They were no one’s pick in Division I of the Heartland Athletic Conference, and few will take them in the upcoming district tournament.
But make no mistake, Shamokin’s girls are that team, the one nobody wants to face in the District 4 Class AAA field.
Winners of five straight and 10 of 13, the Indians enter the postseason brimming with confidence and hungry for the title they last won in 2012.
They finished a game behind HAC-I champion Danville for the division crown but split two games with the Ironmen, losing in overtime on the road before taking a convincing wire-to-wire win a week ago.
“We can’t make this our high goal of the year,” Shamokin coach Bill Callahan said after knocking off once-beaten Danville. “I’ve always said there are a lot of great teams in December, but you want to be great in February.”
Everything about the program is geared toward that end. The Indians’ early season schedule is built for bumps and bruises, not win streaks and a false sense of security. Callahan clearly subscribes to the idea that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Case in point: Within the first week of the season, Shamokin lost three times by an average of 26 points. Marian Catholic dumped the Indians by 23; North Schuylkill drubbed them by 42.
They ended 2013 with a 24-point loss to neighboring rival Lourdes Regional in the Knights of Columbus Tournament consolation game, bottoming out with a 3-6 mark. Since the turn of the year, they’ve lost just three times by an average of 11 points.
“We’ve played the best of the best to start off the season,” said senior scoring leader Liv Bonshock. “We played your Marian Catholics, your North Schuylkills ... to get us prepared for games like this, when it mattered, during the season. We were going to be at our peak now, when other teams were at their peak earlier in the season.”
The proof is on the scoreboard.
A week after losing to Lourdes by a couple dozen, Shamokin beat the Red Raiders 58-54. A week after falling by 22 at Mifflinburg, the Indians beat the Wildcats 45-34.
“So that’s we’re dealing with here. Are we going to be able to be consistent with our play?” said Callahan. “Our problem with this team is no matter if you’re good or bad, in between or whatever, we’re going to play you within three-to-four points. That’s a problem.
“We’ve always got to come to play.
The Indians haven’t been better than in last week’s game against Danville when they blitzed the Ironmen for an 11-2 lead in the first quarter. So even though it was played relatively even the rest of the way, it was an uphill battle throughout for the two-time HAC-I champs.
“With the way we played (against Danville), there’s nobody (in the district) that can beat us,” said Bonshock. “If we play our game, the way we know how to play, nobody can beat us.”
What makes Shamokin a genuine district contender, besides its vast improvement and surging confidence, is its personnel. There are taller teams, quicker ones and more fundamentally sound, but there aren’t any as athletic, physical and just plain tough.
Bonshock leads the Indians at 13.4 points, but the team has had four different leading scorers, including fellow senior forward Catie Pancher (five times), junior guard Shaylee Pesarchick (two) and sophomore forward Gabi Lahr (two).
Several girls can shoot the three -- Pesarchick (25), Pancher (19) and freshman Sara Popewczak (10) -- while Bonshock and Lahr are ferocious rebounders, even more so lately.
Lastly, Shamokin has no fear of Danville, the district’s likely No. 1 seed. The Indians welcome a rubber match, and preferably in the title game. They’re that team, the one that believes the Ironmen have to beat them -- not the other way around.
“A lot of people doubted us at 3-6, I know, after Lourdes came in and blew us out by 20. They really didn’t have belief in us,” said Callahan. “We’ve just improved so much since December. You’ve got to give the kids a lot of credit. I’m so proud of them.”
Scott Dudinskie covers girls basketball for The Daily Item. Email comments to email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ScottDudinskie.