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Some positive signs in early non-league games, combined with promising performances in the past by a group of this year's returning players, give reason to believe this could be a successful season for Susquehanna County boys' basketball teams.
Forest City, Susquehanna and Elk Lake all return size and proven scoring threats that could put the three teams in a race for the Lackawanna League Division 3 title. Mountain View lost many of its top players, but still returns others with experience from last season's division championship team.
Blue Ridge and Montrose are also part of the division, along with Carbondale and Lackawanna Trail.
Forest City got its season off to an impressive start by winning the Finan Memorial Tournament at Carbondale last week.
Jesse Walsh, a 6-foot-7 junior center, was tournament MVP. He started his season with 27 points and 18 rebounds in a 63-40 win over Honesdale, then had 12 points in the 37-36 championship game victory over West Scranton.
Ian White and Chris Nebzydoski are also back. Both scored in double figures against Honesdale and made key plays down the stretch against West Scranton.
Kyle Shollock and Stan Vitzakovitch support the strong scoring combination.
The Foresters made it three wins in three nights when they beat Lakeland, 50-46, Wednesday.
Kirk Fallon and 6-foot-5 forward Brent Keyes are back for their fourth seasons with Susquehanna.
Fallon and Keyes led the team in scoring last season and did so again during a 2-1 start in which the only loss was in overtime against Unatego in the Deposit Tip-off Tournament final. Fallon was averaging 25 and Keyes more than 18 points through the first three games before the Sabers lost to GAR in Wilkes-Barre, 74-46, Saturday night.
Craig Soden, another senior, helped turn the season opener against Deposit into a rout with his defense.
Cody Scepaniak gives the Sabers another big man to work with Keyes.
Elk Lake's Jeff Madrak led the county in scoring last season as a sophomore.
Madrak and Payton Baltzley each had 21 on opening night when Elk Lake handled Carbondale, 66-46, in the Red Wallace Scholarship Game.
A.J. Lunger added 14 in that win, but it was Tom Greenwood who earned Elk Lake's game Most Valuable Player award for his all-around play.
The Warriors improved to 3-0 with Friday's 58-52 win over Athens. Madrak had 31 points in the win, giving him an average of 24 through three games.
Blue Ridge reached the final of the Lackawanna Trail Tournament before losing to the hosts Saturday to slip to 2-2.
Mountain View's Patrick Lambert and Montrose's Jeff Liddick are among the top returning players from other teams in the division.
WEEK IN REVIEW
Elk Lake made quick work of Scranton Prep, 78-6, in wrestling Saturday.
Keaton Bennett (103), Devin Fiorentino (119) and Derek Green (140) each needed less than a minute to post pins while Corey Benscoter (125), Jack Bolyard (135), Anthony Juser (152) and Joshua Alston (285) each finished off their opponents before the first period was over.
In girls' basketball, South Carolina recruit Becky Burke had 21 of her 24 points in the first 13 minutes as Abington Heights blew the game open early in a 59-18 romp over Montrose Saturday afternoon.
In high school football, District 2 will have its first state finalist in 10 years.
Dunmore ended the dry spell Saturday when it pounded District 4 champion Loyalsock, 28-7, at Shamokin.
Michael Perry ran for 245 yards while Miller Holmes threw for two touchdowns and ran for another to lead the Bucks.
Dunmore returns to the state final for the first time since 1989 when it crushed Keystone, 57-18, to set a championship game scoring record that still stands.
The Bucks were one of five schools that captured championships in the first decade of state play (1988-1997) when District 2 went 10-3 in finals.
Matt Hornak and Robbie Johnson have combined to help Misericordia University to get off to a strong start in men's basketball.
Hornak, a 6-foot-5 senior forward from Montrose, is seeing the most playing time on the team while Johnson, a 6-foot guard from Mountain View, is the most used player off the bench.
Misericordia went into the semester break on a four-game winning streak that improved the Cougars to 7-2.
Hornak had a team-high 18 points in a 67-61 win at Centenary for the third win in the streak. He has also led the team in rebounding four times.
Hornak is the team leader in rebounds with 6.7 per game and blocked shots with nine while sharing the lead with 14 steals. He is averaging 10.2 points per game, third on the team, by shooting 35-for-86 (40.7 percent) from the floor, 9-for-27 (33.3 percent) on 3-pointers and 7-for-12 (58.3 percent) from the line. Hornak is also third in assists with 20.
Johnson is playing almost 22 minutes per game and averaging 4.9 points. He is 18-for-45 (40 percent) from the floor, 3-for-9 (33.3 percent) on 3-pointers and 5-for-10 (50 percent) from the foul line. He has 11 assists and six steals.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Dunmore will go for the state championship Saturday at 1 p.m. at Hersheypark Stadium in a game that will be televised by PCN.
The Bucks (14-1) will have to try to find a way to stop Jeannette, the highest-scoring team in state history.
Jeannette, led by Tyrelle Pryor, arguably the state's best high school football player, is 15-0 with an average of 53.1 points per game after beating Wilmington, 41-21, in the other semifinal.
In that game, Pryor became the first player in Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League history to both run and pass for more than 4,000 yards in a career.
Pryor carried 16 times for 158 yards and a touchdown, was 9-for-13 passing for 142 yards and a touchdown, returned an interception 100 yards for a score, returned two kickoffs 65 yards and had a sack against Wilmington.
With a correct pick in last week's game, our record on high school football predictions is 17-2 (89.5 percent) in the playoffs and 103-22 (82.4 percent) for the season. Our prediction for the state final is: Jeannette 32, Dunmore 20.
In high school basketball, the Lackawanna League season gets underway Monday.
The highlights of opening night of the Division 3 season are Forest City at defending champion Mountain View in a boys' game, and Elk Lake at Lackawanna Trail in a girls' game.
TOM ROBINSON writes a weekly local sports column for the Susquehanna County Transcript. He can be reached online at RobbyTR@aol.com.
The Racing Reporter
Andy Petree Has Been There, Done That.
From the track to the broadcast booth, Andy Petree has come full circle in racing.
As a television commentator on ABC and ESPN, he is able to share a lot of racing experiences and his style has caught on with the fans.
And there isn’t a nicer guy in the sport.
1997 photo of Andy Petree.
Born in Newton, NC, he has been a long-time fixture in NASCAR racing. After spending many years racing on local tracks, including Hickory Motor Speedway, he became part owner of the No. 32 Busch car with Dale Jarrett.
In 1977, just as Jarrett was trying to start his racing career, Petree, a high school friend, helped him form DAJ Racing to run in the limited sportsman class at Hickory (N.C.) Speedway. The "D" in DAJ stood for Dale, the "A" for Andy and the "J" for another friend, Jimmy Newsome.
“Even though it's been a lot of years ago, it doesn't seem that long ago that we were riding down the streets of Newton,” said Petree. “I was driving a pickup truck and we worked out of our small race shop in downtown Newton.”
By the age of 28, he was crew chief for Harry Gant, the driver of Leo Jackson’s No. 33.
Petree went on to win two NASCAR Cup championships as a crew chief for the late Dale Earnhardt. He later won races with his own team, and drove in some Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series races.
He moved into team ownership after the 1996 season when he took control of the No. 33 Skoal Bandit car driven by Gant. But Gant retired at the end of the 1997 season, and Ken Schrader drove the car to a 10th-place in the final Winston Cup standings.
In 1998, Schrader had three top-5s and 11 top-10s, but finished 12th in points. Late in the season, Petree added a second car. Hut Stricklin drove it first, but Kenny Wallace finished the season in it.
The struggles of adding a second car and lack of sponsorship showed in 1999. Schrader struggled to a 15th place finish. Wallace was more flashy but also inconsistent. He earned his career-best finish of 2nd at New Hampshire International Speedway, but finished 22nd in points.
The 2000 season was a lot better. Joe Nemechek, who had replaced Schrader, was solid as he won a pole, had 3 top-5s and 9 top-10s. That enabled him to finish 15th in points.
Still searching for victory in 2001, Petree kept Nemechek in the No. 33 and hired Bobby Hamilton to drive the No. 55. A third team with Geoffrey Bodine as the driver made one start in 2000, but the deal fell through.
2001 turned out to be Petree's best season. Hamilton held off Tony Stewart in a thriller at Talladega to give Petree his first career win.
Mike Wallace drove the car for four races in 2002. However, with a best finish of 21st at Daytona, the No. 33 team's glory days were over. Andy Petree was backed in a corner.
By February 2003, his Cup team was history.
“I guess you could say I had to wear two different kind of hats,” continued Petree. “The first was as a car owner, but the really hard one was dealing with sponsors. Each week more and more of my time was consumed with trying to improve our financial situation.
“We had to have sponsors. Where most teams have marketing and P/R guys working for them, I had to handle those chores as well as taking care of the race team. It got harder and harder.
“I guess there has been a lot of frustration – over the last few years, anyway. The first few years were very encouraging. We were building on something that basically started with very little, and got to the point where we were winning.
“We thought we had things on the right track but then we hit a bump in the road with the economy and weren't able to keep our sponsorships.”
On October 12, 2006, Petree signed on with ABC/ESPN as part of their broadcast team. Petree, Dr. Jerry Punch and Rusty Wallace anchored the network’s broadcast during the last half of the 2007 racing season.
Petree is scheduled to return to the ABC broadcast booth in 2008, along with Punch and Wallace.
Top 2007 NASCAR News Stories – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. announcing that he was leaving Dale Earnhardt Inc. at the end of the season and moving to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008 was voted the top NASCAR story for 2007 by members of the media.
Members of the media ranked the top highlights of the 2007 NASCAR season on NASCARMedia.com. A total of 141 votes were cast online between November 26 and December 4. Each highlight received 10 points for a first-place vote, nine points for a second-place vote, eight points for a third-place vote, etc. down to one point for 10th.
Earnhardt's announcements garnered 64 first-place votes and finished with 1,243 points. Jimmie Johnson winning his second consecutive Nextel Cup Series championship earned 16 first-place votes and finished second with 1,028 points. The rest of the top 10: 3. Gordon passing Dale Earnhardt on the all-time wins list, 4. The close finishes at Daytona, 5. The introduction of the Car of Tomorrow at Bristol, 6. Juan Pablo Montoya becoming the first Hispanic driver to win a race in NASCAR's top two series, 7. Clint Bowyer winning his first career race as the No. 12 seed in the Chase for the Nextel Cup, 8. Johnson out-dueling Matt Kenseth for the win in the closing laps of the Dickies 500 at Texas, 9. The thrilling finish in NASCAR's first-ever national series race in Canada, 10. Ron Hornaday, Jr. becoming the second driver in Craftsman Truck Series history to win three championships.
Craftsman Out After 2008 – Craftsman, the series sponsor of the NASCAR Truck Series since its inception in 1995, will be out as the title sponsor of the series at the end of the upcoming 2008 season.
NASCAR doesn’t know who will take Craftsman's place as title sponsor of the series. They said last week that they expect to begin negotiations with several viable candidates soon.
Steve Phelps, NASCAR's chief marketing officer, told Joe Menzer of nascar.com that because of the popularity of the series in recent years and the close, competitive action on the track during its 25 annual events, he expects to find the right fit with little difficulty.
“The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series represents some of the world's best racing,” Phelps said. “The season championship has been determined in the final race of the year in 12 of 13 seasons -- including 2007. The series continues to attract some of NASCAR's most avid fans because of its intense, side-by-side competition.”
Earlier this year, NASCAR's other two national series – the Nextel Cup Series and the Busch Series – announced they would be going with new title sponsors and changing their names beginning next season. Sprint Cup will become the name of the top series, and the Busch Series will become the Nationwide Series.
Racing Trivia Question: Sam Hornish is an open-wheel driver that will be running a full Cup schedule next year. Which team will he drive for?
Last Week’s Question: Which Cup driver will be driving Car No. 88 in 2008? Answer: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will be in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88.
You may contact the Racing Reporter at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Montrose football coach Jack Keihl started the season with a plan to rest Jared Fowler occasionally on defense.
The plan did not last very long.
"We realized in the second or third game, that he was just too good an athlete to have off the field," Fowler said.
The next question became just where on the field to put Fowler.
The three-year starter spent his senior season playing a number of positions, based on where the injury-plagued team needed him most.
Along the way, Fowler rushed for more than 1,000 yards, hitting that mark while leading the Meteors to a 24-18 win over Susquehanna in the season finale.
For his 145-yard, two-touchdown game against the Sabers and a 12-rebound effort in the basketball team's opening, 36-32 loss to Riverside, Fowler has been selected as the Susquehanna County Transcript Athlete of the Month for November.
"Beating Susquehanna was obviously the main goal because they're our big rival," Fowler said. "That game, especially, made it no problem for the 1,000 yards to take a back seat to winning."
Throughout the season, Fowler did what his team needed. That helped the Meteors finish strong, taking their last two games in a 3-7 season.
"With the injuries we had, we had to move him around," Keihl said. "He understood that and was OK with that.
"We moved him around, playing him at defensive end and linebacker. On offense, he had to move to fullback (from tailback) for two or three games late in the season and we split him out quite a bit."
Fowler said the changes were difficult at times, but he did his best to adjust.
"I planned on playing defense 100 percent of the time," he said. "Wherever they needed to put me, I played."
Fowler is back on the basketball team as the starting center. He was on the varsity as a sophomore and took his junior year off.
Jared is the son of Jim and Nancy Fowler of Brackney.
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