Tigers stung by Wellsboro

MONTOURSVILLE – When the fourth-seeded East Juniata boys defeated Towanda in the quarterfinals of the District 4 Class AA tournament, they made history by not only marking 19 wins in a single season, but by notching their first District 4 playoff win since the former District 3 school moved over.

Wednesday, the Tigers got a bitter taste of what the other District 4 teams have to offer.

After falling behind the top-ranked Wellsboro Hornets early in the first quarter, East Juniata could never climb out of the hole, falling to the tune of a 53-29 final.

“This is playoff basketball, and we were introduced to what it takes to play at this level. We didn’t respond early, and I thought they did some things well early and we didn’t match their intensity,” East Juniata coach Brock Anders said.

The one thing the Hornets definitely did right was score early – and score a lot. Wellsboro has three players averaging in double figures each night, and Wednesday the Hornets quickly made it obvious why this is the case as buckets from four players, including four from Jordan Jackson for a nine-point quarter, put Wellsboro up 17-6 at the end of the opening stanza.

Wellsboro’s offense was just cutting ribbons through East Juniata’s defense, making quick passes and cuts to the basket to keep the Tigers off their balance the entire first quarter.

But if Wellsboro’s offense was working well in the first, even more important was its defense, which kept East Juniata high scorers Nick Lorenz and Bailey Coder at bay.

“I said going in, if we can hold (Coder and Lorenz) to 20, 21 points, we’d have a very good chance of winning that game,” Wellsboro coach Todd Outman said.

Outman’s team held the duo to half that – combined.

To begin the second quarter, Wellsboro really dug in deep, outscoring East Juniata 12-2 in the first four minutes to expand the lead to 29-8.

“After parts of the first quarter into the rest of the game I thought we finally showed up,” Anders said, but by that point, even though it was early in the game, it was too little, too late.

After falling far behind in the second quarter, East Juniata did rally offensively to put up nine more points, resulting in a 29-17 score heading into the locker room. This offensive rally was shared by Dillon Leonard and David Brantley, who both put up threes, and Lorenz, who got things started with an old fashioned three-point play.

For the rest of the game, Wellsboro’s offense became a little more streaky, as the Hornets and Tigers took turns making small scoring runs. Many of Wellsboro’s second-half points came from Matt Reese, who beat East Juniata on the baseline time and again to put up 12 second-half points on his way to a game-high 16.

On the Tigers’ end of the floor, a strong third quarter from Lorenz, who put up six in the quarter, highlighted the second-half effort.

“I think a lot of our youth and inexperience showed tonight, and that’s a credit to how well (Wellsboro) plays,” Anders said.

On Saturday, both teams will have one more round of disictt play before the state tournament begins. East Juniata will appear in the consolation game for third place against No. 2 Lewisburg, which lost to Loyalsock 64-55. The game is set for 3 p.m. Saturday at Shamokin High School.

Three teams from District 4 advance to the state tournament, so only the winner survives.

“We’ve got to respond. We’ve got to get to practice tomorrow and put this behind us, get our focus back on Lewisburg. You know, it’s a one game season, and we have some seniors and some leaders we’re going to have to rely on, and we’re going to have to recover from this and see how we move on,” Anders said.

Wellsboro will play the championship game against Loyalsock 3 p.m. Saturday at Mansfield University.

Outman knows that his team will have a tough matchup against Loyalsock, especially against senior Roger Wilson, who regularly completes his games with double-doubles.

“We have our hands full, no doubt about that. But if we can control Wilson, I think we can hang in the game,” he said.

Notes: East Juniata played its first-round game a year ago on a Saturday afternoon at Shamokin, an outing the Tigers likely would rather forget – they dropped a nine-point decision to another Heartland Conference opponent, Southern Columbia. … Lewisburg has only four losses this season – all four are to Loyalsock.