By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
COAL TWP. -- Mifflinburg's James Zack dribbled to about the foul line and pulled up for a jumper against Shamokin's defense about midway through the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats watched as the shot went through and, all of a sudden, they were within striking distance as it cut Shamokin's lead to single digits for the first time since the second quarter.
Shortly thereafter, Shamokin coach Chris Zimmerman called timeout to talk to his team, and the message was a simple one: Just relax.
The timeout calmed the Indians, and they slowly rebuilt their lead to double digits and cruised to a 62-47 Heartland Athletic Conference-Division I win on Friday at Shamokin's Purple Palace.
"We were playing one possession at a time there. We had it inside 10 (points) with about five minutes left and we wanted to win one possession at a time and I told the kids, 'We got to play with our hearts,'" Mifflinburg coach André Roupp said. "I thought in the second half that we really did, and not only did we play hard but we were doing some really good things.
"I feel that we as a team take a lot of good things away from this game because Shamokin's a good team."
Mifflinburg (5-4, 1-4 HAC-I) and Shamokin (10-0, 5-0) traded baskets one after another to start the game. The Wildcats opened the game with a basket by Jeremy Uscowskas (six points, four rebounds) and retook a lead three times as Shamokin answered each basket to tie.
The Indians then cranked up the pressure, specifically in the backcourt, and they went on a 7-0 spurt in a 31-second span to pull ahead, 15-8, and end the first quarter.
The Wildcats didn't let Shamokin pull too far ahead in the second quarter until the final three minutes when Zach Moyer hit a trey to put the Indians ahead by double-digits.
"They did get on a run early in that first half. I felt that they moved very well offensively, and not only did they move well without the ball but they earned second, third, and sometimes even fourth shots and cashed them in," Roupp said. "We found ourselves underneath the hoop against a lot of their length. (Austin) Stine and (Dan) Delbaugh, they're long and lengthy in there, and if they aren't getting the rebound, they're tipping it to someone else.
"We really found ourselves behind the eight ball on the battle of the boards in the first half."
The Wildcats grabbed just nine rebounds in the first half -- all of them defensive -- and ended the night with just three offensive boards.
The Indians held an 18-9 rebound advantage at the half, and 29-19 in the game.
"We know if we're defensive rebounding, we're limiting a team to one shot, and if we're offensive rebounding, we know we're getting multiple shots. I want to be the guy with more shot attempts and you have a better chance to see it go in," Zimmerman said. "So (rebounding) is a point of emphasis with us, on both ends of the floor."
Those second-chance opportunities helped Shamokin get three players into double-figures. Stine led Shamokin with 14 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Isaiah Reiprich and Josh Pappas each scored 10 points apiece. Jake Weaver scored seven and dished seven assists.
Zack scored 10 for Mifflinburg, while both Jordan Wagner and Clark Sheakley scored nine.
The Wildcats kept the margin to 11 points throughout the latter part of the third quarter before Zack's basket cut it to nine points. However after his jumper, the Wildcats scored only two baskets -- both treys -- over the remaining 5:15 in the fourth.
Shamokin's largest lead was 16 points.