By Shawn Wood
For The Daily Item
SELINSGROVE -- On paper, Wednesday's Heartland Athletic Conference Division-I opener between Selinsgrove and Shamokin looked very much like it would be a tightly contested game.
Both teams were looking for a confidence-building win after getting the season off to a slow start.
With 6-foot-1 senior center and captain Laura Long sitting on the bench for the Seals with a fractured ankle, Shamokin took advantage of her absence down low and scored their first six points from the low post.
The Indians fanned the flames of that momentum and turned it into a 12-1 run to start the game as they cruised to a 41-26 win.
Shamokin coach Bill Callahan said his team was lacking confidence following losses to Lewisburg, North Schuylkill, Marian Catholic and Pottsville.
"Getting off to a fast start was very important for us," he said. "Right now with a young team we are hurting for confidence and we came out and played very well. Hopefully this is a springboard for us."
Callahan said he challenged senior Catie Pancher during the North Schuylkill game and she's responded since then. She lead all scorers Wednesday with 13 points.
Early in the second quarter with the Indians up 17-5, Pancher hit an off-balance jumper and back-to-back 3-pointers on three straight offensive possessions for the Indians (2-4, 1-0 HAC-1) to stretch the lead to 25-5.
"That was real nice of Catie to come out and play like she did," Callahan said.
The Seals (1-3, 0-1 HAC-1) missed Long's presence inside as Shamokin's Gabrianna Lahr dominated the glass all game.
"Gabrianna didn't score much (two points) but she did a real nice job boxing out as Selinsgrove is an extremely physically team and they bounce you underneath. I thought she stood her ground tough," Callahan added.
Jessica Kerstetter led the Seals with eight points, while Nikki Krebs added six.
"We didn't have anyone to match up with the team's centers with Laura being out," said Seals coach Tim Lauver. "I've been alternating two players in there and they are doing a nice job. Without an inside force, it's tough."
Getting down early has been a trend so far this season for the Seals, according to Lauver.
"What happened (Wednesday) is what's been happening all year," he said. "We come out and we get down so far that we have to use so much energy to tie the game or get close and then we take a breath and look up and see that we're down again."
Selinsgrove trailed at the half, 29-12, but held the Indians scoreless for the first three minutes of the third quarter, using an 8-2 run to cut the lead to 31-21 midway through the quarter.
"They were setting good screens in the first quarter and our help-side defense wasn't there early, but I thought we did a much better job of it in the second and third quarters," Lauver said. "We talked at halftime about our help defense and picking up the intensity a little bit."
Lauver noted that the spurt to start the third quarter was a positive to build on.
"They're the type of kids that are not going to quit and they are going to keep fighting," he said.
Shamokin closed out the third quarter on a 5-0 run to extended the lead to 14.
Neither team scored a basket in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter. The Seals outscored the Indians 14-12 in the second half.
"It's going to be a learning experience this year," Lauver said. "I think (Wednesday's effort) will help.
Although she's tentatively expected to return in early January, Long's absence wasn't lost on Callahan.
"The second time we face them will be at our place and it will be tough," he said. "Laura Long is a special player and she's tough to defend. She helps out on the boards, she can bring the ball down a little bit and that can open Jess Kerstetter up, who I think is an outstanding player."