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Williamsport defeats Hazleton to secure trip to District 2-4 Class 6A championship game

HAZLETON-With its season on the line in a tightly contested game, Williamsport stepped up on the defensive end of the floor. The Millionaires held Hazleton Area to just one field goal in the fourth quarter, and will be rewarded with a trip to the District 2-4 Class 6A final for their efforts. Williamsport pressured Hazleton’s guards down the stretch, and put the game away at the free throw line in a hard-earned 44-39 win. No. 1 seed Scranton will await Williamsport at Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre next Saturday.

“We were prepared for this,” Williamsport coach Allen Taylor said. “We knew it was going to a hostile crowd. With a girls-boys doubleheader, we knew they were going to have max capacity. I was proud of our guys, because we did not come out and finish (at the basket), and that’s what allowed the game to be as close as it was. For us to be down and fight to have to get the lead, they were playing with a tremendous amount of energy. The fans were behind them and guys were knocking down shots.”

Williamsport (18-5) trailed 26-21 at halftime, thanks in large part to the performance of Hazleton guard Josian Guerra. The senior had 17 points in the first half, including three shots from beyond the arc. However, on his final shot attempt of the half, Guerra landed awkwardly and remained on the court as the teams went to the locker room. The injury, along with improved defense, limited Guerra to just 1-for-6 shooting after halftime. Hazleton (19-7) made just three field goals in the second half.

“Guerra had 17 in the first half, but he cooled off in the second half,” Taylor said. “We did a much better job defensively on him in the second half. So, I was proud of our guys. That’s another team we held under 40 points this year. Especially with how good those guys are offensively, I was pleased with our defense — not so much our offense.”

Early in the third quarter, Williamsport put together a 7-0 run that enabled the Millionaires the grab the lead. Kenon Brown, who would be a big factor in the second half, hit a three that was shortly followed by a basket from Xavier Taylor that made the score 28-26. Elijah Frierson delivered a dunk off a steal that pushed the lead to four midway through the period. Frierson provided a nice spark offensively by scoring 15 points. Williamsport’s defense held Hazleton without a field goal until Luke Gennaro hit a three with 3:22 left in the third quarter.

“We wanted to make sure we pressured Guerra and Gennaro,” Taylor said. “Gennaro is the one who makes the engine go, so we wanted to make sure we pressured him. We switched up the defense on them in the second half to give them something else to look at. It slowed them up a little bit. I thought we did a nice job rebounding the basketball.”

The score was tied entering the fourth quarter, and Brown provided a couple of key baskets early. Brown scored the first points of the period in transition, and came through with a left-handed lay up that broke a 35-35 tie with 4:21 left in the game. In the final minute, Brown connected on 3-of-4 free throws that sealed the game. The senior finished with a team-high 17 points, and was also a factor defensively.

“Keenan’s been solid for us all year long,” Taylor said. “He has the ability to get to the bucket and finish. Normally he’s a very solid free throw shooter. He knocked down a couple of big threes for us, and in transition he made some nice decisions. He usually does it on both sides for us. I thought he harassed Gennaro very well and forced him into a couple of turnovers.”

One year ago, Scranton defeated Williamsport 48-39 in the subregional championship. The Knights blew out Wilkes-Barre Area 91-36 on Saturday, and will enter next week’s game on a six-game winning streak, including a narrow victory over Scranton Prep to capture the Lackawanna League Division I championship.

“Scranton is tough,” Taylor said. “As long as you have (Jason) Shields, you have a chance. They have the best player in their area. They pretty much have the same team that knocked us out, minus a player or two. It’s a game we’re looking forward to. They sent us home last year, so it’s a rematch.”

WILLIAMSPORT (44)

Kenon Brown 5 4-6 17, George Whaley 0 0-0 0, Xavier Taylor 2 0-1 4, Elijah Frierson 6 1-4 15, J.J. Beagle 1 2-2 4, Jakiha Kline 1 2-4 4, Caleb Fausnaught 0 0-0 0, Zack Lake 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 9-17 44.

HAZLETON AREA (39)

Luke Gennaro 2 0-0 5, Josian Guerra 7 6-7 23, Eliud Lopez 1 2-2 5, Khalid Morrieson 3 0-1 6, Chris Catrone 0 0-0 0, Sammy Guzman 0 0-0 0, Junior Coste 0 0-0 0, Nikolai Santiago 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 8-10 39.

Williamsport 11 10 12 11-44

Hazleton Area 12 14 7 6-39

3-point goals: Williamsport 5 (Brown 3, Frierson 2), Hazleton Area 4 (Guerra 3, Gennaro 1).

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