March 11, 2022 Tim Birney

HERSHEY — Athens senior Gavin Bradley executed his game plan and pulled out a 4-1 decision over Faith Academy Christian freshman ace Gauge Botero Friday night to advance to the 113-pound finals of the PIAA, Class AA Wrestling Championships here at The Giant Center.

“We had a game plan, and Gavin stuck to it,” said Athens coach Shawn Bradley. “He did what he needed to do.

“(Botero) is good,” noted Shawn Bradley. “We went back in between sessions and watched 10 or 15 matches and that kid was wrestling hammers the whole time. He had a great schedule, and he was ready to go.

“Gavin did what he to do,” added Shawn Bradley. “It was a great performance.”

Bradley got in on a single-leg about 10 seconds into the match. With 24 seconds remaining, following a 86-second scramble, the match was re-started due to a stalemate call.

“That was one of the best scrambles I’ve seen from Gavin,” said assistant coach Jay White.

“That was great because in the quarterfinals, the coach behind us was yelling ‘he can’t scramble, make him scramble.’ Well, I guess he can scramble after that one,” laughed Shawn Bradley.

After the re-start, Bradley got in on another single-leg, and finished this one to take a 2-0 lead after the first two minutes.

Botero chose bottom to start the second period, but Bradley, who is very strong on top, chose to cut him, closing the gap to 2-1.

Bradley scored another takedown with 21 seconds remaining in the second period to take a 4-1 lead heading into the final two minutes.

Bradley chose neutral to start the third period, instead of taking top.

“That kid scores a bunch of his points from bottom,” said Shawn Bradley. “He almost beat the No. 1 kid in the country from the bottom … turned the kid, scored five and almost beat him.

He’s dangerous on bottom.

“We had two takedowns and were up 4-1, we didn’t need to prove anything,” he noted. “We just needed be smart and get another takedown.”

Midway through the third period, Bradley was in on a single-leg, but the official whistled for blood time for Botero before he could finish it off.

“When we had the blood time, I told Gavin ‘don’t shut down, get another takedown,’” said Shawn Bradley. “He didn’t get one, but he wrestled hard. They both wrestled hard … there weren’t any takedowns in the final minute, but it was action-packed.”

Bradley, who recorded his 150th career win in the quarterfinals, is 38-1 on the season.

Prior to the season, many pundits expected Bradley to win a state title, or at least reach the state finals.

Shawn Bradley said those same thoughts were on the mind of Gavin Bradley prior to the quarterfinals and semifinals.

“That’s what I spent the last two hours (before the match) trying to do, was simplify that.

“I told Gavin, ‘it’s not about the state finals. It’s a wrestling match.’ If that match is in the summer, I expect the same outcome,” he said.

“I told Gavin ‘just wrestle six minutes,’” noted Shawn Bradley. “In the quarterfinals, he’s thinking ‘what happens if I lose?’ … you can’t do that, this is too big of a stage, and these kids are too good.

“You just have to score points, and if you score points, good things will happen,” he continued. “If not, you could leave it up to the referee, or a freak takedown. 

“You’ve seen him wrestle 100 times, he goes a millions miles an hour — it’s all go, no brakes,” added Shawn Bradley. “That’s the way he wrestles, if he stays that way, it’s going to take a really great effort to beat him.”

Bradley will wrestle a familiar adversary in the finals in Montoursville junior Brandon Wentzel, who is 41-3 on the season.

Wentzel, who has a first- and third-place finish at States, topped Bradley, 5-3 in the finals of the District 4 Championships, while Bradley, who has finishes sixth, seventh, and second at States, won 11-8 last week in the finals at the Northeast Regionals.

Wentzel advanced to the finals with a 3-2 win in ultimate rideout over West Perry senior Deven Jackson.

Does wrestling the same opponent three weeks in a row play to Bradley’s favor?

“I think it works both ways,” said Shawn Bradley.

“Hopefully, Gavin doesn’t care who he wrestling tomorrow. He was waiting to see who won, I told him ‘it doesn’t matter, just go out and wrestle.’

“He’s wrestled both those kids and they are both super-tough,” noted Shawn Bradley. “It’s the PIAA state tournament, you’re going to wrestle a hammer in the state finals.

“(Wentzel) has one loss at Hershey in his career,” added Shawn Bradley. “Gavin has to go out tomorrow and wrestle his match, and not let Brandon control the tempo or the positions. If he wrestles his match and his positions, it will come out the way he wants.”

The finals are set for Saturday at 2 p.m.

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March 10, 2022 Tim Birney

HERSHEY — Athens senior Gavin Bradley, a state runner-up last year, may not have wrestled his best, but he still advanced to the quarterfinals with a 16-5 major decision in the opening round of the PIAA Class AA Wrestling Championships here Thursday morning at The Giant Center.

“(Gavin) didn’t wrestle very well,” said Athens assistant coach Jay White. “He did what he had to do, but he didn’t wrestle very well.

“The kid knew what was coming, and he’s real funky,” added White. “We just wanted to stay away from him as much as possible, along the lines of getting ourselves in trouble.

“Gavin was a little leery of the big moves that kid has,” added White. “He’s thrower and a roller, and hits a lot of big five-point moves. In his mind, Gavin was a little leery of him … if he just wrestles, he techs him.”

Bradley, now 36-1 and the top seed in the 113-pound bracket, squared off with junior Mason McLendon of Susquenita, and scored the initial takedown about 30 seconds into the bout.

Bradley cut McLendon twice, and twice scored two takedowns to take a 6-2 lead at the end of the first period.

Bradley extended his lead to 10-4 with a pair of takedowns in the second period, and cut McLendon with 20 seconds remaining, but couldn’t manage another takedown.

“The only thing we had a problem with is we told (Gavin) to cut him with 20 seconds left, and take him back down, and Gavin chose to not take him back down,” said White. “He has to get those points.”

McLendon spent the majority of the third period riding top, but never got close to turning Bradley, who was penalized a point for stalling to make it 10-5.

With 18 seconds remaining, McLendon was warned for stalling, and the match was re-started in the center.

Bradley scored a quick escape and takedown, then turned McLendon to his back for three near-fall points as the horn sounded.

“In the third period, (Gavin) just didn’t get out quickly and (McLendon) is good on rides,“ said White. “He rode double boots with one-on-one to both sides for just about the whole period. It’s hard to get out if you don’t do it quickly.”

Bradley will face Jack Kazalas (39-5) of Quakertown in the quarterfinals.

“We’ll work with (Gavin) on that last 20 seconds of the second period, and the first 20 seconds of the third, that’s where we had our problems,” said White. “We’ll fix those 20 seconds, and he’ll be all right.”

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March 10, 2022 Tim Birney

HERSHEY — Athens senior Karter Rude wrestled a strong four minutes, but got caught in a scramble early in the third period, and dropped a 5-2 decision in the opening round of the PIAA, Class AA wrestling championships here Thursday morning.

Rude, now 32-8, squared off against West Perry junior Justice Hockenberry-Folk, and scored a takedown with 24 seconds remaining in the first period.

Leading 2-0 in their 152-pound bout, Rude rode top for the entire second period, but wasn’t able to turn Hockenberry-Folk.

Early in the third period, Hockenberry-Folk got in on a leg, and caught Rude coming over the top, and turned him to his back. He held him there for the final 1:44.

“He got caught in a scramble, and sometimes you just come out on the bad end, and that’s what happened to him,” said Athens assistant coach Jay White. “I feel really bad for him.

“(Hockenberry-Folk) is really good on top, and Karter’s best on his feet, so we figured he was going to win or lose it on his feet. It didn’t work out.

“He’s better than that kid,” he added. “He just got caught.”

Rude will face Mount Pleasant senior Conor Johnson (19-22) in the first round of wrestlebacks this afternoon.

“It’s a hard one to swallow,” said White. “He was winning that bout, it was a big one for him to get through. He would have been done for the day.

“Now, we’re going to have to come back and wrestle again (this afternoon,” he added. “It’s a long road from here.”

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March 10, 2022 Tim Birney

HERSHEY — Athens senior Karter Rude bounced back from an opening-round loss with a second-period fall to advance in the 152-pound consolation bracket here Thursday afternoon at the PIAA, Class AA Wrestling Championships at The Giant Center.

Rude, now 33-8, decked Mount Pleasant senior Conor Johnson (19-23) in 2:39.

Athens coach Shawn Bradley was pleased to see Rude’s “mental toughness” shine through after losing a 5-2 decision in the opening round.

“It’s not easy to bounce back from a loss like that, especially when you’re a senior and it’s your first time here.

“He knows he kind of gave one away in the first match, but that’s the way to bounce back,” said Bradley.

Rude scored a takedown 22 seconds into the bout, and led 2-0 after the 60-second first period.

Rude scored a takedown to start the second period, then cut Johnson loose and registered another takedown for a 6-1 lead with 41 seconds left.

Johnson was working toward a cement drop, but Rude caught a leg for a cradle. He finished off the fall with a headlock.

“He’s been winning hard recently. You win hard, don’t go big, but he just lost in the first round at States, so go for it,” said Bradley. “If that’s what it takes to get his mind going, and get him going, I’m all for it. Just get after it and win matches, whatever it takes.

“The Karter of the past might have got hit with that cement drop,” noted Bradley. “(Johnson) was loading it up, but (Karter) was smart about it … he took it outside, ran around it, put him on his back and pinned him as a result.

“That kid was looking big, too,” added Bradley. “That’s a plus.”

Rude will face Northwest Region champion Kane Kettering, a senior from Reynolds, who has a 31-9 record in the second round of wrestlebacks.

“Now, he has to get on a run and keep it going,” said Bradley. “He has the type of ability, and the motor, he could win five in a row (to finish third).

“He just has to keep it going,” added Bradley. “In these five-minute matches, it’s gonna be a track meet, and I’ll take him every time.”

Action resumes Friday morning at 9 a.m.

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March 8, 2022 Tim Birney

SCRANTON — Senior J.J. Babcock made big play after big play, senior Ryan Thompson canned a clutch 3-pointer, and senior Tucker Brown scored the game-winning points for the second time in three postseason games as Athens fended off a strong second-half effort by Mid-Valley to pull out a 42-40 win in the opening round of the PIAA Class 4A boys basketball playoffs here Tuesday night at Lackawanna College.

It’s the first state playoff win for Athens program since 1956, and only the second in school history.

“It’s been a long time,” said Athens coach Jim Lister. “It’s an awesome win.

“I’m so happy for our kids, for our program, and for our school,” added Lister. “I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”

Babcock said he wasn’t ready for his Athens playing career to end.

“It was desperation,” he said. “It was win-or-go-home for us. We have a bunch of seniors on this team, and we really did not want this to be our last game.

“It feels great,” added Babcock. “Words can’t describe, it’s just a great feeling to keep our season moving forward.”

Brown, who hit a pair of free throws in the closing seconds of Athens’ win over Shamokin in the District 4 semifinals, said he and his teammates have been through it before.

“We’ve been playing together since I was in 8th-grade, and the rest of them have been playing together longer than that,” he sad. “We know each other … we had to keep our composure, and we did a pretty good job of it. It got a little chippy and there were a lot of fouls, but in the end, we pulled it back together and got the win.

“It’s unbelievable. I just can’t wait to play again.” added Brown.

“I think senior leadership played a big part, these kids have been playing together a long time,” said Lister.

“If you look at this team, these senior are battle-tested over the last two years,” noted Lister. “They’ve played some unbelievable basketball games against some of the best teams around.

“These kids have worked hard, and they deserve all the accolades they’re getting,” he added. “They just don’t quit, no matter how tight it is. I love them for that.”

Both team struggled out of the gate offensively, and Babcock’s 3-pointer with 4:21 remaining in the first quarter gave the Wildcats a 5-2 lead, but Danny Nemitz answered moments later for Mid-Valley to tie the game.

Senior Nalen Carling scored off a feed from Babcock with 2:35 left to make it 7-5, and Lister scored of an assist from Babcock 45 seconds later to make it 9-5.

The Spartans tied the game at 9-9 on a free throw with 6:39 remaining in the first half, but Lister drained a 3-pointer from the top-of-the-key 26 seconds later to give the Wildcats a 12-9 lead.

Mid-Valley scored back-to-back buckets to take a 13-12 lead with 4:48 remaining in the first half, but the Wildcats started pounding the ball into the paint, and finished the half to an 11-4 spurt to take a 24-16 lead into the halftime locker room.

Babcock scored a pair of buckets in the run, including a short jumper with 27 seconds remaining to give the Wildcats their biggest lead of the game, at 24-15. Senior Troy Pritchard scored the first bucket in the run, and Brown added a big 3-pointer into the mix.

Lister was impressed with his team’s patience on offense in the first half.

“We worked on it last night for two hours,” he said. “We knew we were going to see man-to-man today.

“We are constantly working on it — being patient, making cuts, getting the ball to the right player, and try to get something in the paint,” added Lister. “I thought we did that well in the first half, especially in the last four minutes of the second quarter, which gave us a nice halftime lead.”

The Spartans, however, seized the momentum to start the second half, and used an 8-0 run to tie the game at 24-24 with 4:30 remaining in the third quarter.

“We stalled on offense,” said Lister. “We came out in the second half and didn’t follow the plan. The plan was to get the ball inside, and I thought we did a good job the last three or four minutes of the second quarter — getting the ball inside to J.J. (Babcock), and getting some easy buckets.

“I wanted to come out in the third quarter and do that again, but (Mid-Valley) switched up their defense, and I think it confused us a little bit, and we let them crawl back into the game,” noted Lister.

The teams battled evenly until Brown knocked down a pair of free throws with 9.9 seconds remaining to give the Wildcats a 30-28 lead heading into the final eight minutes.

Lister connected on a short jumper with 6:58 left in the game to up the Athens advantage to 32-28, but Nimitz answered with a 3-pointer, and Gabe Tanner knocked down a pair of free throws to give the Spartans a 33-32 lead.

Athens missed the front ends of two one-and-ones, sandwiched around a bucket by Tanner, and trailed 35-32 with 4:51 remaining in the game.

With 4:01 remaining, Thompson drained a 3-pointer from the left wing to tie the game at 35-35. Just 20 seconds later, after a steal by Babcock, Brown scored on a strong drive to the bucket to give the Wildcats a 37-35 lead.

“How ‘bout Ryan Thompson coming off the bench and hitting that big-time 3(-pointer) to tie the game,” said Lister. “Honestly, I think that really sparked us … we saw the finish line at that point, and finished strong.”

After junior Chris Mitchell drew a charge, Babcock scored in the low blocks with 3:12 left in the game to make it 39-35.

However, Nemitz and Tanner each went 2-for-2 at the line to tie the game at 39-39 with 50 seconds remaining.

The Wildcats worked the ball on its next possession, then Brown took a pass off a screen at the top-of-the-key, and drove hard to the bucket, kissing it off the glass to make it 41-39 with 22 seconds in the game.

“I saw my teammates clear out, and I saw an opening. I took it hard, and hoped for the best,” said Brown.

“Down the left-side of the lane is Tucker’s money,” said Lister. “If you give him an inch there, he’s going to finish. It was a beautiful move, and a great take.”

Mid-Valley rushed the ball up court, and in a flurry that saw the ball in the hands of two different Athens players, ended up in-bounding the ball under their bucket with 9 seconds remaining.

The in-bounds play was executed perfectly and the Spartans got a point-blank look at the rim, but the ball rolled off the rim, and Lister rebounded it with 5.9 seconds remaining.

Lister made the second of two free throws to make it 42-39.

Before Mid-Valley could get the ball up court to attempt a game-tying 3-pointer, Athens fouled Nemitz in the backcourt with 2.3 seconds remaining.

Nemitz made the first, then had the second roll off the rim. Babcock rebounded the miss, and fired a pass up the floor, which Tucker chased down as the final buzzer sounded.

“We played really good defense,” said Lister. “If you can hold a high school team to 40 points in the state playoffs, you have a good shot to win the game.

“It’s a team win — everyone contributed a little something to get us the W,” added Lister.

Babcock led Athens with 14 points, six rebounds, three assists, four blocked shots, and four steals, while Lister had 10 points and five rebounds, and Brown had nine points, four assists, and four steals.

Carling added five points, two assists, and two steals in the win, and Pritchard and Mitchell each grabbed four rebounds.

Tanner led Mid-Valley with 15 points, and Nemitz added 14.

Athens will face Archbishop Carroll in the Sweet 16.

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March 5, 2022 Tim Birney

WILLIAMSPORT — Senior Gavin Bradley became the second wrestler in Athens program history to qualify for the PIAA Championships four times here Saturday, while senior Karter Rude punched his ticket to Hershey for the first time.

Bradley avenged his only loss of the season — a 5-3 setback in the District 4 finals last week — with a wild 11-8 win over top-seeded Branden Wentzel of Montoursville in the 113-pound finale to win his third consecutive Regional title.

“Gavin is going to wrestle hard for six minutes, or however long the match is no matter what,” said Athens coach Shawn Bradley.

“I think he fixed some stuff tonight,” he noted. “He stayed in position, and position is huge in wrestling. Last week, he gave up position a couple of times, and Wentzel is a tough kid — he capitalized on it.

“He stayed in position a lot better, got to his offense, and gutted it out when he had to,” Bradley added.

Bradley scored a takedown with 1:11 remaining in the first period to take a 2-0 lead, but Wentzel recorded a reversal with 21 seconds left to tie it at 2-2.

Wentzel registered an escape off the second-period whistle for a 3-2 lead, but Bradley answered with a pair of takedowns for a 6-4 lead with 41 seconds remaining.

Wentzel scored an escape late in the second period, then hit for a takedown early in the third period for a 7-6 lead.

Bradley escaped with 1:25 left in the third period to tie the bout at 7-7, then connected on a pair of takedowns, including one with 12 seconds remaining to seal the victory.

Previously, Gavin Bradley, who pinned Wyoming Area’s Garret Pocceschi in 74 seconds in the quarterfinals Friday, sewed up his trip to Hershey with a pin of South Williamsport’s Kayvan Shams in 2:38 in the semifinals.

Rude, the third seed at 152 pounds, opened the tournament Friday night with a 5-2 win over Honesdale’s Joey Gianetti, 5-2.

Rude punched his ticket to States in the semifinals with a 5-0 win over second-seeded Cooper Price, who was 28-1 entering the bout.

“Coming into this year, Karter (Rude) had never even placed at Districts,” said Bradley. “This year, he takes second at Regionals, and he beats a kid who is undefeated in the semis. That’s cool.”

Rude’s quest for a Regional title came up short with a 9-1 loss to top-seeded Devon Deem of Montgomery in the finals.

“He closed the gap on Deem, and Deem is tough,” said Bradley.

“Karter has wrestled some really good kids in that weight class this year, the top three, four, five kids in the state.”

Bradley believes Rude is primed for good things in Hersehy.

“Karter is peaking just at the right time,” he said. “He’s right where he needs to be right now.

“Karter is a great athlete,” noted Bradley. “The keys for him are head position, his hands are super-heavy, and he’s got great attacks.

“And, his gas tank this year is really good this year,” added Bradley. “In the past that was the biggest issue, how do we get him to push through hard situations? We don’t have to ask that anymore, he’s pushed through hard situations every day.”

Junior Jake Courtney and sophomore Josh Nittinger, who both lost pigtail-round matches, were eliminated with losses in their first wrestleback matches Saturday morning.

“They both had great seasons,” said Bradley. “When you come down here, you have to fight through some tough kids to advance. They both battled, came up a little bit short in both matches, but they battled.

“I think both kids will take a big step forward next year, and they’re going to have to because they’re going to be our leaders,” he added.

Nittinger dropped a 4-1 decision to Meadowbrook Christian’s Gunner Treibley.

“I think Josh wrestled more matches than anyone in this tournament,” said Bradley. “He wrestled almost 50 matches, which is awesome. He showed me a lot this year as far as working hard, and wanting to learn.”

Courtney dropped a 6-5 decision to Line Mountain’s Lane Schadel.

“Jake has to take that next step, he’s right there,” said Bradley. “He beat some really good kids this year. He has to take that next step, know he’s good enough, and just prove it.”

Action at the PIAA Class AA Championships begins Thursday morning at the Giant Center in Hershey.

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March 5, 2022 Tim Birney

MANSFIELD — All season long, Athens feasted on lay-ups as a key cog of its offense, and that continued against Lewisburg. The difference against the Green Dragons was that those lay-ups didn’t go down, with the Wildcats falling 71-58 in District 4, Class AAAA boys’ basketball championship game Saturday.

“Tonight wasn’t our night,” Athens coach Jim Lister said. “So many bunnies and hippies that we normally make, we didn’t make tonight. We make those shots, we probably win the game. It just wasn’t our day.”

The Wildcats missed six lay-ups in the first quarter, but found themselves down just 13-8. They would tie it up at 22-all in the second quarter, but a 6-0 run would put the Green Dragons up, and they would carry that momentum to a 33-26 lead at the half.

The Green Dragons pushed their advantage to 48-34 in the third quarter, but Athens would chip away, cutting it a 4-point game with just under three minutes to play. It never got closer than that, though, and Lewisburg used lay-ups and free throws to pull away.

“They didn’t quit, they fought right to the end,” said Lister. “They cut it to three points with three minutes to go in the game. It just shows you the heart these kids have. I’m super proud of them, I really am.”

Tucker Brown led the way with 23 points, including a 14-for-16 effort from the free throw line. He also had four boards, and two assists.

At one point, he scored 13 straight points for Athens in the late third and early fourth to get them back in the game.

“He just doesn’t ever stop,” said Lister. “We love the kid to death. I’m going to mis him, he’s just a phenomenal kid, and a tremendous point guard, and he’s going to be a tough one to replace next year.”

JJ Babcock added 15 points, six rebounds, and two blocks, with Mason Lister netting seven points to go with five boards, three assists, and three steals.

Nalen Carling scored six, with six boards, and two steals, Kolsen Keathley finished with four points and three rebounds, Xavier Watson notched two points, and Chris Mitchell rounded things out with one point. Troy Pritchard added two boards for the Wildcats.

Lewisburg’s Jake Hernandez was strong inside with 26 points, while Joey Martin added 15 and Cam Michaels finished with 13. Michaels, the point guard, was a spark plug for the team all game long.

Jack Blough was also in double-figures with 11, while Forrest Zelechoski finished with four, and Henry Harrison added two.

It was a foul-plagued game, with Lewisburg going 20-for-23 from the line, while Athens was 23-for-36.

A Lister lay-up gave Athens a 2-0 lead less than a minute into the game.

After some back-and-forth, Hernandez used an old-fashion 3-point play to put the Dragons up 3-2. Babcock would knot things up with a free throw with 4:56 left in the quarter.

Lewisburg then went on n 8-0 run, behind four points from Hernandez, to take an 11-3 lead with 3:19 left to play in the first.

Mitchell would get a free throw, followed by a Keathley bucket to cut it to 11-6. Hernandez would follow that with a lay-up, but Babcock had the final say with two freebies to make it 13-8 at the first horn.

It was back-and-forth early in the second as Babcock would cut it to 14-10, but a pair of Michaels free throws pushed the lead back to six.

Brown would get a pair of free throws for Athens, but Hernandez followed with a lay-up. Lister would cut it to 18-15 with just under six minutes left in the second quarter with an old-fashion three-point play, but two more freebies for Lewisburg put them back up five.

Athens would strike back with a 4-0 spurt, as Lister found Babcock for a bucket, followed by Watson getting a putback to cut it to 20-19.

Michaels would end the spurt with a lay-up, but a Brown 3-ball off a Babcock cross-court pass tied it up at 22-all with 3:20 left in the half.

Lewisburg, though, would follow with another 6-0 run — all on free throws. Hernandez was fouled, followed by a technical foul called on Athens, giving him two more freebies. He made all four, they got the ball back, and he got fouled again, making those two to put Lewisburg up 28-22 with 2:42 left in the half.

Babcock would get a lay-up, but Michaels nailed a step back 3-ball to push Lewisburg’s advantage to 31-24.

The two teams would trade points down the stretch to make it 33-26 Green Dragons at the half.

Athens went on a 4-2 spurt to start the third quarter, with buckets from Brown and Babcock, cutting it to 35-30. Lewisburg would respond with a 7-0 run to put them up 42-30 near the midway point of the quarter.

Brown would end the spurt with a lay-up, the beginning of 13 straight points for the Wildcats.

Martin would hit a 3-ball, but Brown came back with two freebies. Martin would get another 3-pointer to push their lead to 14 points, but Brown responded with a lay-up.

The Wildcats then went to the line three times after that, but went 0-for-5.

However, Brown went to the line twice in the final 12 seconds, going 3-for-4 to make it 49-39 going into the final frame.

Lewisburg’s Blough would get back-to-back lay-ups early in the fourth to extend the lead to 53-39, but four straight free throws from Brown cut it to 10 points again.

Blough continued the hot hand, getting a putback, but two lay-ups from the Wildcats saw them cut it to 55-47.

A Martin lay-up with 4:20 left made it a 10-point game halfway through the fourth. After the two teams traded a free throw, Athens went on a 6-0 run — powered by four points from Babcock — to cut it to 58-54 with 2:51 to play.

Hernandez would end that stretch with a pair of free throws, followed by Michaels getting a steal and lay-up to make it 64-52 with 1:40 left.

At the other end in one possession, Athens had four good lay-up looks, but none of them went down. Michaels would get the ball, and drive straight to the bucket, but Pritchard played the best defense of the game, going straight at him to force an errant shot.

The Wildcats went down, with Lister finding Keathley for a basket to make it 64-58 with 1:10 left.

That’s the last time Athens would score, though, as Lewisburg finished the game on a 7-0 run to secure the win.

Despite coming up short, Lister was glad to see his team get Athens back into a district final.

“I’m just ecstatic for all of them,” he said. “They put the work in, the time in, and came up a little short tonight.”

Athens will now travel to the District 2 runners-up on Tuesday.

“We’ve got to give them the weekend off, and just kind of swallow this one hard,” said Lister. “We’ll go back at it hard on Monday.”

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March 4, 2022 Tim Birney

WILLIAMSPORT — Athens advanced two wrestlers — seniors Gavin Bradley and Karter Rude — to Saturday morning’s semifinals, while two Wildcats fell into the consolation bracket here Friday night at the District 4, Class AA Wrestling Championships.

At 113 pounds, Bradley decked Wyoming Area’s Garret Pocceschi in 1:14 in the quarterfinals.

Bradley will face South Williamsport’s Kayvan Shams in the semifinals. Shams topped District 2 champion Cole Henry of Lackawanna Trail, 7-5, in the quarterfinals.

At 152 pounds, Rude forged a 5-2 win over Honesdale’s Joey Giannetti in the quarterfinals.

Rude will face District 2 champ Cooper Price of Wyoming Area in the semifinals. Price edged Southern Columbia’s Louden Murphy, 5-3, in the quarterfinals.

At 138 pounds, Athens junior Jack Courtney dropped a 9-0 major decision to Benton’s Caden Temple in the pigtail round.

Courtney will face Line Mountain’s Lane Schadel Saturday morning in the consolation bracket.

At 285 pounds, Athens sophomore Josh Nittinger lost via fall in 2:44 to Milton’s Nathan Rauch in the pigtail round.

Nittinger will face Meadowbrook Christian’s Gunner Treibley in the first round of wrestlebacks Saturday morning.

Action begins Saturday at 9 a.m., with the semifinals and consolation quarterfinals set to begin at 10:30 a.m.

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March 3, 2022 Tim Birney

WILLIAMSPORT — Athens had five different swimmers, led by senior Brooke Kopatz and freshman Ethan Hicks, earn a pair of medals here Thursday night at Day 2 of the District 4 Swimming & Diving Championships.

The Athens boys finished third in the team standings, while the Lady Wildcats were fourth.

“We had a terrific meet,” said Athens coach Mark Keister.

Kopatz and juniors Taegan Williams and Taylar Fisher each won a pair of medals Thursday. Williams and Fisher each earned four medals in the two-day event.

Kopatz had the best individual finish of the day for Athens swimmers, placing third in the 100-yard breaststroke in a time of 1:11.39

Kopatz, Williams, Fisher, and sophomore Grace Cobb teamed to finish fourth in the 400-yard freestyle in a time of 4:02.03.

Williams finished fifth in the 100-yard freestyle in a time of 57.43 seconds, and freshman Elizabeth Talada was 16th in 1:07.85.

Fisher finished sixth in the 100-yard backstroke in a time of 1:09.99, and sophomore Emily Marshall was 10th in 1:13.79.

Cobb finished 14th in the 500-yard freestyle in 6:28.25.

Powerhouse Danville cruised to the team title with 465 points, while Central Columbia was runner-up with 296 points, Bloomsburg was third with 240, Athens tallied 213 points, and Jersey Shore was fifth with 197 points.

Hicks and junior Ethan Denlinger each earned a pair of medals Thursday to give them four in the two-day event. Junior Chris DeForest also brought home four medals.

Denlinger, DeForest, Hicks and freshman Ronel Ankam teamed to finish second in the 400-yard freestyle relay in a time of 3:32.76.

Hicks had the best individual finish for the Athens boys, placing fourth in the 100-yard backstroke in a time of 1:00.37.

Denlinger finished sixth in the 500-yard freestyle in 5:36.89, and junior Joe Blood was 13th in 6:39.35.

Ankam finished eighth in the 100-yard freestyle in a time of 55.38 seconds, while freshman Ryan Gorman was 18th in 1:00.39, and freshman Carter Lewis was 21st in 1:02.77.

Gorman finished 12th in the 100-yard breaststroke in a time of 1:19.78.

Athens divers — freshman Treyvon Simpson and Carter Lewis — finished ninth and 11th, respectively, last weekend at the District 4 Diving Championships.

Central Columbia ran away with the team title, amassing 391.5 points, while runner-up Lewisburg had 249 points. Athens tallied 213.5 points, while fourth-place Danville had 200, and Bloomsburg was fifth with 166 points.

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March 2, 2022 Tim Birney

WILLIAMSPORT — Juniors Chris DeForest and Taegan Williams had the top performances for Athens in Day 1 at the District 4 Swimming & Diving Championships, leading both the boys and girls teams into fourth place at the midway point.

“We had some very good races and fast swims,” said Athens coach Mark Keister. “Most of our swims are finishing at or better than seed times.

“We are excited to see our swimmers do tomorrow,” added Keister. “We have swimmers in every event for Day 2, and some events have multiple swimmers. It should be a lot of fun.”

DeForest had a trio of top-four finishes on Day 1.

DeForest finished second in the 50-yard freestyle in 23.17 seconds, and freshman Josh Leonard was 16th in 28.71 seconds. He finished fourth in the 100-yard butterfly in a time of 58.83 seconds, and Leonard was 10th in 1:07.84.

DeForest teamed with junior Ethan Denlinger and freshmen Ethan Hicks and Ronel Ankam to finish third in the 200-yard freestyle relay in a time of 1:50.46.

Hicks and Ankam teamed with fellow freshmen Ryan Gorman and Leonard to finish fifth in the  200-yard medley team in a time of 1:58.01.

Junior Ethan Denlinger finished sixth in the 200-yard freestyle in a time of 2:02.78, and junior Joe Blood was 12th in 2:29.2.

Central Columbia leads the team standings with 210 points, while Lewisburg is second with 157 points, Danville is third with 134, and Athens has 133 points.

Williams had a pair of third-place finishes, and junior Taylar Fisher had a pair of top-six finishes to pace the Lady Wildcats.

Williams finished third in the 200-yard freestyle in a time of 2:03.8, and sophomore Grace Cobb was 11th in 2:21.62.

Williams teamed with Fisher, senior Brooke Kopatz, and sophomore Emily Marshall teamed to finish third in the 200-yard freestyle relay in a time of 1:50.46.

Fisher finished sixth in the 200-yard IM in a time of 2:28.86, and Kopatz was ninth in 2:37.32.

Junior Macaria Benjamin finished eighth in the 100-yard butterfly in a time of 1:17.61, while Marshall was ninth in 1:18.44, and freshman Elizabeth Talada was 11th in 1:38.34.

Senior Hannah Walker finished 14th in the 50-yard freestyle in a time of 30.89 seconds.

Athens sits in fourth place after Day 1 with 129 points, well behind powerhouse Danville, which leads the team standings with 257 points. Central Columbia is second with 156 points, and Bloomsburg is third with 146.

Day 2 action begins at 6 p.m.

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March 1, 2022 Tim Birney

WILLIAMSPORT — Senior Tucker Brown buried two free throws with 16 seconds remaining to lift Athens to a 41-40 win over Shamokin, and into the District 4, Class 4A championship game.

“I’m very happy with the win tonight,” said Athens coach Jim Lister. “The kids dug deep and found a way to win.

“I’m so proud of them,” noted Lister. “When you go down to Williamsport, it’s a different level of basketball. It’s a lot more physical, they let you play a lot more.

“Our guys handled the adversity, they never quit, they followed the game plan, and we pulled it off,” he added. “I’m thrilled for the kids, and I’m thrilled for the program.”

The Wildcats finished the third quarter with a 6-0 spurt — on a pair of buckets by senior Nalen Carling, sandwiched around a short jumper by senior J.J. Babcock — to take a 31-25 lead into the final eight minutes.

Babcock scored again, off a feed from junior Mason Lister, to give the Wildcats their biggest lead of the game, at 33-25, with 7:35 remaining in the contest.

The Indians closed gap to 35-30, but another bucket by Carling, this one off an assist from Babcock, made it 37-30 with 4:35 left in the game.

Shamokin scored the next eight points to take a 38-37 lead with 1:48 remaining, but a steal by Babcock and a long pass to junior Chris Mitchell for an uncontested lay-up with 44 seconds left gave Athens a 39-38 lead.

"How about that pass to Chris Mitchell?,” said Lister. “Seriously, a half-court bullet right there for a
lay-up. That's part of being 6-6, being able to see the floor and finding his wide-open teammate."

Just eight seconds later, Shamokin made a pair of free throws to regain the lead, at 40-39, setting the stage for Brown’s game-winners.

“It was a big-time moment for a senior,” said Lister.

“We practice foul shooting a lot in practice, and Tucker kind of goes off to the side by himself,” he noted. “He’s constantly working on it, and it paid off tonight.”

Shamokin knocked down a pair of 3-pointers on its first two possessions to take a quick 6-0 lead

“It seems like every time we face a team, they come out in the first quarter and they hit their first two or three 3-pointers,” laughed Lister. “Shamokin made their first two, and then missed a bunch after that.

“I think our 3-2 zone was frustrating for them. They were having a difficult time getting the ball inside.

“I’ve watched a lot of Heartland (Athletic Conference) film, and it’s no secret, they all play man-to-man defense,” noted Lister. “Every game I watched, it’s man-to-man.

“We’re playing this zone, and they’re just not use to seeing it. With our length and athleticism, these guards struggle with it.

“We forced a lot of turnovers tonight, it’s been our type of basketball,” added Lister. “We’re going to stick with it.”

Shamokin led 12-4 midway through the first quarter, but Lister scored back-to-back buckets to close the gap to 12-8 at the end of the opening eight minutes.

After a free throw by Shamokin to open the second-quarter scoring, senior Troy Pritchard scored on a nice low-post move to trigger a 7-0 spurt that Brown capped with a steal and uncontested lay-up to give the Wildcats a 15-13 lead.

The teams battled evenly until Athens’ 6-0 spurt to end the third quarter.

Carling led Athens with 12 points, five rebounds, and three steals, while Babcock had nine points, three assists, and one blocked shot, and Brown had eight points, five rebounds, four assists, and six steals.

Lister added four points, four rebounds, four assists, and six steals in the win, while Pritchard had six points and four rebounds, and Mitchell chipped in with five rebounds and one blocked shot.

The Wildcats, now 20-6, are just one win away from a District 4 title.

“That’s one banner in our gym we just don’t have for Athens boys basketball,” said Lister.

“We use the phrase, we have to be 1-0,” he noted. “We have to keep being 1-0. Now, we’re at the point where we can be 1-0 again, and win a District title.

“The kids have bought in, and are playing some really good basketball,” Lister added.

Athens will face the winner of Wednesday’s game between top-seeded Lewisburg and fourth-seeded Mifflinburg on Saturday at a site and time to be determined.

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February 26, 2022 Tim Birney

WILLIAMSPORT — It was a good day for Athens wrestling, but it could have been better. Four wrestlers made it through to regionals — the highest number of any team from the NTL, but none of them won their medal-round match.

Seniors Gavin Bradley (113) and Karter Rude (152) were both runners-up, while junior Jacob Courtney (138) was fourth, and sophomore Josh Nittinger (285) came in sixth.

“That’s a rough last round,” said Athens coach Shawn Bradley.

They also lost Kaden Setzer to an injury. If he was healthy, there’s a good chance he would be have joined them.

“He did the best he could, but came up a little bit short,” said Bradley. “We had Josh step up as a sophomore, and he’d lost to that boy two or three times this year.”

Gavin Bradley lost to Montoursville’s Branden Wentzel, 5-3, on a late third-period takedown on a scramble with 30 seconds left in the match. Gavin Bradley took a 3-2 lead on a takedown during a scramble in the second, but after riding Wentzel much of the third he had to let him up.

Gavin Bradley pushed the pace on Wentzel, and nearly had him for takedowns several times, but Wentzel was able to wrestle on the edge of the mat, and get out whenever he was in trouble.

“We’ve got to survive or do better in the scrambles there,” said Bradley. “Finish a little bit quicker. We had to cut him there because Gavin had two cautions when he was riding him tough, but it is what it is, he’s got to learn from that and get better for next time.”

Rude was pinned by Montgomery’s Devon Deem in 3:01 after beating Lewisburg’s Chase Wenrich in the semifinals.

Deem used a strong single-leg attack to build a 6-2 lead in the first period. In the second, he kept at it, ultimately getting the fall.

“That kids a hammer,” said Bradley. “And Karter asked me, ‘what do I have to do?’ We just have to keep working. Karter’s got some good work out partners, Karter’s just got to pull the trigger. That kid took all the shots. Karter’s got to get after it, and take it to him. Karter’s got a good offense, but that kid is very good — Karter’s got to wrestle up to his level.”

Despite the setback, Rude is glad to be where he’s at.

“I’ve never had anything like this before, so I’m just trying to take it one step at a time,” he said. “Keep it nice.”

As for wrestling Deem, he plans on doing better next time.

“He was getting the single-leg on me, I need to work on defending that,” he said.

Courtney got a big win over Benton’s Caden Temple (3-1) to get to the third-place match, where he fell to Southern Columbia’s Kole Biscoe, 6-0. In the semifinals, Courtney lost to Warrior Run’s Cameron Milheim, 5-1.

Nittinger had an NTL kind of day, opening the elimination round with a 3-1 win over Towanda’s Jared Gunther, then pinning Canton’s Mason Nelson in 4:32 to get to the consolation semifinals.

Once there, he lost to Williamson’s Kade Sottolano 9-1, and then was pinned by Meadowbrook Christian’s Gunner Treibley in 1:42 in the fifth-place match.

Athens freshman 215-pounder Caleb Nason dropped a 6-4 decision to Montoursville’s Cole Yonkin in the first round of wrestlebacks Saturday morning.

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February 25, 2022 Tim Birney

WILLIAMSPORT — Athens advanced three wrestlers — seniors Karter Rude and Gavin Bradley, and junior Jake Courtney —  into the semifinals of Saturday’s District 4, Class AA Wrestling Championships.

The Wildcats also have three grapplers — senior Kaden Setzer, sophomore Josh Nittinger, and freshman Caleb Nason — in the consolation bracket.

Athens is in fifth place in the team standings with 28 points. Benton leads the team title chase with 49 points, with Montoursville second at 39, Canton third at 32.5 points, and Southern Columbia in fourth at 31 points.

Rude, the second seed at 152 pounds, forged a 13-3 decision over seventh-seeded Evan Brokenshire of Benton in the quarterfinals.

Rude will square off with third-seeded Chase Wenrich of Lewisburg in the semifinals.

At 113 pounds, second-seeded Gavin Bradley decked 10th-seeded Kris Kalbarchick of Mount Carmel in 1:22 to advance to the semifinals.

Bradley will square off with third-seeded Brady Struble of Mifflinburg in the semifinals.

At 138 pounds, Courtney, the fourth seed, pinned fifth-seeded Lane Schadel of Line Mountain in the quarterfinals.

Courtney will take on top-seeded Cameron Milheim in the semifinals.

Setzer, the fourth seed at 132 pounds, was knocked into the consolation bracket via pin by fifth-seeded Caiden Puderbach of Hughesville in the quarterfinals.

Setzer, who had right knee heavily protected after his injury default in last Saturday’s 132-pound finale, will take on 11th-seeded Sam Persun of South Williamsport in the first round of wrestlebacks.

Nittinger, the ninth seed at 285 pounds, pulled out a 4-2 decision over eighth-seeded Andrew Wolfe of Benton in the round-of-16.

Nittinger was knocked into the consolation bracket by top-seeded Emmanuel Ulrich of Mifflinburg inn the quarterfinals.

Nittinger takes on 10th-seeded Jared Gunther of Towanda in wrestlebacks Saturday morning.

Freshman Caleb Nason, the 10th seed at 215 pounds, dropped an 8-2 decision to seventh-seeded Cale Bastian of Milton in the round-of-16.

Nason will take on eighth-seeded Cole Yonkin of Montoursville in the opening round of wretlebacks Saturday morning.

Actin begins at 9 a.m. Saturday.

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February 25, 2022 Tim Birney

ATHENS — Athens allowed seven first-half points, limited Milton to 15-percent shooting from the field in the game, and forced 28 turnovers in a 57-23 rout here Friday night in the quarterfinals of the District 4, Class AAAA boys basketball playoffs.

“Our defense was definitely the story tonight,” said Athens coach Jim Lister. “My kids were fantastic on defense tonight. There were active, they had a lot of intensity, and their hands were busy.

“On film, it’s no secret the Heartland (Conference) match up … they match up and play man-to-man. Everything I watched on film was man-to-man.

“Playing Wyalusing and Troy, I thought their guards were better than what we saw tonight, so I thought our 3-2 (zone) would be nasty for (Milton), and it was,” noted Lister.

“When they starting figuring things out, we went to a half-court press, and it was game over,” Lister added.

The Wildcats scored the first eight points of the game, and led 10-1 after the first eight minutes, with five different players putting their names in the scoring column.

After a bucket by Milton to start the second quarter closed the gap to 10-3, the Wildcats scored nine points in a row in a run that featured four points by senior Tucker Brown, and a 3-pointer by junior Mason Lister.

Senior Nalen Carling’s puback on the offensive glass capped the run and made it 19-3 with 1:45 remaining in the first half.

The teams traded buckets to finish the half, and the Wildcats led 23-7 at the intermission.

Lister believes the 16-point halftime bulge should have been much bigger.

“If there was one thing I was all over the kids about tonight is that we were not finishing at the rim,” he said. “We missed a lot of bunnies in the first half that we normally make.

“Obviously our defensive was tremendous in the first half, but I thought we should have had another 15 points on the scoreboard,” noted Lister. “We just missed a lot of easy shots.

“We came out in the third quarter, and I think we were rushing things a little bit … we were trying too hard to score,” he added. “I took a time out just to settle them down, and we were just fantastic after that.”

Milton scored the first five points of the third quarter, but the Wildcats closed out the third quarter with a 14-3 run to take a 39-15 lead into the final eight minutes.

Senior Troy Pritchard started the run, and Lister scored six points in the stretch.

Athens continued to poor it on in the fourth quarter with an 18-8 run, field by six points from senior J.J. Babcock.

Lister took a minute after the game to pay homage to the Athens student body.

“Our student body again was fantastic tonight,” he said. “They came out in droves, and they were so loud and into the game the entire time. I’m just thrilled to have them there.”

Lister led Athens with 15 points, four rebounds, and four steals, while Babcock had 12 points, five boards, three assists, and two blocked shots, and Carling added eight points and eight rebounds.

Brown had eight points, six assists, four rebounds, and three steals in the win,, while Pritchard had six points and six boards, and junior Chris Mitchell chipped in with five points.

Athens, now 19-6, will face second-seeded Shamokin at a time and place to be determined.


Athens honored senior J.J. Babcock for reaching the 1,000-point plateau and the 500-rebound marker.

“We had eight alumni at the game from Athens (and SRU) who were 1,000-point scorers to recognize them, and celebrate J.J.’s accomplishments,” said Lister. “I think it was a wonderful thing for J.J. (Babcock), I’m thrilled for him.

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February 24, 2022 Tim Birney

ATHENS — When two teams play good man-to-man defense, points can be hard to come by.

That proved to be the case Thursday night as sixth-seeded Lewisburg edged third-seeded Athens, 21-18, in the quarterfinals of the District 4, Class 4A girls basketball playoffs.

“We knew as a coaching staff that it was going to be a low-scoring game,” said Athens coach Brian Miller.

“Lewisburg plays very, very good half-court man-to-man defense, and they run their (offensive) man sets for a long time. They are very patient to get the best shot, and sometimes they shoot and miss and get the rebound, and you have to keep playing defense.

“We knew the number of shots we were going to get was going to be low, and the quality of shots we were going to get was going to be lower,” added Miller. “And, that did come to fruition.”

The Lady Wildcats only took 24 shots from the field, making seven for a 29-percent clip. Worse yet, they were just 1-for-3 from the free-throw line.

“If you told me we were going to hold them to 21 points, I’d take that every single night,” said Miller. “We didn’t execute offensively, .

“Caydence (Macik) didn’t shoot any foul shots. We tried to pound the ball into her because she was a mismatch to them,” added Miller. “Unfortunately for us, she didn’t get to the foul line at all.”

The game was a very physical affair with one Athens player sustaining a black eye, and another a bloody mouth.

“They let us play big-time,” said Miller. “The nature of the officiating tonight, letting them play, worked in their favor, not ours.

“We need to score points from the foul line,” noted Miller. “Unfortunately, we only shot three foul shots, and Caydence (Macik), our best interior player who usually gets to the foul line 5 to 10 times per game, didn’t shoot a free throw.”

Athens led 7-6 after the first eight minutes, and, thanks to a 3-pointer by Macik late in the second quarter, the two teams entered the halftime locker room tied at 12-12.

Kealey Baker scored on Lewisburg’s first possession of the second half to give the Lady Green Dragons a 14-12 lead with 6:44 remaining in the third quarter.

It took Athens nearly two more minutes to get on the board in the second half, but Macik and junior Emma Bronson scored in transition about 30 seconds apart to give the Lady Wildcats a15-14 lead with 4:15 left in the third quarter.

With 2:50 left in the third quarter, Sophie Kilbride canned a 3-pointer to give Lewisburg the lead for good, at 17-16.

Anna Baker added a pair of free throws in the final minute of the stanza to give the Green Dragons a 19-16 lead heading into the final eight minutes.

Junior Karlee Bartlow hit a driving baseline runner with 6:48 remaining in the game to trim the deficit to 19-18, but missed a free throw to complete the traditional three-point play.

Lewisburg took 2 1/2 minutes off the game clock in its next possession before Athens came up with a steal. However, the Lady Dragons returned the favor at half court to regain possession.

About 30 seconds later, Lewisburg miss the front end of a one-and-one. The Dragons would miss the front end of two more one-and-ones, and with 26 seconds remaining, Kealey Baker rebounded a miss and scored on a putback to make it 21-18.

Athens’ last-ditch effort to tie the game, a 3-pointer with 5 seconds remaining was blocked.

Macik, who ends her Athens career with 1,283 points — third all-time in program history — led the Lady Wildcats with nine points, three rebounds, and six steals, while Emma Bronson added four points, and Karlee Bartlow chipped in with three points, four rebounds, and two assists.

Senior Olivia Bartlow had five rebounds, three steals, and one blocked shot, and freshman Addy Wheeler chipped in with two rebounds, two steals, and two blocked shots.

The Lady Wildcats lose just two seniors from this season’s 17-7 team.

“Caydence had a tremendous career, and Olivia came back and had a nice season for us,” said Miller. “They will both be missed.”

Miller said losing his two best low-post players will result in a different-looking team in 2022-23.

“We’ll be smaller and faster next year year.,” he said. “Sara Bronson and Mya Thompson will get more playing time … Natalee Watson will step into the center position and get more playing time.

“We have girls like Ella Coyle who will see more time.

“We’ll kind of be like Lewisburg — small and fast, and have to pressure the basketball to create opportunities to score in transition,” added Miller.

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