WVC BASKETBALL: Balanced Cougars Hand Trojans First Loss
HAZLE TWP. — When Hazleton Area and Nanticoke Area’s boys basketball teams last met, the Cougars were the ones with a wealth of proven talent — the ones getting plenty of early season hype.
Hazleton Area lived up to it at Nanticoke Area last January, pulling away for an 83-65 victory on the way to its third straight Wyoming Valley Conference Division 1 title, the District 2/4 Class 6A Subregional championship and a deep state playoff run.
Coming into their rematch at Hughie McGeehan Gymnasium on Thursday might, the veteran Trojans appeared on a similar path as last year’s Cougars. They were unbeaten in seven games, showcasing a lethal perimeter game and climbing to No. 9 in the latest PIAA Class 4A rankings.
Hazleton Area, meanwhile, was still searching for an identity after graduation took away most of its biggest stars.
Most, but certainly not all.
Cougar holdovers Da’mir Faison (15), Ryan “Sparky’’ Wolk (11) and Andrew Vayda (11) combined for 37 points and Warren Seigendall (11), Kyle Franek (six) and Scotty Campbell (six) — all new to the varsity rotation — teamed for another 23 as Hazleton Area downed Nanticoke Area 62-50 in a WVC Division 1-2 crossover showdown.
“I think we’ve all gotten used to playing with each other. ... The chemistry is coming along nicely,’’ said Faison, who had 11 of his points in the second half, held the Trojans’ Colby Butczynski to a single 3-point basket, blocked four shots and altered several others with his 6-foot-5 frame.
“My dad and I always talk about, ‘If you can‘t get it going one way, do something else, whether it’s rebounding, playing defense or getting my teammates involved in the game,’’’ Faison added.
That they did.
As a team, the Cougars (4-3, 3-0 WVC) limited the sharpshooting Trojans to just 19 second-half points and kept them without a field goal for nearly the first six minutes of the decisive fourth quarter.
“We just missed shots and we weren’t assertive at the rim in the fourth quarter,’’ Trojans coach John Beggs said. “Then once we got behind, we had to change our plan a bit. ... We were disappointed we couldn’t score more with the veteran group that we have.’’
Nanticoke Area (7-1, 2-1) took a 42-39 lead on Dylan Szychowski’s two free throws at the 5:48 mark of the final period, but didn’t score again until Nate Kreitzer (game-high 17 points) drove the lane for a layup with 2:07 left.
Before that, however, Campbell drained the tying 3-pointer, Vayda made one of two free throws, Faison converted a three-point the conventional way, Wolk scored after a steal and then canned two fouls shots for a 50-42 Cougars lead.
After Kreitzer’s hoop stopped the bleeding for Nanticoke Area, Wolk flipped in a layup, Vayda beat the Trojans pressure for another deuce and Hazleton Area went on to hit five of eight free throws to seal its hard-earned win.
“It says a lot about our team because we were out of the Top 25 rankings on one website (LLHoops.com) and we beat the No. 1 team,’’ Faison said. “Hopefully, we opened a lot of peoples’ eyes and showed them that even though we lost a lot of our top guys ... that we can still come out and do what we need to do to win.’’
As well as the Cougars played at crunch time, they were even hotter at the start. They built a nine-point lead in the first quarter behind Seigendall’s seven quick points.
But the Trojans gradually began to find their shooting range, as Kreitzer was successful on a rare four-point play and J.J. Bielicki came off the bench to bury another three to pull his team within 21-15 by quarter’s end.
Nanticoke Area’s momentum continued into the second quarter as the Trojans outscored the Cougars 16-7, getting four baskets after offensive rebounds.
The lead changed hands four times in the quarter until Trahjan Krupinski nailed a triple and Szychowski and Kreitzer made jumpers to give the Trojans a 31-28 halftime edge.
Held to four points in the first half, Faison scored seven in the third quarter, but his team still trailed entering the final eight minutes.
However, Faison and his teammates rallied in the fourth to win going away.
“We really had to dig deep to win on our home floor against a really good team,’’ Hazleton Area head coach Mike Joseph said. “We didn’t do a very good job in the first three quarters getting on the offensive boards and we were kind of stagnant offensively ... but then we put a couple little wrinkles in to get us moving again.’’
And take care of Nanticoke Area again.
“For us to show that we could beat them shows that we could play with anyone in the conference,’’ Wolk said. “It was a big win for us.’’
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NANTICOKE (50) — Myers 0 0-0 0, Kreitzer 6 3-3 17, Bielecki 1 0-0 3, Butczynski 1 0-0 3, Brown 0 0-0 0, T. Krupinski 4 0-0 10, J. Krupinski 4 1-2 11, Kozlofski 0 0-0 0, Szychowski 2 2-2 6. Totals 18 6-7 50.
HAZLETON AREA (62) — Vayda 4 2-3 11, Wolk 3 4-5 11, Campbell 2 1-2 6, D’Angelo 0 0-0 0, Franek 1 3-6 6, Moronta-Alvarez 0 0-0 0, Norman 1 0-0 2, Faison 5 3-5 15, Seigendall 4 3-3 11. Totals 20 16-24 62.
Nant (7-1, 2-1) 15 16 9 10 — 50 HA (4-3, 3-0) 21 7 11 23 — 62
3-point FGs: Kreitzer 2, T. Krupinski 2, J. Krupinski 2, Bielecki, Butczynski, Faison 2, Vayda, Wolk, Campbell, Franek
JV score: Hazleton Area 45-36