LEWISBURG - The kids could always play. They proved that when they dominated junior high and when they won 13 varsity games last year. But now the kids are starting to believe in themselves and realizing how good they can be.
Montoursville, a team that starts five underclassmen, made a huge statement Friday at Lewisburg Middle School, dominating playoff-bound Lewisburg in all facets while romping to an impressive 45-23 win. The Warriors (15-3, 9-1 HAC-II) moved a half game ahead of Mount Carmel in the HAC-II standings, but more importantly showed how dangerous they are.
Kirsten O'Malley nearly recorded a double-double, Kelsey Stine set the early tone and the team's two seniors, Ally Yocum and Kayla Venema hit two of the game's biggest shots late in the third quarter. Every player did her part and Montoursville played its best game in its breakout season.
"Hopefully, other teams are going to see that and be scared," said O'Malley after scoring 16 points, grabbing eight rebounds and dealing five assists. "We were picking each other up. A lot of people came up big tonight and hopefully this will be a confidence boost for our team."
Montoursville won its fifth straight and for the eighth time in nine games. It was how that spoke volumes. The Warriors have played well against the league's best teams but all those wins were close, including when it overcame an 11-point halftime deficit and edged Lewisburg, 34-32 last month.
This time, the outcome was never in doubt. Montoursville scored the game's first 10 points, held Lewisburg without a field goal for more than 10 minutes and received strong contributions on both ends from starters and reserves.
"They are good players, good athletes and great kids to coach but I think tonight they started believing in themselves," Montoursville coach Kevin Kurtz said. "I don't think that we were lacking confidence in the past year and a half, but I think they overcame a small hump here and it was a good night for the team."
Stine was dominant early. The sophomore forward scored six of the team's 10 first-quarter points and was strong on the boards, allowing Montoursville to get second and third-chance opportunities. Once Stine took control of the middle, everything else opened up and Carly Mill (7 points, 7 rebounds) heated up while O'Malley started attacking the basket.
"We all said we need to start out hot so every time I got the ball I tried to do anything I could," Stine said. "There was a lot more communication this game. We wanted to keep each other going. Everyone on our team contributed from the last person on the bench to the starters."
Yocum, Venema and Alexis Weisser were outstanding off the bench, combining for eight points, nine rebounds and four assists while playing good defense. Yocum and Venema have been team leaders all year and delivered two clutch baskets after Lewisburg (12-5, 7-4) started heating up in the third quarter and cut a 20-point deficit to 31-18.
First, Yocum scored on a drive with 38 seconds remaining to stop the run. Next, Venema grabbed an offensive rebound, fought off two defenders and made a difficult, left-handed shot right before the buzzer. Just like that, Lewisburg's momentum had been stifled and the Green Dragons never threatened again. Montoursville built on the momentum the seniors generated and took a 21-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
"I told Kayla that was a big play, but I don't think she realizes how big of a play that was," Kurtz said. "We talk about the little things and they did the little things tonight and this could be a good momentum builder for us because we have four tough games left."
Montoursville has been one of the district's best defensive teams all season and nothing changed last night. The Warriors forced Lewisburg into a 16 percent shooting performance and forced six first-quarter turnovers. O'Malley, Mill and Marissa Hall combined for seven steals and McKenzie Ruffing was brilliant.
Ruffing was assigned Mansfield-bound point guard Maria Kelleher, and allowed her to score just one basket while guarding her. Ruffing was draped to Kelleher all night, relentlessly followed her and helped take the head off the Lewisburg offense despite being sick.
"She was great," Stine said. "We're fast. We can get to the ball and people that have the ball and can get in the passing lanes."
Lois Lesher played well for Lewisburg, scoring six points and grabbing nine rebounds. She was the only Dragon to hit a shot from the field in the first half, although Kelleher finished with a team-high 11 points. Montoursville has now outscored Lewisburg 72-37 over the last six quarters.
"Their heads are down a little bit because they expected a little more of themselves, but they just didn't have it," Lewisburg coach Phil Stamm said. "We realize there's a lot of season left. We have to regroup and prepare ourselves for the playoffs. We'll bounce back, I'm sure."
Kirsten O'Malley 7 2-6 16, Carly Mill 3 0-0 7, McKenzie Ruffing 1 4-4 6, Marissa Hall 0 0-0 0, Kelsey Stine 4 0-2 8, Alexis Weisser 1 0-0 2, Kayla Venema 1 0-0 2, Ally Yocum 2 0-0 4. Totals 19 6-12 45.
Maria Kelleher 2 5-6 11, Emily Conrad 1 0-0 2, Lois Lesher 3 0-0 6, Kasey Conrad 0 0-4 0, Lenore Doyle 1 0-0 2, Haley Stanko 0 0-0 0, Kirsten Blakeslee 0 0-0 0, Akilah McFadden 1 0-0 2. Totals 8 5-10 23.
Montoursville10 15 10 10-45
Lewisburg2 7 9 5-23
3-pointers: Montoursville 1 (Mill); Lewisburg 2 (Kelleher 2).
Records: Montoursville 15-3, 9-1 HAC-II. Lewisburg 12-5, 7-4.
JV Score: Lewisburg 30-27.