The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Sports

January 24, 2013

Scott Dudinskie's girls basketball column: Eagles soaring beyond expectations

Before a recent game, John Jones finally heard it from one of his own.

It wasn’t just a thought that crept into his mind from time to time, and it wasn’t an off-the-cuff comment from a casual observer.

Sunbury Christian’s coach overheard one of his girls say it out loud to a teammate.

“I don’t know how we win,” she said earnestly. “We’re small; we don’t have a lot of people; and I just don’t know how we win all the time.”

Jones knows the answer, of course, but only with the benefit of more than a dozen games to have seen it materialize.

The Eagles are 15-1, their only loss coming at Mount Carmel, the two-time defending District 4 Class AA champion. They are 9-0 in the Allegheny Christian Athletic Association, having already swept Meadowbrook Christian, which is second in the East Division and the biggest threat to the division’s top seed (and a first-round bye) in the ACAA Touranment.

Metaphorically speaking, Sunbury Christian is sitting pretty in the driver’s seat on Easy Street.

But what did Jones expect of the Eagles in November, back when the 16-year coach realized he’d be starting his only senior, two juniors, a sophomore and, ahem, an eighth grader in the wake of star point guard Carissa Erdman’s departure?

“I didn’t think we would be this good this year — only because of losing Carissa,” Jones admitted.

Erdman was the type of player whose absence would change a program’s outlook. A near 1,200-point career scorer, she averaged 13.6 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 4.3 steals a year ago while leading the Eagles to a 20-5 record and their fourth consecutive ACAA title game.

Jones was left with no true point guard, a relatively inexperienced group of players and the question marks that come with that.

“The goal in my mind was to get into the playoffs, which might be third place with maybe three or four losses,” said Jones. “I thought, from what I knew was coming back on a lot of the teams, I thought we would make the playoffs. But did I think we would come in first or second? I wasn’t really sure. Did I think we’d be undefeated in the league right now? No.”

So if Jones was pessimistic, how do you think Abby Daddario felt? As Sunbury Christian’s only senior she was left behind as Erdman departed, destined to miss the next wave of success.

To put it politely, she saw who would be starting alongside her and then noticed the writing on the wall.

“I didn’t think we would do as well as we’re doing now,” Daddario admitted. “Things are coming together. We’re playing very much as a team this year. Last year, I’m not saying we didn’t play as a team, but I just didn’t feel that team spirit so much. This year, though, it’s evident and it’s amazing. It’s all just really amazing, actually.”

The Eagles have scoring threats across the floor. Daddario has terrific range on her jumper; sophomore Torri Erdman can attack the basket with the dribble; and Tiffany Billings is a finisher around the hoop. Jess Stuck, a junior, has assumed the role of distributor, and Jones says “a lot of our offense is predicated on her passing.”

“On any given night we have a different leading scorer,” said Jones. “I think that’s one of the advantages of our team; teams can’t say they’re going to focus on one or another.

“Last year, teams used to play us in a box-and-one when we had Carissa at the point. If Carissa was shut down, the rest of them, they weren’t developed enough to say, ’I can take over the game.’ ”

The Eagles average better than 55 points per game, which most teams would take in a heartbeat, but Jones believes defense has been key to their season. Besides Mount Carmel, only two teams have hit 40 points against them.

“I tell the girls, ’The offense isn’t always going to be there ... but if you play good defense, you’re going to be in every game,’ ” said Jones. “The way they play defense, I don’t think most teams are dedicated to play with that heart.”

Sunbury Christian has seven games remaining before the ACAA Tournament, which is Feb. 14-16 at Northumberland Christian. The Eagles’ last regular-season game is Feb. 8 against Columbia County Christian, which would be two months to the day since their only loss. It’s also Senior Night, which will certainly be special for Daddario.

“I think Abby is probably looking ahead a little bit because this is the end for her,” said Jones. “I think she’s starting to see (the season is) more than she thought it was going to be, (and) I think she realizes we do have a chance to go all the way.”

Jones didn’t hear this particular comment. He was out of earshot when it was made.

It wasn’t just a thought that crept into his mind from time to time, and it wasn’t an off-the-cuff comment from a casual observer.

It came from one of his own.

“We’ve gone to the playoffs and been in the (championship) game four times now and lost every single time,” said Daddario, “but I think we can go all the way.”

Scott Dudinskie covers girls basketball for The Daily Item. Email comments or questions to sdudinskie@dailyitem.com.

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