East Juniata survives in rivalry tilt
Experience a factor as EJ tops Indians
MIFFLINTOWN–Every time the Juniata and East Juniata girls basketball teams square off, it’s a must-watch game. Last season, the teams played in two memorable contests that varied in their results. The Tigers went into Juniata’s home court and routed them, then later in the season, the Indians returned the favor, rallying for a late, fourth-quarter win in the regular-season finale.
East Juniata’s 43-40 win on Tuesday night kept the streak of memorable games alive. There weren’t any wild plays or a crazy finish, but instead, two talented teams traded blows in a classic, rivalry matchup.
Tigers coach Travis Quici spoke highly of the young, Indians teams that hung around with his more experienced roster.
“That’s a good, young basketball team. They’re gonna be a force to be reckoned with for the next couple years,” Quici said.
Both teams came out ready to play and showed up on the defensive end. The Tigers kept the Indians top-scorer, Mackenzie Bennett, off the board, but they allowed freshman center Ava Shearer to score all of the Indians’ six first-quarter points.
East Juniata’s Alyssa Robinson buried two three-pointers in the first to give the Tigers a 10-6 lead.
While the Tigers maintained their pace on offense in the second quarter, the Indians pieced things together and shots started to fall. Bennett got on the board, scoring five points in the quarter, while Lorena Rivera, Talon Walton and Shearer all added three points.
While Bennett was making plays all over the floor and being the team’s leader, Shearer was a force on the inside. The freshman scored a game-high 16 points, grabbing eight rebounds and swatting away six shots.
“She’s unstoppable. She’s a beast in there… It’s nice having a good post player that gets its done,” Smith said. “You don’t think a freshman center is gonna step up like that… but she’s a very talented kid.”
When the dust settled, the game was tied at 20 heading into the second half. Quici was less than pleased with the effort his team put out in the first 16 minutes.
“Last night, we didn’t have a great practice. Everybody was kinda sluggish,” Quici explained. “(We came) in here in the first half and played the same way. Their girls wanted it more than we did. We challenged the girls at halftime. We challenged everybody to step up and make a play.”
The Tigers responded to the challenge and used their experience to take a healthy lead over the Indians. East Juniata knocked down seven field goals and stepped up on defense. The tie at halftime quickly swung in favor of East Juniata and they held 35-28 lead heading into the final quarter.
“(That was) a momentum change at that point,” Smith said about the third quarter. “They did a good job of shutting down (Shearer) down low–they were double-teaming her, and they knew what we had inside.”
Early in the fourth quarter, Tigers’ guard Cypress Feltman stole the ball and was seemingly headed to an easy layup that would’ve given her team a nine-point lead. However, Bennett had other ideas as she chased down Feltman and smacked the ball out of her hands before she could make the shot.
The hustle play not only invigorated the fans, but the Indians as well. They began to chip away at the Tigers’ lead as East Juniata took its time on offense, trying to stop any Indians’ momentum.
“We knew we were up three possessions, and the way (Bennett) shoots and with Shearer inside, that could be an And-1 at any time,” Quici explained. “We can run a minute off the clock in our continuity offense and get a layup, but we ended up turning the ball over or taking an ill-advised shot.”
East Juniata responded as well as veterans can, making clutch layups and hitting necessary free throws late in the game to prevent the home team from leaving the gym with a win.
Juniata’s Rivera buried a 3-pointer and Shearer hit a layup to close the gap to 41-37, but Feltman and Leah Sankey hit their free throws to put the game out of reach.
Bennett then hit a three at the buzzer to end the game at 43-40.
While not entirely pleased with his teams’ overall performance, Quici will take the win and the lessons they learned in Tuesday’s contest.
“(There’s) stuff to learn from and you can learn from your wins,” Quici said. “I’m happy with it–back to the drawing board tomorrow.”
Quici is working with a team full of upperclassmen while Smith is sending out multiple underclassmen onto the floor. Each coach expects success and to learn from wins and losses. For Smith and the Indians, playing in a game like this will only benefit the team moving forward, knowing that they’re never out of a game.
“There’s just some lack of experience out there in those situations,” Smith said. “I’m trying to get them to foul and they’re just trying to play good defense… (The younger players) aren’t used to playing in those situations as much. They’ve grown so much already, and it has only been three games.”
In their return to action, East Juniata will host Upper Dauphin on Thursday. Juniata also plays Thursday, but they will travel to take on Susquenita.
East Juniata 43, Juniata 40
Alyssa Robinson 5 0-1 14, Leah Sankey 3 3-6 9, Marissa Coudriet 3 2-3 8, Cypress Feltman 2 2-2 6, Isabel Naylor 2 0-0 4, Amara Brubaker 2 0-1 2. Totals: 17 7-13 43.
3-point goals: Robinson 4.
Ava Shearer 7 2-3 16, Mackenzie Bennett 5 0-0 13, Lorena Rivera 2 0-0 6, Talon Walton 1 0-0 3, Cora Musser 1 0-0 2.
3-point goals: Bennett 3, Rivera 2, Walton.
Did not score: Anna Mae O’Brien, Haley Mummah, Shalelyn Armstrong.
Score by quarters:
EJ 10-10-15-8 43
J 6-14-8-12 40