HUGHESVILLE–Sullivan County features just one senior starter and three athletes who played extended minutes a year ago. The Griffins also had not played a game in two weeks entering the Bill Babcock Christmas Tournament.
There have been obstacles for sure, but the Griffins are a team with a lot of quality pieces. Thursday against defending District 4 Class AA champion Wyalusing, Sullivan started vaulting those obstacles and the pieces began falling into place. And finishing third there might just be the springboard this promising team needed.
All-tournament selection Riley King scored 17 points, three players grabbed at least six rebounds and every Griffin played his role well as Sullivan County defeated Wyalusing, 50-44. The Griffins erased a four-point second-quarter deficit, built a 10-point fourth-quarter lead and then answered the bell after Wyalusing pulled within two late. It was the first step forward for a team which could make some big ones as the season continues.
“I feel as long as we keep playing as a team today we’ll be in good shape,” King said after scoring 14 second-half points and adding three steals. “Everyone shared the basketball and everybody put the ball in the hoop a couple times. If we keep doing that, we can really do some great stuff this year.”
Sullivan did some pretty good stuff Thursday.
A night after battling tournament champion Hughesville hard in the semifinals, Sullivan executed its offense well, efficiently moved the basketball, played unselfishly and locked in defensively. The Griffins (2-3) never trailed after taking a 21-17 halftime lead and both starters and reserves flourished.
Bryon Fitzgerald played a strong all-around game and was crucial in building the halftime advantage, finishing with nine points, six rebounds and three assists. Trey Higley scored eight points and pulled down six rebounds; Landon Baldwin added six rebounds and Ben Carpenter was a factor on both ends.
“That’s how we have to be. We don’t have a superstar where we can rely on him to do everything for us. We have five players on the court who any time they are on the court can put the ball in the basket and play good defense,” Sullivan coach Glenn Vaughan said. “As we buy into that we’re going to get better and better as the season goes on. When we over-dribble and try to do stuff individually is when we’re not good. (Wednesday) we did too much of that. Tonight we shared the basketball and took advantage of mistakes on defense when we had opportunities.”
Sullivan closed the first half on an 8-0 run and started taking control in the third quarter. King was a force during that time, scoring 11 points and making all but one of his six shots from the field and foul line. King’s second 3-pointer gave Sullivan a 33-23 lead and the Griffins maintained that entering the fourth quarter.
It was a strong performance by one of the few players who played a lot last season when Sullivan reached the district semifinals.
“I feel I can be the guy if they need me to be,” King said. “Whenever they’re in trouble I’m there to help.”
Blake Morningstar capped a dominant tournament performance for Wyalusing, scoring 22 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. He set a tournament record with 29 points in a semifinal loss against Jersey Shore and helped the Rams rally in the fourth quarter. Morningstar scored eight points in the quarter’s opening six minutes and Grayden Cobb’s runner pulled Wyalusing within 46-44 with two minutes remaining.
Instead of wilting, Sullivan brilliantly ran time off the clock, burning a minute before Fitzgerald drained two free throws. Sullivan did not allow another point and coming up big when the pressure was highest was another monster step in the right direction.
“We got up 10 and they came back, so this was a big learning game for us because once they made that run and got it to two we had two choices: We could hang our heads and pout and hope for mom and dad to fix everything for us, or we could be men and suck it up and get the job done and that’s what we did,” Vaughan said. “We composed ourselves, we stopped turning the ball over, we made some free throws and played defense. It’s one of those great games to grow up with.”
Grayden Cobb 5 2-2 12, Blake Morningstar 9 4-7 22, Kashawn Cameron 3 1-3 7, Hunter Moss 0 0-0 0, Abram Bennett 1 0-0 3, Nolan Oswald 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 7-12 44.
Riley King 6 2-3 17, Trey Higley 3 2-2 8, Bryon Fitzgerald 1 7-10 9, Ben Carpenter 1 2-6 5, Landon Baldwin 0 4-6 4, Connor Smithkors 2 0-0 4, Maddox Bahr 1 0-0 3. Totals 14 17-26 50.
Wyalusing 10 7 10 17-44
Sullivan 10 11 16 13-50
3-pointers: Wyalusing 1 (Bennett); Sullivan 5 (King 3, Carpenter, Bahr).
Records: Sullivan County 2-3. Wyalusing 4-4.