NORTHUMBERLAND - By the numbers alone, Juniata Mennonite's boys basketball game against Sunbury Christian may not seem like it was much of a contest.
The Eagles have almost as many players on the bench with the starters on the court as Juniata Mennonite has on its roster. Three seniors dot the Sunbury roster; after the junior class, the Lions have nothing but junior high players. Add 1,000-point scorer Blake Spangler Jones, and it's a clear advantage for Sunbury.
So you can imagine what a surprise it was for the home team when Kevin Burkholder knocked down the first two buckets of the game to give Juniata Mennonite an early lead.
Sentinel photo by CRAIG?UREY
Juniata Mennonite School’s Kevin Brubaker shoots over Sunbury Christian Academy’s Karch Carey on Tuesday in a high school basketball game at Sunbury Christian Academy.
It was fun while it lasted. Sunbury Christian took over after that, cruising to a 49-29 victory in the Allegheny Christian Athletic Association matchup.
Once the offense started clicking for the Eagles, the visitors just had no answers. A pair of guards - Spangler Jones, a senior, and sophomore Jed Stuck - did most of the heavy lifting; Spangler Jones was good for a team-high 13 points and Stuck chipped in 11.
Burkholder was the top scorer for the Lions and the game, accumulating 14 points.
"I'm excited about some of the things I saw tonight. You don't see a lot of good things but you see some things and you see they're getting it," Juniata Mennonite coach Dennis Zimmerman said. "I thought we didn't play a bad first half. We got a little sloppy that second quarter, but in the first quarter we did some real good things."
The problem was, after the early success, it turned into a trade deficit - Juniata Mennonite was being outscored nearly 2-1 through the first half, which ended 28-13 in Sunbury's favor.
And the third was downright painful.
The Eagles scored the first nine points coming out of the locker room before Adrian Martin found the net. A 10-point stretch in favor of the Eagles made the score 47-15 early in the fourth, the biggest lead the home team would see.
Sitting on the bleachers late in the girls game, Zimmerman was using Sunbury's matchup zone defense as a learning tool for his team, a lesson whose importance wasn't obvious until the boys game. Zimmerman admitted to frustration when he saw a player running around the court looking for his place.
"When you're playing with three young guys who have hardly any varsity experience it really makes it difficult," he said. "Defensively, we're not there - guys aren't rotating, guys aren't playing their guys. We ran man-to-man and just kind of got out of kilter a little bit."
By the fourth, the Eagle starters were on the bench and the Juniata Mennonite squad was trying to write a script for a more promising future, giving up just one more bucket while scoring 14 points against the bench on the way to the final.
"It's a learning curve for these guys, and I think they're going to get it. We have a team on the floor, and that means they can learn," Zimmerman said.
The Lions (1-6, 1-5) host Watsontown Christian Thursday.