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Bulldogs bounce back from brutal 5-game stretch

Jersey Shore would rather have not played four games in four nights against district title contenders. Or five games in six nights against contenders for that matter.

That was especially true since talented forward Trevor Gee missed the brutal four-game stretch two weeks ago. The Bulldogs lost all four games and the fifth one as well when Gee returned but was still working his way back. That stretch was like a punch in the gut, leaving Jersey Shore exhausted and dejected.

But that is all in the past. Jersey Shore is rested and complete again. The Bulldogs are not focusing on the past, but what could lay ahead. Jersey Shore returned to form last Wednesday, routing rival Central Mountain, 78-56, as both starters and reserves produced strong performances.

Jersey Shore opened the season 10-4 and, back at full strength, it believes the best could be coming.

“With playoffs coming soon this will help us,” Gee said. “We can make a run. We’re capable of it.”

That is especially true with Gee back in the lineup. The versatile junior was having his best season before spraining his ankle and missing five games, including two against defending District 4 Class AAAA champion Danville, 2018 district champion Montoursville and surging Mifflinburg. He is the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 13.4 points per game and also one of its top rebounders.

Gee made an immediate impact against Central Mountain, scoring 19 points, grabbing nine rebounds and adding four assists. He forms a strong inside tandem with sophomore Damian Williams (14 points, 8 rebounds) and can open up the perimeter for dangerous guards like the program’s all-time leading scorer Nate Ewing and Tristan Gallick. Gee and Williams dominated inside against Central Mountain, forcing the Wildcats to pick their poison. The Bulldogs (11-9) then drained five fourth-quarter 3-pointers.

“I would have loved to have had Trevor during that stretch but it is what it is and it’s nice to have him now,” Jersey Shore coach Scott Munro said. “When that happened I said, àget healthy, get yourself ready and even if you don’t make it to any games during this brutal stretch we need you for the last three and the playoffs.’ We wanted him healthy for the playoffs because I still believe in these guys and I still believe we can do something in the playoffs.”

Gee’s absence, while painful, could provide a blessing if Jersey Shore does make a playoff run. It provided other players like Gallick more playing time. The sophomore guard is a potentially explosive player who scored 10 points in two minutes against Central Mountain. Gallick is able to hit from long-distance, but also is lightning quick and able to do damage off the dribble.

Ewing is averaging more than 20 points per game for a second straight season, but having Gee back in addition to players like Gallick becoming weapons takes pressure off him. Central Mountain held Ewing to 11 points through three quarters, but the Bulldogs attacked in other areas and built a 22-point lead. Central Mountain cut it to 14 in the fourth before Gallick took over and went on his scoring binge.

“(Wednesday) he was really good. I have to stay on him and tell him he’s a scorer, get out there and do your thing,” Munro said. “He’s going to be a nice player. He can shoot it and he has a good handle and can fake some guys out.”

“He’s a really good scorer,” Gee said. “He’s only a sophomore, so we’re excited to see what he can do.”

Healthy and rested, Jersey Shore is excited to see what its entire team can do come playoff time.

TOURNAMENT TIME: The Heartland Conference Tournament starts Wednesday at Shikellamy with the girls semifinals following Thursday and the championships being played Friday. HAC-II champion Loyalsock and HAC-III champion Mount Carmel have clinched boys berths with Danville, Shamokin and Montoursville battling for the final two spots. Danville will be the outright HAC-I champion if it defeats Mifflinburg tonight.

If Danville loses to Mifflinburg and Shamokin ties it for the HAC-I title they both will advance. If Danville wins and Montoursville wins its final HAC game, the Warriors would reach their second straight tournament.

The Northern Tier League also has a four-team tournament and it opens Thursday. North Penn-Liberty (20-2) captured its first NTL-II championship and will host the NTL-I runner-up, likely Wyalusing, Thursday. NTL-I champion Athens hosts NTL-II runner-up Northeast Bradford the same night and the finalists play Saturday night at Mansfield University’s Decker Gymnasium following the girls final.

DOUBLE THE FUN: When inclement weather postponed Friday’s Montgomery-Muncy girls games, the rival schools agreed to play a girls/boys doubleheader Saturday. It was a win for the community with both games being played in front of large and boisterous crowds. Both games also were thrillers with the Muncy girls winning 36-31 and Montgomery boys winning 58-54 in overtime.

Turns out Mother Nature might have produced an idea that could gather steam moving forward. Montoursville and Loyalsock also played a girls/boys doubleheader a few weeks ago and the crowd was electric for those games as well.

“I talked to (Muncy) coach (Jason Gresh) before the game and said we have to do this every year,” Montgomery coach Junior Parrish said. “There’s no reason we can’t do this with both varsity games and have a blast.”

Montgomery continued its impressive season-long comeback in thrilling fashion, rallying from a nine-point deficit with 76 seconds remaining in overtime and beating Muncy for the first time on the road since 2010. The Red Raiders (6-13) won one game combined the previous two season but enter the season’s final week still in District 4 Class AA playoff contention and have a strong, young core to build around.

“I felt like the Bucktail (overtime) win was a turning point where we were playing hard and trusting if we did the right stuff that good things would happen and that kind of played into this game,” Parrish said.

PUTBACKS: North Penn-Mansfield is one of the area’s youngest teams and started the season trying to replace the top eight players from last year’s rotation. The Tigers showed how far they have come by beating NTL-I champion Athens and Troy twice in three nights, doing so with outstanding fourth-quarter performances. Mansfield avenged previous defeats against those rivals and three players reached double figures in each game … Lewisburg increased its chances of hosting a District 4 Class AAAA quarterfinal, closing its regular season with a 63-36 win against Shikellamy. The Green Dragons (16-6) have won 14 of their last 17 games and enter this week at No. 4, but with the top five teams fairly close to each other their seeding still could change … James Evans-McQuay scored a career-high 20 points and Williamsport forced overtime at Huntingdon after trailing by 20 in the second quarter before dropping a 63-58 heartbreaker … Ben Knapp scored a career-high 25 points, helping Canton clinch its second winning season in three years with a 64-39 win against Cowanesque Valley. The Warriors (12-10) likely will be seeded fifth in the District 4 Class AA tournament … Muncy freshman Ross Eyer scored 16 points and grabbed 14 rebounds against Montgomery, giving him 22 rebounds in his last two games … South Williamsport (5-15) enters this week No. 9 in the Class AA standings but could work its way into the field if it can win its last two games against Muncy and CMVT. The top eight teams advance … Jesse Williams is averaging 9.8 rebounds over his last four games and helped Sullivan County clinch the No. 3 seed in District 4 Class A with a 14-point performance in Saturday’s 53-42 win against Bucktail … Warrior Run (11-9) clinched its District 4 Class AAA playoff berth the old-fashioned way, thumping Southern Columbia 67-45 Saturday. Ethan Hartman scored 44 points in two games last week for the Defenders.

DR. MASSE’S TOP 5 BOYS BASKETBALL TEAMS

1. Loyalsock (22-0): Although Loyalsock features a storied tradition and has won nine district championships in the 2000s, it had never completed an undefeated regular season during that time. This year’s team changed that, capping off a perfect season with victories against Hughesville, Midd-West and Athens. Making this regular season especially impressive is that Loyalsock lost four starters from last year’s district champion. The Lancers have recorded several quality wins against tough opponents and rallied from a halftime deficit to win at Hughesville, 68-55. Aiden Gair scored 21 points in Saturday’s 79-51 victory against NTL-I champion Athens and Idris Ali added 16 against Hughesville.

2. Montoursville (15-4): For the first time this season, the Warriors are starting to get healthy. It showed last week as they won three games, including against district title contenders St. John Neumann and Shamokin. Montoursville avenged two losses against Shamokin from last year as it balance continued showing with three players scoring in double figures. Forward Austin Loe missed the season’s first 12 games, but broke out in a 66-41 at Milton, scoring a season-high 19 points. Jake Simms also has become an inside weapon and scored a career-high 19 points in a 74-42 win against Neumann, going 7 for 7 from the field and 4 for 4 at the foul line.

3. Hughesville (16-5): A team that has never really been full strength all season was ravaged by the flu last week, but still gutted out a 44-37 comeback win at Southern Columbia. Missing two key players and featuring several other who were battling illness, Hughesville outscored Southern, 16-2 in the fourth quarter. The Spartans are as tough and fiercely competitive as they are talented and have earned a home District 4 Class AAA quarterfinal. Steele Evangelisti epitomized the team’s will against Southern and he, Ethan Snyder and Clayton Poust all played key roles in sparking the comeback.

4. St. John Neumann (18-3): The Knights bounced back well from the Montoursville loss, beating Montgomery and Benton to complete their sixth undefeated Mid-Penn season in eight years. Josiah Reid does an effective job stretching the defense and drained four 3-pointers while scoring 16 points in Saturday’s 64-50 win against Benton. Malaki Parlante is a versatile weapon inside and reached double figures in all three games. The Knights still have an outside shot at claiming District 4 Class A’s top seed, but need to win at Class AA title contender Bloomsburg to have that opportunity. Either way, the Knights will be seeded no lower than No. 2.

5. North Penn-Liberty (20-2): The Mounties capped one of the best regular seasons in program history with double-digit wins against South Williamsport, Cowanesque Valley and Northeast Bradford. North Penn-Liberty avenged one of its two defeats when it beat NEB, 56-44 and currently is District 4 Class A’s top-seeded team. Three players are averaging in double figures, Colton Litzelman has become one of the area’s best sixth me and five players have scored more than 20 points in a game. Noah Spencer has become one of the area’s top point guards and went off for 25 points, 11 assists and four rebounds in a 70-49 win against CV.

Players of the Week

Blake Sherwood, Hughesville and Curtis Craig, North Penn-Mansfield: Sherwood was another sick Spartan last week, but one could not tell from watching him play. The versatile forward recorded double-doubles in both his games, averaging 15.4 points and 10.5 rebounds. Sherwood scored a team-high 12 points against Southern and can take his game inside or outside while stuffing the stat sheet on a consistent basis. Craig is enjoying an excellent breakthrough season and has been vital to his team’s success. Craig was at his best last week, scoring 41 points in the victories against Athens and Troy. Craig scored a career-high 23 points against Athens as the Tigers closed on a 27-12 run.

Game of the Week

Montoursville at Hughesville: Tonight’s game should an outstanding rivalry contest between two of the area’s teams. Both feature hard-working, well-rounded teams and both are hoping to boost their playoff positioning so this could be a lot of fun.

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

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