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Slow start sparks Spartans' playoff run

March 08, 2002|BY DAN KAUFFMAN

McCONNELLSBURG, Pa. - If there's a lesson that comes with the McConnellsburg boys basketball team's season, it is this: It's not about how you start, but how you finish.

After a roller coaster first 12 games that left the Spartans at 6-6, McConnellsburg (19-8) put the pieces together and won 13 of its next 14 games, culminating with its first berth in the PIAA Class A state tournament since 1991.

"We peaked at the end, we peaked about the right time," Spartans coach Denny Pollock said.

After starting the season 6-3, McConnellsburg absorbed a 14-point loss to Forbes Road, a 32-point thumping against Southern Fulton and a 10-point, overtime loss to Tussey Mountain.

Still, Pollock saw something in his kids perhaps even they didn't.

"I told the kids down there the night we lost to Southern Fulton, I knew they weren't that much better than us," Pollock said. "The turnaround game for us, we played Tussey Mountain at home, and we were 6-5. We lost that game in overtime ... but I think after that game, the kids understood we could play with anybody in our league or our area."

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First, the four seniors - forwards Steve Weller and Mike Hill, center Josh Lininger and guard Drew Washabaugh - started stepping up.

"We needed the same kids who have been through this team the last couple of years - we haven't been that good - to step up and go to next level," Pollock said. "Give them a lot of credit."

Then, everyone took the seniors' cue. Four players have scored 20 or more points in a game for McConnellsburg, and two others have scored 19 in a game.

"That's been our key," Pollock said. "We've had guys step up on different nights, and that really pushed us during that stretch."

When junior point guard Jordan Ott went down for a month with a hairline fracture in his hip, sophomore Scott Earley moved up from the junior varsity squad. He's been a key figure thus far in the Spartans' surge to the state tournament.

"Coming from the JV (and) going straight to varsity, I never expected to get what I got out of him," Pollock said. "The other guys, they stepped it up a little bit, and they had to."

When Ott returned, McConnellsburg found itself deeper, with two point guards capable of running the show.

"(Ott) gives us more options," Pollock said. "He's a little rusty since he's been out, be he'll hopefully make our bench stronger."

It's all added up to a surprising turnaround in which the Spartans avenged earlier losses to Forbes Road and Southern Fulton.

In the District 5 playoffs, McConnellsburg beat Salisbury in the quarterfinals, then edged Turkeyfoot 56-55 in the semis to secure their trip to states.

Pollock attributes a 69-60 loss to Conemaugh Township in the district final to a lack of playoff experience.

"We were down two with 30 seconds left and made three straight turnovers," Pollock said. "A little bit of that is not (having been) there."

Pollock knows to make a deep run in the state tournament, Cinderella's slipper will have to fit the Spartans well ... or at least well enough to give them a chance. McConnellsburg opens today at 7:30 against Monessen (22-5) in the first round at Ringgold High School.

"We're an underdog," Pollock admits. "Hopefully we go out there, do the underdog role ... stay in the game, and hope we have a chance at the end."

PIAA Class A First Round

Today: McConnellsburg

vs. Monessen at

Ringgold High School

Time: 7:30

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