By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
COAL TWP. -- Maria Kelleher met with a college recruiter following Monday night's game against Shamokin, a coach who lamented the fact Lewisburg's point guard pledged to attend Mansfield a week ago.
"We're not going to give up on you," he was overheard telling Kelleher before the two parted.
Kelleher made quite an impression in the Green Dragons' season-opener, scoring a game-high 23 points -- 16 during a second quarter in which she drained every shot she took -- in a 45-37 win over the defending District 4 AAA champion Indians.
"I felt like I was just on," she said. "My shots were falling, the crowd ... the student section was crazy, and I just put all that energy on the floor."
The standout senior didn't just visit the "zone" in that second quarter, she pitched a tent. She knocked down four field goals, including back-to-back 3-pointers, and six consecutive free throws in her own 10-2 run that broke open a tight game.
Shamokin's attentive and boisterous student section resorted to a chant of "Ball-hog!" when Kelleher's outburst lifted Lewisburg from down 10-8 to up 22-14 at halftime.
"Maria's a pure shooter," said Green Dragons coach Phil Stamm, "so if she gets on she's definitely capable of hitting shots like that."
Shamokin, off to a 1-2 start, struggled mightily with 28 turnovers (at least six in each quarter) and 26.5 percent shooting from the floor (13-of-49). The Indians cut a 10-point deficit to three early in the fourth quarter, but made just two of seven free throws in the period, and 9 of 18 overall.
"It's our third game and we're still not running our offenses. That's bothering me," said Shamokin coach Bill Callahan. "It's our third game and we're averaging 40 turnovers. That's bothering me. We can't make our free throws and we're not rebounding. That's bothering me."
Callahan retired after the Indians' district championship a season ago, but returned to fill the void when successor Chris Zimmerman was hired to replace long-time boys coach Joe Klebon.
Neither team pleased its coach early in Monday's game. More than 2 1/2 minutes elapsed before the first point was scored. It was 6-all at the end of the first quarter as the teams combined to shoot 3-of-22 and commit 13 turnovers.
Then, after Kelleher made two fouls to open the second period, Lewisburg gave it away on five straight trips and Shamokin surged ahead. The Dragons, missing senior post Lois Lesher to early foul trouble, surrendered four offensive rebounds (and, eventually, a putback) on one Shamokin possession.
"With all those turnovers, I just really wanted to step up," said Kelleher. "I wanted to make my way (in the offense) and see where I could fit in to get some shots."
Kelleher broke Lewisburg's slump with a pull-up 12-footer and, minutes later, canned consecutive treys for a 16-12 lead. She then drained four straight fouls and, closed the half with a steal and transition bucket for good measure.
"Maria came up big," said Stamm. "We were struggling offensively in the first half, and I told the girls it's our first game and I didn't really expect us to come out and execute everything that well. But Maria really picked us up."
The Dragons' lead grew to 28-18 as Lesher scored four of her 10 points in the first three minutes of the second half.
Shamokin, however, began to exploit the size/athleticism mismatches of senior Kelsey Yacko and junior Olivia Bonshock. The forwards combined for 13 third-quarter points. Bonshock hit a 3-pointer late in the quarter, then went inside for a free throw and a putback to cut it to 33-30.
With Kelleher casting a defensive shadow, Lenore Doyle, Lesher and Emily Conrad each hit a perimeter jumper to push Lewisburg's lead back to 10.
"That's when you have to find your poise and your composure, when the pressure gets tough," said Stamm. "I thought our girls really relaxed and made some good decisions with the ball. That's the biggest thing we had to do."
Yacko led the Indians with 17 points and 11 rebounds, forging an early season 11.7 scoring average. Bonshock added nine points and a game-high 12 boards.
"We're forcing things right now," said Callahan. "When we become a team, we will be good."