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Four Lackawanna League Division III boys' basketball teams came back from the holiday break with a share of first place.
Susquehanna was the only one of those teams to win twice last week. The Sabers emerged from the first week of action in 2005 with sole possession of first place, clinching at least a tie for the first-half title in the process.
The Sabers first avoided an upset, then used clutch foul shooting down the stretch to defeat Lackawanna Trail in a matchup that decided first place.
By beating Forest City, 64-51, and Lackawanna Trail, 55-54, Susquehanna put itself in position to win the first-half title Tuesday night when it was scheduled to face Elk Lake.
The Sabers moved into that position by displaying the biggest factor in their drastic improvement over the previous two seasons.
Kevin Lee, a 1,000-point career scorer and three-year starter, continued to play a key role but got plenty of help.
"The last couple of years, Kevin was an all-star, but there were not a lot of performances around him," Sabers coach Scott Glidden said. "We're getting a good mix from our other players."
Adam Schiffer poured in 25 points during the win over Forest City. Freshman Brent Keyes added 14 points and Lee had 12.
Freshman reserve guard Kirk Fallon scored 10 points, including seven in the fourth quarter and four on foul shots in the final minute of the win over Lackawanna Trail.
When Fallon finally missed a free throw, Lee was there for the rebound to clinch the win. Lee finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds while Sean Wolf added 14 points.
After a mediocre start in non-league play, the Sabers have improved quickly with a lineup that features two freshmen in the top six. Keyes and Fallon helped Susquehanna win a junior high championship last season.
"The kids have progressed," Glidden said. "When you're looking at playing freshmen, you're never sure what you'll get.
"The young kids have been able to go hard 5-on-5 every day in practice. Some years, you don't have that and without it you can't improve as fast."
The depth has raised the level of competitiveness and increased the speed of the learning process.
Wolf, a 6-foot-6 senior, is joined by Keyes and Lee, both 6-foot-5, to give the Sabers a big lineup, but one that can also score away from the basket.
Fallon backs up Schiffer, a 6-foot senior, and Ernie Taylor, a 5-foot-9 junior point guard, in the backcourt.
WEEK IN REVIEW
Montrose and Elk Lake were part of the four-way tie when the week started.
After being upset by Carbondale Sacred Heart, 80-78, Montrose recovered to top Forest City, 71-61, and remain alive in the first-half race.
Elk Lake lost twice to fall to 3-3 and was eliminated from contention.
Montrose had balanced scoring in each game.
Tom Burgh scored 18 while Kyle Stoddard added 12 and Brandon Pipher and Chris Strohl had 11 each in the win over Forest City.
Matt Pisarcik scored 24 and Ryan Ogozaly added 19 for the Foresters.
Blue Ridge picked up a pair of wins, beating Elk Lake, 45-35, and Sacred Heart, 74-61.
In girls' basketball, Montrose remained unbeaten and tied for the lead going into its Monday game against division co-leader Lackawanna Trail for the first-half title.
The Lady Meteors made it look easy with a 75-18 rout of Carbondale Sacred Heart and a 48-18 romp over Forest City.
All 10 players scored against Sacred Heart. Amanda Lass led the way with 12 points while Valissa Persing and Brittany Ely added 11 each. Chelsey Parvin had 10 points, 11 rebounds and three blocked shots.
Lass also led against Forest City with 11 points. Erika Brown added 10 points and five assists.
In wrestling, hazardous travel conditions wiped out the Zurn-Bush Duals at Elk Lake, but Mountain View made the trip for the Delaware Valley Duals.
The Eagles went 2-4 to place fifth in the event.
They defeated Wilkes-Barre GAR, 36-30, picked up a forfeit win over Wallenpaupack and fell to Lackawanna Trail, Wyoming Valley West, Manheim Township and Delaware Valley.
Greg Nixon, Joe Johnson and Matt Panasevich each went 4-1 and made the all-tournament team.
Nixon (145) had two pins and a major decision. His only loss came in overtime.
Johnson (160) had two pins and a technical fall.
Panasevich (189) had three first-period pins and a forfeit. His only loss came in a double overtime rideout to Delaware Valley's Dave Sullivan.
In professional hockey, the Binghamton Senators took over second place in the American Hockey League East Division Friday night with a 5-1, home-ice win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Ray Emery stopped 27 of 28 shots and Jason Spezza assisted on three power-play goals to lead the Senators.
Amanda Vitzakovitch is making the most of her limited playing opportunities as a freshman basketball player at West Chester University, an NCAA Division II school.
Vitzakovitch, a 5-foot-8 freshman guard from Forest City, has appeared in just two games but has eight points in 12 minutes.
In a December 21 meeting with Lock Haven, Vitzakovitch and Elk Lake graduate Kristy Shadduck combined to hit five of their six shots from the floor. Vitzakovitch scored six points in eight minutes of West Chester's 73-62 victory. Shadduck went 3-for-4 from the floor and scored seven points in 20 minutes for Lock Haven.
Vitzakovitch is 3-for-3 from the floor, including her only 3-point attempt, but just 1-for-5 on free throws. She has two offensive rebounds.
At Forest City, Vitzakovitch was a second-team Associated Press Class A all-state selection.
THE WEEK AHEAD
With the first half of league play scheduled to have been completed Monday in girls' basketball and Tuesday in boys' basketball, any playoffs for championships in Division III of the Lackawanna League will be held later in the week.
In wrestling, Blue Ridge is at Mountain View Wednesday and home against Scranton Prep Saturday. Montrose is at Susquehanna Saturday.
In professional hockey, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are back in Binghamton Friday night.
TOM ROBINSON writes a weekly local sports column for the Susquehanna County Transcript. He can be reached online at RobbyTR@aol.com.
JIMMY SPENCER To Run Three Series In 2005
Jimmy Spencer will be a busy man during the 2005 racing if everything goes as planned.
Spencer says his 2005 season in NASCAR racing will be "the busiest I've ever been," as the Pennsylvania veteran will race in all three of NASCAR's national touring series in addition to having a television role.
"I've got a full-time deal driving one of Ultra Motorsports' trucks and it's a pretty neat deal," Spencer said. "That team has a good history and I'm pretty excited about running for the championship for a team I've already won a race for.”
He will team with Ted Musgrave, a former Winston Cup driver.
"I'm looking forward to getting into a competitive truck and having Teddy (Musgrave) as a partner, and I've always respected Gene Nead (Musgrave's chief mechanic) as a crew chief,” continued Spencer.
Spencer, who won in Ultra's No. 2 Dodge truck in 2003 at New Hampshire, said Ultra Motorsports would hire a crew chief to work with his operation.
He also has a deal with new NASCAR owner Don Arnold to run a limited schedule of Nextel Cup Series races in Arnold's cars, which were No. 50 Dodges in 2004, dependent on the sponsorship package Arnold puts in place.
"Don (Arnold) is just a good guy and he's done a lot in a short amount of time," Spencer said of the owner who scored two victories with driver Todd Bodine with a startup Toyota Truck Series team last season. "He is looking to run fewer (Cup) races but to be more competitive and more prepared when we show up at the racetrack."
Arnold fielded cars in the first 12 races of 2004 for Derrike Cope and then skipped only one of the last 24 events, using four other drivers. The season finale at Homestead was the only race the team missed in 35 qualifying attempts.
Spencer will also compete in some 2005 Busch Series events in Michael Waltrip's cars.
Spencer said he also hopes to announce a deal that will have him on television this year, as well. And he is trying to put together a sponsorship program to field his own Busch car from his Spencer Motor Ventures shop.
"I'm really excited about this season -- I'm really looking forward to it," Spencer said. "All I've done my whole life is race."
Spencer has driven for several Cup teams during his career, the last one being for Morgan McClure Motorsports. That ride ended last fall after Spencer had an altercation with police at his Cornelius, NC home, involving his son.
He captured his first racing win in the Late Model division at Port Royal (Pa.) Speedway in 1976, and won Rookie of the Year honors from the Shangri-La (NY) Speedway in the asphalt Modified division three years later.
Shangri-La became the site of his back-to-back Modified track championships in 1982 and 1983. Having already been given the nickname "Mr. Excitement" for his aggressive driving style, Spencer solidified his reputation by winning consecutive national Winston Modified titles in 1986 and 1987.
With the Modified ranks conquered, Spencer made his jump to the NASCAR Busch Series in 1989 -- the same year in which he captured his first win at Hickory (NC) Motor Speedway. He won two more Busch Series races in 1992. By that time he had already established himself as one of the premier up-and-comers in the Cup circuit.
Spencer captured his first top-five finish in a Cup race in 1991, finished a career-best 12th in the championship points standings in 1993, and claimed his two wins in 1994.
Spencer earned his first win in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway, and then backed it up with a win in the Diehard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway a few months later.
In 2003, he became part of a select group of drivers who have won in all three of NASCAR's premier series: He won in his first ever Craftsman Truck Series start, at New Hampshire in September.
Despite Spencer's considerable success, he says his hero comes from off the track.
"I'd say (it's) definitely Max Helton (founder of Motor Racing Outreach). I've really grown spiritually the past few years, and Max has had a lot to do with that. I always enjoy our weekly Bible studies that Max and I have with other friends."
STEVE PARK Hopes To Get Back On Track – Brendan Gaughan nearly won the 2002 Craftsman Truck Series championship, and his departure from Orleans Racing was the perfect opportunity for Steve Park.
At least it seemed that way. Nothing, of course, is easy in NASCAR, and Park quickly found out how tough the Truck Series could be, especially when things are not at all as they seem.
Gaughan's team won six races in 2002, but crew chief Shane Wilson and some other personnel left to join Gaughan in Nextel Cup.
But Park, another former Winston Cup driver didn’t set the series on fire in 2004.
After four races, he had one DNF, two 27th-place finishes, a 26th and a 12th.
Things did better for Park and Orleans. The team found a team manager in Fritz Kroyer and settled on a crew chief in Charlie Wilson. A strong second half of the season helped Park finish ninth in points, up from 22nd after four races. He posted six top-10 finishes in the final 11 races, and though Park didn't win, he knew 2005 would be better.
"I think the way we ended the year last year is the way we're going to start this year," says Park. "It's definitely a lot better than the way we started 2004. Are we done yet? The answer to that is no. Even at the end of last year, we still wanted to get two or three more people. We spent all winter trying to accumulate those people. At least we're going to start off where we ended off the season last year. We're definitely in better shape."
The 2005 season will be the first time since before his 2001 head injury in the Busch Series that he will have spent two consecutive full seasons with the same team.
Racing Trivia Question: What city does Ryan Newman’s consider his hometown?
Last Week’s Question: Former NASCAR driver Pete Hamilton once said, “racing is not a sport, but rather a passion or disease.” What year was Hamilton named, NASCAR’s Grand National Rookie of the Year? Answer. 1968.
Gerald Hodges/the Racing Reporter is a syndicated NASCAR columnist. You can read additional racing stories by Hodges at www.race500.com.
The Mountain View Eagles and their center Tim Bennett made boys' basketball tournaments their specialty in the first month of the season.
Bennett won two Most Valuable Player awards and earned an all-tournament selection in a third event as Mountain View went 5-1 in tournament play.
"They're just as big as league games," Bennett said of the tournament contests. "I try to play the same way for all of them."
Bennett's tournament success made him the latest choice as the Susquehanna County Transcript Athlete of the Month.
The first tournament title came in the William McLaughlin Tournament.
"That was the first time in our school history to win that tournament at home so it was special," Bennett said.
Bennett was named MVP of the Forest City Rotary Tournament despite not leading the team in scoring in either game.
"He dominated on the defensive end inside," Mountain View coach Patrick Heaton said.
That is the specialty for Bennett, a starter since his freshman season and the leading scorer and rebounder on a balanced team.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder views his most important assignment as "shutting down the other team's big player inside. I just try outworking them."
Bennett, who earned his all-tournament selection during a third-place finish at the Honesdale Jaycees Tournament, is usually successful with that approach.
After a 7-5 start, including 2-2 in league play, Bennett is hoping to lead the Eagles into title contention in Division III of the Lackawanna League.
"We just want to get in position to win the league," he said. "If we can win the second half, we can do it. We just have to play as hard as we did in the tournaments."
Tim is the son of Ron and Christy Bennett of Clifford. He has also been on the Mountain View volleyball team for the past two seasons.
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