Sullivan building winning tradition
Lycoming County features nine high schools. Sullivan County features one. Its Griffins represent all of Sullivan County and over the last five seasons its girls basketball players have shined while doing so.
Sullivan County captured its fourth consecutive Mid-Penn championship last week when it defeated Muncy, 46-32. Millville snapped the team’s 13-game league winning streak Saturday when it won in Laporte, 42-35. If Muncy defeats Millville tonight, Sullivan wins the title outright. But if Millville wins, it and Sullivan County share the crown.
Either way, it has been quite a stretch for a program which had enjoyed just two winning seasons and no playoff victories in the 2000s before this run started. The Griffins (17-4) are seeking their fourth straight Class A state tournament appearance, doing so with just a nine-player roster.
One can label Sullivan County anything it wants, but it starts with being called winners.
“It is an accomplishment for our team, for our school, for our community. Especially coming from a small school it’s really nice,” said Jessica King after grabbing her 1,000th career rebound in Tuesday’s Mid-Penn title clinching win. “A lot of people think small schools can’t do it, but we’re a small school with big spirit.”
Sullivan County started turning the corner five years ago under former coach Shannon Pietroski. That team won the program’s first playoff game of the 2000s before winning the Mid-Penn championship and reaching its first District 4 final. The next two seasons produced the first two state tournament wins in program history. But with only two starters returning and the roster so small that Sullivan does not even feature a JV team, it appeared the good times might be ending.
Sullivan County won 10 straight games before playing Millville. Its four losses are by 24 combined points with one coming at the buzzer and another in overtime, all against district-title contenders. The Griffins also have wins against 5A Selinsgrove and defending District 4 Class AAAA champion Mifflinburg. King is the team’s only senior and Sophia Springman is the only other player back who had prior significant varsity experience. Both are having outstanding seasons, but the young players also have made major strides and Sullivan County has experienced no drop off from last year.
“The freshmen have really stepped up. The sophomores have really stepped up. Everyone had to step up and it makes me proud knowing that I can trust them. I don’t care what grade they’re in,” King said. “I can trust them with the ball. I can trust them to get the rebound. If I’m not in the game I don’t have to worry. I trust them. They’re not going to make freshmen mistakes. They are getting the job done.”
“They have done a good job,” Sullivan County coach Kurt Parrish said following the Muncy win. “They came here the last three years and lost and (Tuesday) they wanted to win a championship. That was the mindset they had.”
That is a mindset which has developed over the last five seasons. Success has bred success and players have grown accustomed to winning. Current players have seen past players excel and they know what it takes. This is a program which features not just talented players, but also ferocious workers.
“Coming out season after season and having winning seasons under your belt, it’s built confidence. I know with me, coming out and having a good freshman season with a really good, experienced team has really helped me now,” King said. “Those types of games when I was watching those girls are the games I’m in now. Those situations are the ones I’m in and it helped me grow.”
Losing King will be a major blow next season, but now a strong core of young players has experienced those thrilling games in which King competed as a freshman. They have learned while growing and could be poised for more success.
Not that Sullivan County is looking ahead. The Griffins are trying to win the program’s first district championship and record its third 20-win season in five years.
Whatever happens Sullivan County has proved yet again that it’s a small school doing big things.
When Hughesville built a nine-point halftime lead against Lewisburg last Saturday, coach Craig Weaver Sr. toyed with the idea of going four-out and putting guard Jade Cordrey at the foul line. He opted to stick with what was working. When Lewisburg rallied and took a two-point lead into the fourth quarter, his assistant coaches reminded him about that idea. The switch was made and Cordrey took over.
Cordrey scored 14 of her game-high 24 points in the final six minutes as Hughesville closed its regular season with a 55-48 win. The senior guard scored at will, taking the ball at the foul line, driving to the basket and either finishing, getting to the foul line or dishing to her open teammates. She also made all 12 of her shots from the field and line following the move.
“At halftime I went in on the board and had the key drawn up and had red x on foul line and then I thought, ‘You’re crazy. We’re up nine let’s stick with this,” Weaver said. “We get down in the fourth quarter and the coaches go, ‘What about Jade at the foul line,’ and it helps when you have somebody make a suggestion like that. We’ve done it before and it’s been very effective and it was very effective (Saturday).”
It was just the kind of win Hughesville needed entering the District 4 Class AAA playoffs. The Spartans likely will be the No. 7 seed and play at No. 2 Bloomsburg next week. Closing with a hard-fought victory against a team coming off big wins against Warrior Run and Selinsgrove should have the Spartans feeling better as they try earning a third state tournament appearance in four years.
“It definitely helped us ending our season with a win like that,” Cordrey said. “Going into playoffs, it gives us a lot more confidence.”
Sophia Erb and Samiyah Little formed an outstanding inside duo in last Thursday’s 50-38 win at Central Mountain. Erb scored a career-high 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Little added 14 points and 14 rebounds. Kailee Helmrich ignited the defense and made 11 steals … Despite the loss, Central Mountain (6-14) has won more games this season than in the past four years combined and beat rival Jersey Shore for the first time in five years when it won on the road, 42-27. Quinlynn McCann and Alyssa Fisher combined for 23 points. Speaking of Jersey Shore, it bounced back and defeated Executive Education Academy Charter, 46-23, Saturday with Aubrey Stetts and Brielle Hess combining for 21 points … Elle Binford has put together a strong senior season while helping Canton reach districts for a third straight year. She played one of her best games in Wednesday’s 40-36 win against Sayre, scoring a career-high 26 points as Canton erased a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit. Molly Ward grabbed 11 rebounds and topped 10 rebounds for an eighth straight game … Cowanesque Valley (10-11) is playoff-bound for just the second time in eight years and defeated Troy, 39-28 as Makayla Vargeson and Paisley Nudd combined for 25 points … Aleaha Bigelow and younger sister Avery formed a potent defensive combination in Saturday’s 36-31 win against Montgomery. The sisters combined for 12 steals and Aleaha Bigelow’s last-second steal and layup clinched the win as Muncy won its 13th game and stayed in the hunt to host a District 4 Class AA quarterfinal.
Dr. Masse’s Top 5 Girls Basketball Rankings
1. Loyalsock (19-2)
While Loyalsock lost 59-28 at 2019 Class AAA state finalist Dunmore last Wednesday, it is playing those games which makes it better come playoff time. The Lancers have loaded their non-conference schedule with heavyweights the last three years and it has paid off, producing state tournament victories in consecutive seasons as well as the program’s first district championship since 2010 a year ago. Loyalsock plays in its third straight Heartland Conference Tournament Thursday, likely against HAC-II champion Central Columbia. The HAC-III champion Lancers are making their third straight tournament appearance and are seeking their second championship in three years.
2. Sullivan County (17-4)
It might be an outside shot, but Sullivan County might still be able to earn District 4 Class A’s top seed if it defeats Wyalusing in its regular-season finale. The Griffins likely will be seeded now lower than No. 2. King is two points from reaching 1,000 points and has recorded 17 double-doubles in 21 games.
3. Warrior Run (14-7)
Following a disappointing 23-point loss, Warrior Run regrouped, refocused and played some of its best basketball this season. The Defenders stormed back with wins against perennial district power Mount Carmel and Towanda, boosting their chances of earning the No. 3 seed in Class AAA. Warrior Run rallied from eight down against the Tornaodes before thumping Towanda which held the No. 3 seed entering the game. Four players scored at least eight points against Towanda and the Defenders revealed how dangerous they could be come playoff time.
4. South Williamsport (11-10)
Sophomore forward Claudia Green is surging at the right time, providing South an inside weapon as it prepares for the District 4 Class AA playoffs. Green has come on strong the last two weeks and was outstanding in Friday’s 46-30 win against Milton, scoring 14 points, grabbing seven rebounds and making three steals. Green is averaging 13.7 points over her last three games and is growing into a leader as well on a team which features three senior starters.
“She’s really kind of finding herself in the post. She’s finishing around the rim a lot more than she was earlier in the season. She’s just such a competitor,” South coach Justin Marnon said. “She’s very coachable and just does whatever the team needs. Just coming off the court as a sophomore during a timeout she will be telling the team we need to pick up the intensity and get that fire back. That speaks volumes coming from a sophomore who is making the impact that she is.”
5. North Penn-Mansfield (13-8)
The Tigers hit a rough stretch during midseason but have righted things and are coming together at the right time. North Penn-Mansfield has won six of its last seven games and went 3-0 last week, winning each game by at least 26 points. Mansfield has not allowed more than 36 points in its last six victories and Jaime Palmer and Lizzi Welch have recorded five double-doubles in their last 10 combined games. The Tigers are still in the running to host a District 4 Class AA quarterfinal and likely will be seeded either No. 4 or 5.
Players of the Week
JoAnne McNamara, NP-Mansfield and Emily McKee, Warrior Run
McNamara has been one of the NTL’s top point guards over the past two seasons and was outstanding last week, averaging 18 points, 5.3 rebounds and five assists per game. She added 13 steals as Mansfield continued its late-season surge. McKee has emerged as one of the district’s best sophomores and was outstanding in victories against Mount Carmel and Towanda. McKee scored a career-high 30 points against Towanda after going for 23 against one of the district’s best post players in Dani Rae Renno two nights earlier. McKee keeps progressing and has become a consistent double-double threat.
Game of the Week
Central Columbia vs. Loyalsock
Thursday’s HAC Tournament semifinal is a rematch of a hard-fought game played in Central last month. Loyalsock rallied from a fourth-quarter deficit that night and won, 48-37. This is a potential District 4 Class AAA semifinal as well with both teams currently on the same side of the projected bracket. The winner will face either Danville or Mount Carmel in Friday’s championship.
Masse may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.