and lengthy postseason run, but opened the season with a win against a Warrior Run team that could turn some heads in Class AAA. Montoursville faces a good early-season schedule featuring upcoming games against Central Columbia, Lewisburg, Loyalsock and Lourdes before Christmas. Obviously, a team with all but one starter back from last year’s 19-win team will be tested early and that could help it as the season progresses.

2. Loyalsock (2-0)

Four starters are gone from last year’s District 4 Class AAA champion, but Loyalsock wasted little time showing why it remains a serious title contender. Loyalsock captured its Tip-Off Tournament for a third straight season, scoring 181 points in blowout wins against North Penn-Mansfield and Whitehall. The Lancers opened their season with 98 points against North Penn-Mansfield as four players scored in double figures. Aiden Gair and Rees Watkins are the known commodities on this team, but players like Saraj Ali, Idris Ali and Sean Jensen also showed their upside and produced strong performances.

3. Hughesville (1-0)

A young Spartan team often put two or three good quarters together last season, but sometimes struggled late in heartbreaking losses. What a big step it was then for the Spartans to go to St. John Neumann Friday, start strong and hold off repeated comeback attempts while winning a 73-67 thriller. That was an important hurdle to jump over and the Spartans did it with a strong collective effort. This is a deep team and both starters and reserves made big impacts. Justus Leighow sparked the defense and also scored a career-high 18 points. Blake Sherwood scored 16 points in 12 minutes and guard Clayton Poust added 15. Hughesville overcame foul trouble, a tough environment and a quality opponent with two freshmen also providing key minutes. This is a proud program that does not revel in early-season wins, but if this was a sign of things to come, then it was quite a start.

4. St. John Neumann (0-1)

And from Neumann’s perspective, many positives also can be taken. Start with freshman Davion Hill erupting for 37 points in his first high school game. No area freshman has opened his scholastic career quite like that during the 2000s and one can only wonder how much better he can get from here. The Knights have only two starters back from last year’s 20-win team but did not buckle after Hughesville’s quick start. Like Hughesville, this is a program that defines itself not with December wins but with postseason championships. This was a loss, but it also is a game that could help the Knights reach their goals as the season progresses.

5. Sullivan County (2-0)

Returning a strong core from a Class A state qualifier, Sullivan County showed why this could be another exciting season by winning its Mountain Madness Tournament. The Griffins defeated Troy, 59-45 in the final after blasting MMI Prep, 60-36. Balance and depth could be strengths this season and at least three players scored in double figures in both games. Forward Jesse Williams is becoming a weapon inside and opening up the outside for guards who drained nine second-half 3-pointers against MMI Prep. Jalen Thomas dealt eight assists in that game and Justin Metzger scored 21 points in both.

Players of the Week

Aiden Gair, Loyalsock

Sam Carpenter, Sullivan County

Gair went bonkers in his first two games, reaching career-highs both nights and torching Whitehall for 41 points in the final. Gair did damage outside and inside, making 12 3-pointers, including eight against Whitehall. Gair is the lone returning starter back from last year’s team and showed he is eager to embrace his new leadership role. Carpenter also is a quality senior leader and averaged 16 points in Sullivan County’s win, playing well on both ends. He earned Tournament MVP honors and scored 18 points while adding seven rebounds and four steals against Troy.

Game of the Week

Millville at St. John Neumann

It is early, but today’s showdown could go a long way in determining this year’s Mid-Penn Conference champion. These long-time rivals split the championship last season, each going 13-1 in league play. Neumann has earned at least a share of seven straight league championships and Millville a share of the last two. The Quakers captured last year’s District 4 Class AA champion and it and Neumann both reached the second round of states. The road team won each game last year and this will be an outstanding early-season test for both squads.

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

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