Defenders are playing tough again.

By: Chris Masse | Williamsport Sun-Gazette | January 9, 2018


Warrior Run plays tough competition each day. And that's just at practice.

The Defenders approach practices like they are games and hold nothing back. If one is looking at how Warrior Run has transformed its program the past three seasons, watch those practices. If one wants to know why Warrior Run looks as strong as it has in a long time, watch those practices.

Warrior Run (7-3) ended a 12-year playoff drought two years ago and returned to the postseason last year. Now the Defenders seemed poised for an even bigger breakthrough and had won three straight games entering Monday's contest against Southern Columbia. Warrior Run has some quality talent and depth, but it its drive is making it look especially dangerous.

"Their goal is to keep getting better every year. I have never seen a team with a work ethic like ours," Warrior Run coach Eric Wertman said following Saturday's 72-42 win against South Williamsport. "At practice every day it's 10-12 kids just going at it. It's non-stop and it's making our team better, it's making the JV team better, it's making the depth on our bench better. It's a good time right now."

Warrior Run started entering the teeth of its HAC-III schedule Monday but it seems well-equipped to handle the rigors. In addition to having a nice mix of size and speed, Warrior Run possesses the intangibles that can separate good teams from average ones. The Defenders work hard, play together well and only care about winning.

That unselfishness was evident all afternoon against South as four players scored in double figures and Warrior Run finished with 21 assists. Four players are averaging more than 10 points per game and six are averaging more than six. Not that the players care about those numbers. The ones on the scoreboard are their main concern.

"We're really unselfish and we don't care who it is. It can be any of us that have a big game because they end up in the right spots," senior center Gage Anzulavich said after scoring 17 points, grabbing 15 rebounds and adding six assists against South. "We always look for the extra pass to the open guy. It doesn't matter who it is. We don't need one guy shooting 20 shots. We can have each guy shooting seven or so and go home happy if we win."

Warrior Run did not do much of that during the 12-year playoff drought but started turning the corner two years ago. Anzulavich was a big reason why and is averaging a double-double for a second straight season, recording eight in his first 10 games. But he is just one of many weapons Warrior Run possesses. Sophomore forward Ahmahd Keyes is a potential game-changer inside and had 15 points over the final three quarters against South. Luke Burrows can take his game inside or outside and also is averaging in double figures and Austin Soltesz is tough off the bench.

Kade Anzulavich is having a breakout sophomore season and point guard Cassidy Hoffman is becoming one of the area's best defenders. Put it all together and Warrior Run is a team that can win in multiple ways and that features players embracing their roles.

"Each of our starters has a kind of specific thing that they specialize in," Anzulavich said. "This is the deepest team for sure. I think that will really help us in the long run because we're getting productive minutes from a lot of people. That's the biggest asset that is going to help going down the stretch."

Warrior Run started the season strong, winning its first four games and defeating Central Columbia for the first time this decade. A three-game losing streak followed, but Warrior Run learned from its mistakes and captured the Milton Tournament. That included a comeback 59-41 win against a solid Northwest squad that had throttled Milton one night earlier.

Saturday, the Defenders broke things open in the second quarter and kept extending that lead the rest of the way. They topped 70 points for a fourth time and made 24 of 41 shots over the final three quarters. Once Warrior Run went up, it went for the knockout blow and never became complacent.

"We've been doing a lot of different film studies and the kids have really been getting into it and buying into it," Wertman said. "They're open to correcting the mistakes they've made and that can be hard to do. We just tell them we're trying to make them better. We're not trying to pick on you or single you out. It's to make us better as a whole."

It is working. In years past, a three-game losing streak might have rattled Warrior Run. Now it seems like it has made it better. The work is just beginning but the Defenders continue showing they do not mind paying that price.

"We're just trying to focus on coming out hot and not waiting to get behind and then deciding to play. We have to play up to the level of competition all the time," Anzulavich said. "We're focusing on starting out strong and finishing strong."

"We are extremely disappointed for Kevin," Blue Hen head coach Martin Ingelsby said in a statement. "He was having a very productive season for us, and was playing like one of the best guards in the CAA. We look forward to having Kevin back for the start of our offseason workouts in the spring."

PUTBACKS: St. John Neumann (4-3) won its second straight game and remained in a Mid-Penn first-place tie with Millville as it defeated CMVT, 47-36. Noah Persun is asserting himself well inside and scored 17 points, giving him 32 in the past two games … North Penn-Liberty has won two of its last three games and defeated Canton, 51-42 as Duncan Zeafla scored a career-high 21 points. Two nights earlier, Canton snapped a seven-game losing streak and thumped Sayre, 60-48 as Michael Smithers and Silas Binford recorded double-doubles with Camden Route scoring a career-high 20 points … Jersey Shore senior Junior Armstrong is having a strong season and went for 15 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals against Hollidaysburg … Milton has won two straight games and suddenly looks like a team capable of making a 4A playoff push after downing Shikellamy, 71-58. The Black Panthers scored 27 points and Tony Manzano produced a career-high 25 points, along with nine rebounds. Quaylin Rice recorded a double-double, going for 12 points and 13 rebounds while Brandon Feltman scored a season-high 14 points … Sullivan County (7-3) has won three straight and stayed in the hunt for a Mid-Penn championship with a 90-12 win against Montgomery. Sam Carpenter continues emerging as a threat and is averaging 13 points over his last three games while hitting 10 3-pointers … Pete Sinibaldi is having a good season at South Williamsport and shined in a 57-54 win at Line Mountain, scoring a career-high 28 points. Ryan Weinhoffer added 10 points and the younger Mounties continued making some nice strides.

Dr. Masse's top five in boys basketball

1. Loyalsock (8-2): Aiden Gair and Collin Graver provided good sparks off the bench in road wins against Central Columbia and Lewisburg last week, combining for 21 points. Loyalsock won both games in convincing fashion and concluded an eight-game road trip. The Lancers are 8-0 against district opponents this season and Gerald Ross is having a strong junior season, scoring 37 points in last week's wins. He, Mitch Klingerman, Anthony Pastore and Connor Watkins all are averaging in double figures. Hunter Webb and Bam Brima provide quality rebounding and interior defense and Webb had 10 rebounds in the 75-49 victory at Central.

2. Wellsboro (9-1): The Green Hornets have won eight straight games six of those have come by 31 points or more. Wellsboro is receiving steady contributions from starters and reserves while topping 70 points three times in its last four games. Holden Kennedy scored a career-high 14 points against Towanda last week, while fellow reserve Tanner Button grabbed seven rebounds and dealt five assists. Junior forward Brandyn Tuttle is having a big breakout season and had 15 points, along with 14 rebounds in the Towanda win.

3. Williamsport (6-4): Pottsville has been a Millionaire nemesis but no more. Williamsport defeated the Tide for the first time in five years, doing so in dramatic fashion Saturday. Ethan Williams hit the game-winning jumper with 1.3 seconds remaining as Williamsport edged Pottsville, 37-36. Williams continued his breakthrough season, scoring 13 points. Both he and Marcus Simmons do a quality job running the offense and combined for 22 points while helping ignite a stingy defense. This was a big win against a strong team that has lost just two games and it could be a nice springboard entering another tough game Wednesday against Hollidaysburg. Williamsport has just one starter back from last year, but is making nice progress and has won five of its last six games, including two in the final 10 seconds.

4. Montoursville (4-2): John McCarthy is one of several Warriors who is shining in his first season receiving significant varsity minutes. The senior guard is second among area scorers, averaging 19 points per game, and torched Southern Columbia for a career-high 31 points in a 63-62 loss last Wednesday. McCarthy, Owen Kiess playing point guard for the first time, and first-time starting forward Austin Loe all are averaging in double figures. The Warriors have a tough week with games at Loyalsock and at home against surging Milton. Montoursville is hoping to exact a measure of revenge against Loyalsock after the Lancers swept the season series last year. Those two games were decided by 11 combined points with one going to overtime.

5. Muncy (8-1): Undefeated Millville handed Muncy its first loss, but the Indians bounced back in impressive fashion and routed Benton, 61-27. Muncy led that game 42-9 at halftime and Noah Rymsza continued building on his strong season. The junior guard leads Muncy in scoring, averaging 13.8 points per game. Rymsza is an excellent shooter who handles the ball well and has made huge strides from last year. He is one of four starters averaging more than 12 points per game. Muncy is a game behind both Millville and Neumann in the Mid-Penn standings and hosts Neumann Tuesday. Muncy has District 4 Class AA's best record and will be trying to beat Neumann for the first time since 2011.

Players of the week

Collin Jones, Central Mountain and Garrett David, North Penn-Mansfield: Jones is becoming one of the area's best post players and dominated the paint in a 90-73 win at Huntingdon, scoring 22 points and grabbing six rebounds while making 10 of 13 shots and adding three assists and three steals. The junior forward has helped Central Mountain start strong and is averaging 18.5 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. An all-state linebacker last fall, David is now giving Mansfield's post a dose of production and toughness. The junior is having a nice breakthrough season and averaged 16 points and twice topped rebounds in two wins against Williamson and Troy last week. David delivered a career-high 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in the Williamson victory.

Game of the week

Wellsboro at North Penn-Mansfield: The NTL championship often comes down to these long-time rivals and did so again last year when Wellsboro defeated North Penn-Mansfield in the final. Considering the success both programs have had over the last decade, this is the NTL's best rivalry and rare is the season when they do not split the regular-season series. Thursday's game is another huge one. Both are undefeated in league play and the winner has the inside track to another championship.