By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
You should have seen the Line Mountain girls Saturday.
When the buzzer sounded to end their game with East Juniata, they rushed to embrace one another with smiles almost as wide as their open arms.
The Eagles survived four EJ misses in the last half-minute — any of which likely beats them if it falls — yet they acted as though one of their own had popped a game-winner.
They celebrated a hard-fought win — one that saw them rally from seven down midway through the third quarter — like a football team that storms the field when a last-second field goal sails wide.
It wasn’t important how Line Mountain won, just that it did — and that its playoff chances dodged a bullet.
“We’ve won four in a row now, and I’m seeing — there at the end — they’re all excited,” said Eagles coach Mike Reed. “There’s a little bit of fire, like we know what it feels like to win again. Hopefully, that will carry over.”
A week ago, my colleague Jon Gerardi wrote about local boys teams that play beefed-up schedules. They are more than willing to trade a loss here and there for experience, for battle scars that make them that much tougher come money time.
Sometimes, though, that approach backfires. Sometimes those losses do more harm than good as the team struggles to offset them with wins.
Take Line Mountain, for example.
The Eagles were 3-8 on Jan. 14, a stone’s throw from being out of playoff contention. Marring their record were non-league losses to the Heartland-I trio of Danville, Shikellamy and Selinsgrove.
They have filled out their slate with top-tier HAC-I opponents for several years; they have another to play in Mifflinburg, which is enjoying a 12-win season.
“I don’t know what coach makes up our non-league schedule, but ...” Reed said with a knowing smirk.
Asked what toll such a slate took on the Eagles’ season, Reed said, “I think this year it hurt us more than in others.”
Line Mountain must win five of its last six games to make the District 4 Class AA tournament. It’s a long-shot considering the Eagles have already lost to three of the teams they must play (Juniata, Halifax and Greenwood).
“We need to beat the teams that I think we can beat, then we’ve got to steal one and that would get us in,” Reed said Saturday, confident the Eagles’ roll would continue Tuesday at Upper Dauphin and that they would get back to .500. However, Upper Dauphin won 51-44.
n Milton, like Line Mountain, is facing long odds, having to win three of its last four games to get into districts. The Black Panthers were 6-3 on Jan. 4 but then lost seven of eight; among those losses were non-league setbacks to Lewisburg and Williamsport, in addition to earlier ones to Montoursville and 15-win Muncy (in the Warrior Run Tournament).
n Shamokin was 3-6 on Dec. 27, losing to Marian Catholic, Lewisburg, North Schuylkill, Pottsville and Lourdes. Indians coach Bill Callahan swears by a high degree of non-league difficulty, and his Indians need only split their last four games to qualify. They’ve previously beaten three of the four.
n Lourdes, the five-time defending District 4-A champion, must split its final six games simply to get into the tournament with non-league losses to Shikellamy, Shamokin and Southern Columbia on its ledger. The Red Raiders will be underdogs against Minersville, Muncy and Montoursville, but they already beat their other remaining opponents (Schuylkill Haven, Tri-Valley and Williams Valley).
n Lewisburg, which actually made hay against its non-league schedule, hovered around .500 all season. However, a series of five losses in six games has forced the Green Dragons to sweep their last four to qualify. They were 1-3 against those teams the first time they played.
n East Juniata was 8-3 on Jan. 23, but lost three times in span of four days. The Eagles must win three of eight in two weeks to get into the District 4-A field, and they should with a favorable schedule.
n Sports writer Scott Dudinskie covers girls basketball for The Daily Item. Email comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ScottDudinskie.