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CARBONDALE – In one game, with the championship on the line during an all-season playoff, the Elk Lake boys' basketball team summed up its entire Lackawanna League Division III season.
The Warriors looked unstoppable in the beginning, clearly establishing themselves as the division's best team.
They fell apart for a significant period of time, giving back much of the advantage they had established.
But, in the end, they reasserted themselves and walked away as champions.
Elk Lake followed that path against Lackawanna Trail in the division title game, squandering every bit of a 17-point lead before pulling away down the stretch for a 63-56 victory.
The game was needed because Elk Lake, after winning its first six games and clinching the first-half championship, lost five of its final eight league games while Lackawanna Trail emerged as the second-half champion to force the playoff.
"It's been tough playing outside of our gym lately," Elk Lake coach John Warnero said. "We haven't been shooting the ball very well."
The Warriors shot much better from the start in the February 11 championship game.
A.J. Lunger and Tom Greenwood hit 3s as Elk Lake ran off 12 straight points to sprint to a 14-2 lead.
The Warriors extended the lead to 27-10 at the midway point in the second quarter by pounding the Lions on the board, pulling down 22 of the game's first 27 rebounds.
Elk Lake physically took control during that time with Mike Greenwood grabbing eight of his game-high 15 rebounds and Payton Baltzley setting picks to get his teammates open for shots.
"That's something coach told everyone that we have to box out because this team has good leapers," Greenwood said. "He told me, Payton and the others to box out, get the rebounds and look to make quick outlets."
Warnero was pleased with the way the entire team got in on the rebounding.
"That's one thing we really focused on this week; to be the best rebounders we could be," Warnero said. "Trail is so athletic and they crash the boards so well.
"The big guys benefited but a lot of it was because the guards were boxing out, too, and keeping people off the boards."
Elk Lake's offense eventually cooled.
The Warriors turned the ball over six times in 2 1/2 minutes, including on four straight possessions, late in the half. Trail scored the last seven points of the half to close within, 27-17.
The rebounding battle evened out for the remainder of the game, the Warriors lost some of their defensive intensity and senior guard A.J. Lunger was forced to the bench with foul trouble.
Those factors combined with some improved shooting to bring Trail back to tie the game three times – at 36 in the final minute of the third quarter and again at 39 and 44 in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter.
The struggles were even worse when Lunger sat. During the 8:38 he was on the bench with foul trouble, the Lions outscored the Warriors, 17-8.
Lunger, however, returned in time to settle Elk Lake down the stretch.
"A.J. Lunger really stepped up his play," Warnero said. "He's been doing that. When he was not in the game, things changed.
"The presence of a senior on the court brought us back to where we needed to be."
Lunger's 3-pointer with 4:01 remaining broke the last tie and he hit 10 straight free throws in the final 1:07. Jeff Madrak also connected on two as the Warriors made 12 in a row before two late misses with the game already decided.
"We practice foul shots all the time, 50 to 75 a practice," Lunger said. "Everybody's confident. Once I get a rhythm on my foul shooting, I'm really confident."
Lunger used the late surge to finish with 19 points, including three 3-pointers. Madrak added 14, half of which came in the last nine minutes when he also blocked a couple of shots. Baltzley had 12 points.
"We got kind of careless with the ball for a while," Lunger said. "We knew we had to pick it up on D. We locked them down at the end."
Trail was led by Christian Sunseri with 19 points and Casey Cathrall with 16.
WEEK IN REVIEW
Lunger was at it again later in the week when he helped Elk Lake advance to the District 2 Class AA quarterfinals.
The third-seeded Warriors needed Lunger's two free throws in the final minute to avoid an upset by 14th-seeded Wilkes-Barre Meyers, 63-62.
Mountain View also advanced in Class AA when Patrick Lambert scored 20 points and Alex Pashchuk added 14 in a 47-42 victory over Riverside.
Blue Ridge won a Class AA preliminary round game, but then was eliminated Friday, along with Montrose.
John Dixon scored 20 points to lead four Blue Ridge players in double figures in an 82-46 victory over West Side Tech.
Eric Onyon added 15 points, Ben Hinkley had 13 and Jared Conklin 12 for the Raiders, who led, 69-33, after three quarters.
Top-seeded Wyoming Seminary handled Blue Ridge, 67-47, despite three more players reaching double figures.
Kurt Post had 13 points, Blaise Ross had 11 and Hinkley had 10.
Montrose managed just eight field goals in a 41-22 loss at Northwest.
Forest City and Susquehanna were scheduled to meet Monday night in a Class A semifinal, their tournament opener because there are just four teams in the field.
In girls' basketball, Montrose was the only one to advance of five Susquehanna County teams playing in the Class AA tournament.
The Lady Meteors opened a big lead at home on the way to a 53-43 victory over Lackawanna Trail.
Montrose led, 42-24, going into the fourth quarter.
Julia Koloski had 17 points and nine steals, Monica Turner had 16 points and eight rebounds and Chelsea Lunger had 10 points and five assists.
In other Saturday games: Wilkes-Barre Meyers defeated Elk Lake, 43-34; Northwest beat Blue Ridge, 42-32; and Holy Cross stopped Mountain View, 53-44.
Karley Caines had 15 points for Elk Lake in its loss.
Susquehanna was one of the first two teams eliminated from the tournament when it lost a home game to Mid Valley, 53-46, in the Class AA preliminary round.
Forest City was scheduled to play in the Class A semifinals Tuesday.
Montrose closed out the regular season with a 42-34, non-league loss at Old Forge.
The Lady Meteors led, 15-12, at halftime before being outscored, 22-10, in the third quarter.
Turner scored 12 points and Koloski added 10 for Montrose.
Kate LaBarbera, a basketball and soccer all-star during her high school days at Montrose, has taken up a new sport at Drexel University.
LaBarbera, a junior, is a member of the crew team at Drexel. She has competed in junior varsity events last season and this season.
Drexel had four competitions in the fall and will begin its 10-event spring schedule March 8 on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.
THE WEEK AHEAD
The District 2 Class AA Wrestling Championships are scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Scranton Prep.
Elk Lake's Derek Green, Anthony Juser and Derek Noldy will all have a chance to improve on second-place finishes a year ago when they helped the Warriors finish fifth in the team race.
Blue Ridge's Tim Esposito and Alex Stanton are back after taking third place last year.
The District 2 Class AA basketball tournaments continue toward the boys' finals Friday and the girls' finals on Saturday.
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
“Rocket Man” Ryan Rules At Daytona, Daytona Beach, FL – Ryan “Rocket Man” Newman, with the help of his teammate, Kurt Busch made it a 1-2 finish for Penske Racing in Sunday’s Daytona 500.
Newman cuts donuts on the track after winning the Daytona 500.
Photo courtesy of NASCAR.
“Without Kurt there was no way I could have won it,” said Newman. “It was just a great effort. We had an awesome team, and the Penske Dodge was awesome.
“My dad was spotting for me. My grandmother is here, and there are so many people that contributed to this win.”
Newman had moved near the front of the field of cars late in the race. During lap 186 of the 200-lap race he gained the lead, but lost it two laps later to Jeff Burton.
There were three cautions during the last 15 laps. Chevrolet driver, Burton, lost the lead to Tony Stewart in a Toyota on lap 198. When the field took the white flag, it was Stewart, Newman, Kyle Busch, and Kurt Busch.
As the field exited Turn-2, Newman went high and Kurt Busch followed, and stayed right on the rear bumper of Newman’s No. 12 Alltel Dodge.
As the cars came out of Turn-4 and were heading toward the finish line, Busch swerved to go right, in order to make his own charge for the lead, but dropped back and pushed Newman across the stripe, ahead of Stewart and his teammate, Kyle Busch.
“Tony blocked me hard, and thought he had me, but thankfully, Kurt came with me and we stuck together,” continued Newman.
Newman had gone 82 races since his last win.
Kurt Busch finished second, followed by Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, and Reed Sorenson.
“We had a great car, but it was a big disappointment,” said Stewart. “I don’t think too many people would like it if they took the white flag and then finished third.”
Kyle Busch led the most laps (86) and appeared to have the strongest car, but he and Stewart’s end-of-the-race strategy couldn’t hold up against the Dodges of Newman and Kurt Busch.
There were six Dodges in the top-10; two Toyotas; one Ford, and one Chevrolet.
Jeff Gordon had suspension problems on his No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet. After a lengthy stay in the garage for repairs, he finished 39th. “It wasn’t safe for us to be out there. We had a good car, but we just couldn’t stay on the track,” he said.
His teammate, Jimmie Johnson got bumped from behind by Sam Hornish on lap 175, causing him and Martin Truex, Jr. to spin out.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. led three different times, but he did not take on any fresh tires during the last 35 laps, and could not keep up with the leaders at the end.
David Ragan slipped up the track midway during the race and slammed his teammate, Matt Kenseth into the outside wall. Ragan was out of the race, but Kenseth managed to finish six laps down.
Top ten finishing order: 1. Ryan Newman, 2. Kurt Busch, 3. Tony Stewart, 4. Kyle Busch, 5. Reed Sorenson, 6. Elliott Sadler, 7. Kasey Kahne, 8. Robby Gordon, 9. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., 10. Greg Biffle.
Top-10 leaders after 1 of 36: 1. Newman-190, 2. Kurt Busch-175, 3. Stewart-170, 4. Kyle Busch-170, 5. Sorenson-160, 6. Kahne-150, 7. Earnhardt-143, 8. Robby Gordon-142, Biffle-139, 9. Labonte-130, 10. Burton-129.
Weekend Highs and Lows – One of the high points of the past week’s racing was turned in by John Andretti.
Andretti’s 40th–place finish Daytona finish won’t be remembered by a lot of racing fans. But the driver of the small, independent Front Row Motorsports team beat the odds by racing his way into the 50th Daytona 500.
The team’s one and only car had not even been wind-tunnel tested.
“I wish I would have put money in Vegas on me making this race,” Andretti said. “We were definitely not somebody expected.
“I don't know what to say. I didn't expect to be here. I think the team has done a great job. I'm really proud of this race team.”
Don’t forget to pat yourself on the back, John. You deserve it.
Andretti’s single Cup win came in the 1997 Pepsi 400 at Daytona while driving for Cale Yarborough. He finished 23rd in series points that season, but the team folded after losing their sponsor.
Since 1993, when he ran only four races for Billy Hagan, Andretti has raced for nine different, sub par teams.
There isn’t a nicer guy in racing, and while he didn’t come close to winning this past Sunday, he turned in an incredible performance, based on what he had to race with.
One of the lowest points of this year’s 500 was the absence of a car owned by the Wood Brothers.
Former Cup champion Bill Elliott tried, but was unable to qualify the No. 21 Wood Bros. Ford for the race.
“I don't think there are words that can describe it, but that's life,” Elliott said. “There will be days like this... I'm just bummed out.”
For 45 consecutive years, the Wood Brothers race team had placed at least one car in the Daytona 500 starting field.
One of the team’s biggest wins came in 1963 when Tiny Lund won the Daytona 500 in storybook fashion.
“I'm really proud of my guys, the whole group,” said co-owner Eddie Wood. “Our race team is better than it was last year, by far. We don't have the results – but our practice times and everything we did this week were better than what we've had in the past.
“It's hard being a single-car team like we are. We didn't make the Daytona 500, but we were here to attempt making the Daytona 500 – and there are a lot of people who can't say that.”
Elliott was placed in the position of having to race his way in, because the team failed to finish in the top-35 in owner's points last season.
Wood Brothers Racing is not done, Eddie insisted. But he did admit that missing this year’s Daytona 500 is a big blow, one that hurts deeply.
Jon Wood, the third generation Wood Bros. driver will try to carry on the family name.
His first race in the No. 21 U.S. Air Force Sprint Cup Ford will be at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 2. But, just like at Daytona, he will have to race his way in.
Next week’s feature will focus on the open-wheel drivers that have invaded NASCAR.
All three of NASCAR’s major series’ will be at the 2.0-mile California Speedway in Fontana, CA.
Saturday, February 23: 3 p.m., Fox TV. Craftsman Trucks Series: 7 p.m., ESPN2: Nationwide Series.
Sunday, February 24, Sprint Cup Auto Club 500, 250 laps/500 miles, 3:30 p.m. TV: Fox.
Racing Trivia Question: Mark Martin’s Cup career is winding down. What state is he from?
Last Week’s Question: Has the Daytona 500 always been the first race of the year? No, it wasn’t until 1982 that Daytona became the first race on the schedule. Some of the other tracks that hosted the opening race since 1958 were: Fayetteville and Charlotte, NC, Birmingham, AL, Augusta and Macon, GA, and Riverside, CA.
You may contact the Racing Reporter at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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