By Jon Gerardi
The Daily Item
COAL TOWNSHIP —
Shamokin coach Chris Zimmerman woke up in the middle of the night and told his wife he had a feeling Saturday’s game against Jersey Shore would come down to the last couple of minutes. He just had a feeling.
So with about three minutes to play in “The Purple Palace,” Zimmerman must have laughed to himself a bit as he saw that, sure enough, the game would come down to the final minutes.
The Indians have been on the losing end in that scenario a handful of times this season, and with the back-and-forth nature of the game (which featured 13 lead changes, nine alone in the first half) some in attendance probably assumed it was going to go that way again.
However, Indians freshman Jake Weaver sank two free throws with 25 seconds remaining to ice a 56-51 upset of the Bulldogs in a HAC-I showdown and keep alive Shamokin’s district playoff hopes.
“It’s about time — finally. We’ve been close too many times ... This has kind of been the nightmare that I’ve been living from the middle of December until now,” Zimmerman said of Shamokin’s late-game woes. “Sure enough, it comes down to the last couple minutes of the game, so finally we’re on the other end of it.”
The Indians (4-11, 2-7 HAC-I) used a 6-0 run late in the first quarter to take a lead against Jersey Shore (7-8, 4-5 HAC-I) and increased their margin to seven when Thomas Campbell scored to start the second quarter. Cody Confair (11 points, five rebounds) and Eric Huling (nine points, five rebounds, four assists) kept the Bulldogs in the game, and Shamokin trailed by seven with 5:55 to play in the third quarter.
That’s when one of the Shamokin assistant coaches yelled at the five on the court to “wake up” during a timeout. The Indians listened.
“He got on them about kind of waking up and the other thing was kind of relax a little bit because one of the things with us this year, when things go bad we tend to get our heads down because of some of the youth that we’re playing and the inexperience,” Zimmerman said. “Him getting on them about waking up is one thing and also trying to get them to relax because there’s going to be an awful lot of time left in the game. It was early in the third quarter and seven points is not anything if we play the way we’re capable of.”
After the timeout, Shamokin proceeded to hold Jersey Shore scoreless until there were nine seconds to play. During that span, Shamokin responded by turning a seven-point deficit into a four-point lead.
“It’s frustrating. We come down the court (and) we’re not executing our offense,” Jersey Shore coach Harvey Barnhart said. “We had the shots, but missed those chippy shots. Shamokin was doing a real nice job transitioning and then they’d score on us. It’s one of those things where we’re not finishing on the offensive end and they end up beating us back in transition on defense.”
Jersey Shore recorded 62 shots total, going 17-for-51 inside of the arc.
Ryan Sebasovich was solid offensively for the Indians, leading all scorers with 19 points, while Weaver chipped in 13. Austin Stine played great off the glass, grabbing a game-high nine rebounds (eight defensive). Shamokin struggled grabbing offensive rebounds, however, as they recorded just three. Tucker Yost pulled the team’s first offensive board with 4:28 to play in the third quarter.
“They were really crashing the glass. Rebounding we felt like coming into the game was going to be a big key,” Zimmerman said. “Offensively, it’s tough when you’re limiting your shots. I know we came into the second quarter we only took eight shots. If you’re only going to get eight shots you beter make them, because you’re not getting too many opportunities to score.”
Once Shamokin gained the lead with 1:58 in the third, Jersey Shore never got it back. The Bulldogs tied the game three times late, including once at 46-all when Huling drained a 3-pointer from a few feet behind the arc with 4:02 to play. Shore’s Frankie Stetts sank two free throws with 50 seconds remaining to knot it at 51.
Shamokin was 5-for-6 from the line in the final minute.
“Nine-for-10 in the fourth quarter (from the line), so that’s fantastic. That’s great,” Zimmerman said. “That’s what they needed to do. To win games, that’s what you have to do.”