HIGHLAND PARK - What the Mifflin County boys' basketball team lacks in size it more than makes up for with speed and athleticism.
Evidence of this was on display in a 76-50 season-opening win for the Huskies over Central Mountain Saturday night.
Mifflin County used a superior transition game to score easy layups and fast break points, including a run of six in a row in the first quarter. In the end, that speed wore down the Wildcats, who managed only 18 points in the second half.
Sentinel photo by MATT STRICKER
Mifflin County’s John Michael Maclay (22) goes above Central Mountain’s Kyler Klein (34) and Tyler Everhart (3) for a layup during the team’s basketball game held Saturday at Mifflin County High School.
"Every year we look at our team's strengths and weak areas and see what suits us. I think one of the strengths of this year's group is our overall athleticism, speed, quickness and ability to handle the ball," Mifflin County coach Aaron Gingrich said. "When you lose some bigger guys (Cy Treaster, Louis Jerzerick, Seth Wagner) like we did you have to adapt. I think transition basketball is going to be a key for us this year and it was tonight. Our guys got out, ran very well, got into their lanes, found open players, made the extra pass and we scored a lot in transition."
Central Mountain coach Scott Baker echoed those thoughts.
"There's no question their transition game hurt us," Baker said. "Give them all the credit though. They were busting their butts to get up the court. They really pushed the ball up hard and that's something we had a hard time adjusting to. Our guys were at times putting their heads down and jogging back, while other times they just flat out beat us up the court."
Hunter Wright paced Mifflin County with a double-double - 16 points and 13 rebounds - leading the way as four Huskies scored in double figures.
"They played some tough D, but we really ran the floor well tonight. We ran them out of the gym," Wright said. "We worked really hard in the offseason and I think we are in the best shape of our basketball careers right now. Offensively, we were a little sketchy but we'll work on it and get better by the end of the season. That's for sure."
Mifflin County set the tempo early and took over the game near the end of the first quarter by going on a 17-4 run that turned a 21-15 contest into a commanding 38-19 advantage. The Wildcats were stuck playing catch up the rest of the way.
Evan Seby sparked the Huskies off the bench with 13 points, all coming in the first half. Teammates Nate Koller and Curtis Jerzerick hit the double-figure mark as well with 13 and 12 points respectively. All told, the Husky bench out-scored the Wildcat bench by a 23-10 margin.
"I thought Evan Seby gave us some quality minutes in the first half and we're going to need contributions from the bench because you never know when someone is going to get into early foul trouble or turn an ankle," Gingrich said. "I didn't think our half-court offense was as smooth as it could be. Granted it was the first game of the year and three of our main guys have only been with us a week and a half coming out of a long football season, so it's only going to get better.
"One of the things we were disappointed in was I didn't think we defended well enough without fouling. I didn't think we rebounded enough defensively. Both of which slow down your transition game. If you can't stop somebody and they are scoring and you're fouling them or not getting a defensive rebound it's hard to transition and that's what we are going to work on."
Tyler Everhart did his best to keep the Wildcats in the contest. The senior scored 14 of his game-leading 19 points in the first half as Central Mountain went into the half down 46-32.
"He's playing a lot of minutes, handling the ball, and early on in the season like this I think it took its toll a little bit. Mifflin County played him much better in the second half," Baker said. "I was very concerned coming in about our offense, but we shot the ball well. We are playing a lot of kids in their first varsity experience. I did see some nice things out of our offense but our defense was pretty bad. I think we can take some good things out of here though. No question."
The second half slowed down considerably from the early frenetic pace of the first. A very tired Wildcat club couldn't muster much resistance and the Huskies won the final two periods by a 30-18 count.
"Overall, I thought our effort was good. We played hard and stayed composed. We only had 13 turnovers, which is good for the first game. I thought we communicated well," Gingrich said. "For our first night of the season it was a positive, enjoyable experience."
Mifflin County travels to Cumberland Valley Tuesday for its Mid-Penn Commonwealth opener.