Lady Spartans top Montoursville, 38-35.

By: Chris Masse | Williamsport Sun-Gazette | December 15, 2017

 

HUGHESVILLE — Maybe it was Emily Akers hustling from past midcourt and blocking a potential go-ahead, buzzer-beating layup. Maybe it was point guard Kendra Smith repeatedly attacking taller athletes and making big second-half plays. Or maybe it was Jade Cordrey and Jayden Leighow constantly diving after loose balls.

Take your pick. Each of those plays and so many others could serve as a snap shot that perfectly illustrates how Hughesville has gone from an also-ran five years ago to district title contender now. The Spartans might not always operate at peak performance, but they are never outworked. Talent and good coaching have helped Hughesville become a consistent winner, but the foundation has been built upon toughness.

That sure was evident again Thursday night against Montoursville.

Akers scored 14 points, Smith dazzled throughout the second half, the defense dominated the last 12 minutes and Hughesville rallied from an eight-point third-quarter deficit to beat Mon­toursville, 38-35. Smith found Akers for a go-ahead basket, Akers clinched the win by forcing a last-second turnover and Leighow grabbed 10 rebounds as Hughesville (2-1) won its second straight and beat Montoursville for the first time this decade.

"I couldn't be more proud of the girls with the guts they showed," Hughesville coach Craig Weaver Sr. said. "They did everything that was asked of them and they never, ever stopped trying and their defense won the game."

"Our shots weren't falling, but we drove the ball, we hit foul shots and we did what we could to win the game," Smith said. "We knew Montoursville was going to bring it so we knew we had to play up."

Hughesville has increased its win total in each of the last five seasons and reached its first district final last season while reaching the Class AAA state tournament. No team is always at its best, but the Spartans have displayed a knack for winning games when they are struggling. That certainly was the case Thursday as Hughesville made just 27 percent of its shots, trailed 27-19 midway through the third quarter and could generate any momentum.

Instead of wilting, the Spartans kept battling and finally broke through. Hughesville allowed just eight points over the final 12 minutes and ended the third quarter on an 8-0 run, tying it, 27-27. Montours­ville took a 32-29 lead with 5 minutes, 27 seconds re­maining but the Spartans allowed only one more field goal and took the lead for good when Smith found Akers inside with 3:25 left. Smith scored eight of her nine points in the second half, dealt three of her four assists in those last 12 minutes and sparked the comeback with her strong all-around play.

"We went into the huddle and he said you have eight minutes left so leave it all out there and we did," Smith said. "Our defense really stepped up and that's what gave us the offense.

After forcing a turnover, Hughesville called its timeout and held the ball for nearly two minutes. Cordrey then burst through a gap, split the defense and converted a layup that made it 35-32 at the 2-minute mark. Cordrey added a free throw 64 seconds later, but Allyse Marchioni drained a clutch 3-pointer with 40 seconds left, making it a one-point game. Smith hit the front end of a one-and-one and made it 37-35 as Mon­toursville gained possession with 33 seconds remaining.

Defense helped Hughes­ville fight its way back into the game and it ultimately won the game. The Spar­tans forced Montoursville to hold the ball for 22 seconds and Smith forced a jump ball at the 11-second mark. Montoursville maintained possession, but Akers filled the lane and forced a turnover four seconds later and hit a free throw with just 2.8 seconds left. Lauren O'Malley's desperation heave from past midcourt was short and Hughesville celebrated a big win against last year's District 4 Class AAAA champion.

"I really wasn't happy with us not playing four quarters against Jersey Shore (in the season opener). We played 3 quarters our second game and then we played four quarters tonight and we finished strong," Weaver Sr. said. "We find a way."

Montoursville found its way during the second quarter, feeding O'Malley inside. The senior three-year starter scored eight of her game-high 19 points in that quarter and was virtually unstoppable when Montoursville found her in the paint. Montoursville took a 3-point halftime lead and stretched it to 27-19 when Marchioni (4 assists) hit a 3-pointer and Shelby Kurtz added a steal and layup.

From that point on, however, Montoursville made just two more field goals and turned the ball over eight times. O'Malley is the lone returning starter from last year's district champion and the Warriors experienced some growing pains last night.

"When it came down to crunch time our inexperience showed," Montoursville coach and Weaver's son Jon Weaver said. "We were in a good situation and we got away from what we were doing. I called every timeout I had to try and regroup them but the inexperience definitely shined through at the end of the game."

O'Malley played a super all-around game and recorded her second double-double in three games. The senior is playing in the post for the first time and made 7 of 11 shots while going 5 of 6 at the foul line and grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds.

"Her effort, her maturity, the way she plays the game … she is a class act," Weaver said. "I love the way she plays the game. She's been there, she's done this and we need other girls to step up especially going down the stretch."