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Decade’s best No. 3: Kauffman’s heave put Shore in states in 2019

This is the third time Jersey Shore finds itself ranked among the area’s top 10 girls basketball games played last decade. Those three contests came within a three-year window.

One gets the idea. Jersey Shore was must-see girls basketball during that time.

Those Bulldog fans who missed this District 4 Class AAAA third-place game most likely were kicking themselves afterward because the Comeback Kids did it again. This comeback answered a big Shamokin second-half rally and Jersey Shore earned its second state tournament berth in three years in typical high-wire fashion.

Two-time all-state selection Hannah Kauffman made the biggest shot of her career and extended it for another game, draining a near-half court buzzer-beating 3-pointer as Jersey Shore stunned Shamokin, 57-56. It was the fourth buzzer-beating shot Jersey Shore made in three years and the seventh time it had won a game in the last 20 seconds.

“I wasn’t really thinking a whole lot be be honest. I knew that I needed to stay calm and composed and that we needed a 3 to win the game and coach drew up a play on the board and said that I needed to get the ball in my hands and just shoot it no matter what,” Kauffman said that night. “We all knew what was on the line and I knew that I didn’t want to end the season yet, especially as a senior because we have put in a lot of work and have been hustling hard.”

Kauffman was a freshman when coach Darrin Bischof arrived in 2015 and Jersey Shore started a dramatic transformation. The Bulldogs reached states for the first time since 2001, winning 19 games in 2017, and were competing in districts for the fourth consecutive season. This was a younger Bulldog team than the last three years and Kauffman was one of the few seniors. She was outstanding again, winning the area scoring title and earning Sun-Gazette Player of the Year for a second season in a row. Opponents game planned to slow Kauffman, but few did.

Shamokin was one of those teams to slow her that Saturday night at Shikellamy. Kaufman was held scoreless in the first half and finished with nine points. But it was a testament to how much Jersey Shore had grown as a team that it build a 29-21 first-half lead. Aubrey Stetts (21 points, six rebounds) played one of her best high school games, Sadie Griswold produced 10 points and six Bulldogs scored at least five points.

“We really clicked. When we start to have fun on the court and really enjoying ourselves we are unstoppable,” Kauffman said. “We played very unselfish basketball and played a very good all-around game.”

So did Shamokin during the second half. The Indians won 17 games that season and started chipping away at Jersey Shore’s advantage with a 16-point third quarter. Shamokin continued flipping the Jersey Shore script in the fourth and looked like it was on the way to states, opening a 54-49 lead with 50 seconds remaining.

But Jersey Shore embraced situations like this and again elevated its performance when there was no margin for error. Stetts had been a forward throughout her life but moved to point guard for her junior season. She was the perfect floor general on this night and converted a three-point play which cut the deficit to 54-52. Shamokin responded with a free throw, but Stetts came up huge again on the ensuing Jersey Shore possession, scoring inside and making it 55-54 with 8.3 seconds remaining.

“That was the best game Aubrey Stetts played all year,” Bischof said. “We needed a point guard to run the show and she’s not even a point guard. So for her to step up and do the things that she did was awesome. I’m very proud of her.”

Jersey Shore quickly fouled Shamokin’s Kaitlyn Dunn a few seconds later and Dunn made the first free throw. It was waved off, however, due to a lane violation, one which had a major impact on the game’s outcome moments later. Dunn hit the second free throw and Shamokin was up 56-54 with 3.3 seconds remaining when Bischof called timeout.

Shamokin might have held Kauffman to six points at that point, but there was no other player Bischof wanted shooting the last shot than the program’s second all-time leading scorer. There was no decoy or alternative plan. He was putting the ball in his best player’s hands and letting her decide the outcome. Kauffman had shined in that role throughout her scholastic career and did so yet again.

Kauffman took the inbounds pass and sprinted up the court as the final seconds ticked away. Battling both the defense and the clock, Kauffman hurried past midcourt and was inside the jump circle when she released her shot a split second before time expired. All eyes in the gym watched it sail through the air and fall through the net. Against the odds, Jersey Shore had prevailed again, winning, 57-56.

“I’m very excited,” Bischof said. “That was a battle to the end. They really fought, battled, wanted this one and was just a great win against a good Shamokin team.”

It had taken Jersey Shore 16 years to reach states before that 2017 team ended the drought. This time it took just two years. The Bulldogs continued surging and this cliffhanging win epitomized how they ignited this turnaround.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to be a part of this program and be a part of something so great. We have worked so hard to get where we are not only this season, but also the season in the past,” Kauffman said. “Coach Bischof came in my freshman year and believed in our program and pushed us all to become better ball players and better people and I think that’s very important to see in a program. It’s a great feeling knowing I was a part of something that most people didn’t believe would happen or be achieved.”

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