WILKES-BARRE TWP. – From the boys big schools to the smallest of the girls schools and from offense far away from the basket to defense protecting the glass, JB Hoops players were among the youngsters making a major impact March 2-4 when District 2 of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association held its basketball championships at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza for the second straight year.
Freshmen and sophomores left their stamps all over the 3-day, 12-game championship series.
Sophomores Trey Koehler and George Tinsley were part of the offensive show that the state-ranked Abington Heights boys put on in extending the longest run of District 2 success with a championship on the Class 5A level.
Freshman Mackenzie Steele highlighted the defensive performance that made Class A Susquehanna a District 2 girls champion for the first time.
Koehler put on the best individual long-range shooting performance in the 20 championship games that have been held at the arena while Tinsley joined him in helping Abington Heights produce the best team show when it came to shooting from long distance.
Steele made even the closest of shots difficult. She set the arena championship game record for blocked shots.
Koehler, Tinsley, and Steele, along with Keiran Burrier from Holy Cross and Mason Deakin from Susquehanna, the leading scorers on two more boys championship teams, highlighted the standout games by freshman and sophomore players who have honed their games in the Backcourt Hoops training and AAU programs on the way to excelling on the high school level.
They joined Holy Redeemer’s Collin Cook and Nick Prociak on the boys side as well as Holy Redeemer’s Samantha Yencha and Susquehanna’s Taylor Huyck on the girls side among the freshmen and sophomores who were leaders of district championship efforts.
Other young JB Hoops players who made significant contributions to championship efforts were Leo O’Boyle for Scranton Prep and Tommy Montefour for Holy Cross.
Lisa Tallo and Victoria Toomey from the Dunmore girls and Phillip Byriel from the MMI Prep boys played well in defeat.
Collectively, the freshman and sophomore group provided good signs of the quality basketball that could be ahead in future seasons in District 2.
Koehler was the highest-scoring player on the highest-scoring effort to date in championship games at the arena.
Abington Heights won its sixth straight District 2 championship when it defeated West Scranton, 77-41, for the Class 5A boys title in the nightcap of the second day of action.
Other players have matched the four 3-pointers that Koehler made while scoring 20 points, but none have done so in just five attempts during an arena championship game.
Tinsley made two of his three 3-point shots to join Koehler as part of Abington Heights shooting 61.9 percent (13-for-21) from long range.
They did their damage right from the start.
“We came out aggressive and we knew we just had to play strong from the beginning,” Koehler said.
Tinsley connected twice when the Comets started 7-for-7, including five 3-pointers, for a 20-3 lead just 4:28 into the game. Koehler joined in later in the first quarter, hitting two bombs 1:25 apart for a 29-10 lead with a minute left.
Koehler was 4-for-4 on 3-pointers in the first half before missing his only attempt of the second half. The 6-foot-2 guard finished 7-for-10 from the floor with team-highs of 6 rebounds and 3 steals to go along with his 20 points and 4 assists.
“I just tried to have a lot of fun at the game and make sure that I could bring a lot of intensity to our team,” Koehler said.
Tinsley, a 6-foot-5 forward, was 4-for-5 overall from the floor for 12 points.
Steele made her impact on the other end of the floor as part of a unique defense that Lady Sabers coach Errol Mannick sprung on his Lackawanna League Division 4 rivals to try to settle their series after each team had beaten the other twice during the league season.
While her teammates took care of shutting down Forest City’s dangerous perimeter game, the 6-foot-2 center was all by herself to protect the basket in an inverted triangle-and-two defense.
Steele handled the role flawlessly, avoiding foul trouble while blocking nine shots.
She was particularly effective in the second half while shutting down Forest City comeback attempts in the 34-28 victory that gave Susquehanna its first district title since playing in the now-defunct District 12 in 1996. Steele’s seven second-half blocks were a big reason the Lady Foresters shot 4-for-23 from inside the arc after halftime.
Mannick said having Steele in the back “makes it a lot easier,” to play the gimmick defense.
“She’s a high-level player,” Mannick said. “I trust her 100 percent.”
Steele also grabbed 13 rebounds, scored 8 points and made 2 steals in the win.
Forest City had averaged 44.3 points against Susquehanna in the first four meetings, including scoring 49 to win the all-season division championship game.
Burrier also led his team’s defensive effort while also finishing as the high scorer, all while coming off the bench for Holy Cross in a 46-18 rout of Mountain View for the District 2 Class 2A boys title.
The 5-foot-10 freshman guard led yet another effort that set the standard as the best to date in a final at the arena. The 18 points allowed were the fewest in any of those games.
Burrier had a game-high five steals to key a defense that forced 20 turnovers while limiting an overmatched Mountain View team to 18.8 percent shooting for the game. The Eagles shot just 7.1 percent in the second half when they made only 1 field goal in 14 attempts.
On the offensive side, Burrier went 6-for-10 from the floor, including 2-for-3 on 3-pointers, to score a game-high 14 points. He also was the game’s top defensive rebounder (seven) and second-leading rebounder overall (eight).
Deakin had 8 of his 20 points in a three-minute stretch of the first quarter while Susquehanna was scoring nine straight for a 15-4 lead on the way to a 55-32 win over MMI Prep in the District 2 Class A boys final.
The 5-foot-10 guard helped Susquehanna transition from an 8-game losing streak to winning 6 of its last 10 games, including tying for second place in the second-half Lackawanna Division 4 standings with a 4-2 record.
In addition to sharing team scoring honors in the district final, Deakin led the Sabers in assists (five) and steals (three).
O’Boyle moved into the Scranton Prep starting lineup in place of an injured teammate and helped the Cavaliers to their third straight District 2 title with a 64-45 victory over Wilkes-Barre GAR in the Class 4A boys final.
The 6-foot-7 sophomore forward/center hit half of his 10 shots while scoring 10 points, grabbing 8 rebounds and dishing out 4 assists.
Montefour went 3-for-4 in the second half to help Holy Cross outscore Mountain View, 21-6, and run away with the Class 2A title. The 6-foot sophomore forward finished with eight points, four rebounds and two steals.
Toomey and Tallo were the top two scorers, combining for all but 10 of Dunmore’s points when the previously undefeated Lady Bucks fell to Holy Redeemer, 51-37, in the Class 3A girls final.
Toomey, a 6-foot sophomore forward/center, was 7-for-14 from the floor while scoring 15 points before fouling out.
While her teammates were missing all 16 of their 3-point shots, Tallo was going 4-for-6 from beyond the arc. The 5-foot-6 sophomore guard had 12 points.
Byriel was MMI Prep’s leading scorer (nine), rebounder (eight) and shot blocker (six) in the loss to Susquehanna. His blocks were the most to date by a boys player at the arena.
Koehler, Tinsley, Steele, Burrier, O’Boyle, Montefour, Tallo and Toomey will all continue on into PIAA state tournament play with their teams. First-round action is scheduled for Friday and Saturday.
Backcourt Hoops, based out of Riverfront Sports in Scranton, conducts basketball training and organizes leagues and teams, including AAU travel teams JB Hoops, Backcourt Hoops and NEPA Flames.