By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
When Shikellamy and Midd-West faced off in the first meeting this year, it was a nail-biter down to the final buzzer as the Braves escaped with a 1-point win back in December, nearly blowing an 11-point lead in the final quarter.
Before Saturday’s game started, Shikellamy coach Tim Foor reminded his team about how tough Midd-West played them in that first game and how it was imperative the Braves come out with a fast start against the Mustangs.
That’s precisely what Shikellamy did.
The Braves came out on firing, starting the game by draining three straight 3-pointers, as part of an 8-0 run to build up an 11-point lead by the end of the first quarter and cruised the rest of the way to the 62-33 win over the Mustangs in a Heartland Athletic Conference-Division I matchup on Saturday inside of Phil Lockcuff Gymnasium at the Shikellamy Field House.
“We wanted to come out and establish the tempo right from the start,” Foor said.
There were no worries of blowing a double-digit lead this time around. The Braves (9-8, 6-3) led 15-4 after the first quarter and used a 10-0 run through the second quarter to build up a 20-point lead in the final seconds of the half against Midd-West (3-9, 0-6). A huge part of that offensive success was both Kyle Leitzel and Bryce Bartol, who came off the bench. Bartol led Shikellamy with 14 points while Leitzel added 12.
“Honestly, the biggest difference (from first game) was Bryce Bartol. He had an excellent night tonight,” Midd-West coach Aaron Ettinger said. “He only had three points around the first time we played them. Offensively, we never got things clicking either. They handled our high-ball screen action really, really well. ... It was just a combination of our defense wasn’t that great today, Bartol and our lack of offense.”
That combination spelled problems for Midd-West.
After a Derek Amerman trey to open the game for Shikellamy, Midd-West’s Jake Shaffer sank a shot to make it 3-2. That’d be the closest Midd-West would come to tying or taking a lead, as Midd-West’s next basket — a steal-layup by Ascher Marks — would make it a 7-point game (11-4) roughly halfway through the first quarter.
Marks hit a jumper to start the second quarter that cut Shikellamy’s lead down to nine, but that would be the last time that the Mustangs would cut the deficit to single-digits. The Braves led by 22 to head into the half and 25 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Mustangs struggled offensively throughout the game — shooting 11-for-41 — and managed just five points from the floor in the third quarter. However, despite being the focus of Shikellamy’s defense, Marks played solid for the Mustangs, leading the team with 14 points, including sinking the team’s only two 3-pointers, and led the team with three steals.
“He’s probably their best overall player. He’s a nice player: he can slash to the hoop (or) hit the three,” Foor said. “I thought Kyle (Leitzel) did a pretty solid job on him. We’re asking a lot of a sophomore guard to shoot and carry the load for us scoring at times, and also play the team’s best offensive guard at times. I thought Kyle did a pretty good job.”
Marks is a dangerous athlete from downtown, but the Braves defense did a solid job on the night keeping him contained and not allowing many open looks where he could do damage.
“I think Ascher’s being keyed on everywhere we go. The big thing for us is other guys stepping up,” Ettinger said. “We have guys that can score the basketball and just that mentatlity to be more aggressive looking for their own shot knowing that a lot of teams are going to be gunning for him.”
Marks accounted for 10 of Midd-West’s 14 first-half points, and had a span of seven straight by himself between the first two quarters. No other Midd-West player came close to double-digits however, as Chris Schulman, Aidan Edmiston and Zach Schrader all scored four points a piece.
C.J. Tyler added nine points for the Braves and four assists while Harry Herbster added seven. Amerman scored seven while also grabbing five boards and a team-best five assists.
The Braves travel to cross-river rival Selinsgrove on Wednesday while Midd-West hosts a tough Danville squad on Monday.