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Four teams make Mid-Penn tournaments

February 09, 2007|by DAN KAUFFMAN

Believe it or not, the playoffs are here for Pennsylvania basketball teams.

Four area teams have qualified for the Mid-Penn tournaments, starting next week. No. 2 James Buchanan (19-3), No. 4 Chambersburg (17-5) and Greencastle-Antrim (12-10) are scheduled to play first-round boys tournament games Tuesday night at 7. The Waynesboro girls (11-11) will travel to one of three schools on Monday at 7 for their first-round girls game.

No team enters the Mid-Penn Tournament with as much momentum as the Rockets, the Capital Division champions who have been flying high since an exhilarating 52-49 victory over Chambersburg at home one week ago.

"Certainly, we (are confident)," JB coach Larry Strawoet said. "Overall, our kids are playing well as a team. Our schedule, having played some of the competition we've played, has really helped us."

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The Rockets will host the Keystone Division runner-up - either Susquehanna Township or Trinity - on Tuesday.

James Buchanan has plenty of firepower to throw at either team. Senior center Shane Rife is averaging 19.1 points, 10.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game, while senior guard Brandon Bryan is averaging 17.9 points per game and shooting 42.6 percent from 3-point range.

Senior point guard Dion Lehman means just as much. He is averaging 12.4 points and 4.0 assists and is instrumental on defense.

"Dion has to guard the best player on every other team we play, as well as handle the point," Strawoet said. "When you look at it overall, he's very important for our team. Dion brings a lot of things to the floor that don't show up in the stats."

As always, team defense will be a priority for the Rockets. They allowed opponents just 49.1 points per game on average this season.

"As a whole, we need to play well on both sides of the ball - especially on the defensive end - and get positive minutes from our bench," Strawoet said. "One individual is not going to do it for us, it has to be a team."

The setback to James Buchanan notwithstanding, the Trojans have enjoyed a memorable campaign in which they met their goal to finish no worse than second in the Commonwealth Division.

"It's exciting for our program," Chambersburg coach Shawn Shreffler said. "We thought that was a realistic goal and we're proud to represent our league and our school. Hopefully we can build momentum heading into the District 3 (playoffs)."

The Trojans' second-place finish earned them the right to travel to face Colonial Division champion East Pennsboro on Tuesday.

The Panthers lost to James Buchanan 61-45 on Dec. 8, and defeated Greencastle 78-72 on Jan. 20.

"I haven't put a whole lot of thought into them yet," said Chambersburg coach Shawn Shreffler, who first must lead the Trojans up I-81 tonight for a rematch with Commonwealth champion and state power Harrisburg. "I saw (East Pennsboro) play against Greencastle. I know they're very strong at the guard spots. I think they've won 12 games in row. They're a quality basketball team, and they're also going to be playing at home. ... We need to bring postseason energy."

While junior forward Armond Perez (14.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.5 blocks) and junior guard Aaron Hill (12.9 points) are the only players who average more than 10 points per game for the Trojans, three other players average at least eight - senior forward Nate Strickler (8.8 points, 3.3 assists), junior forward DeVonte Merritt (8.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.1 blocks) and senior forward Jamill Whitehead (8.0 points).

And just like the Rockets, the Trojans get it done on the defensive end, holding opponents to an average of 49.4 points per game. They're coming off an impressive 54-37 victory over Bishop McDevitt on Tuesday.

"I thought we played really good defense against McDevitt, maybe one of our best defensive performances of the year," Shreffler said. "I strongly feel defense wins championships. You don't always know when the offense will show up, but when you play good defense, you always have an opportunity to win."

The Blue Devils' roller coaster of a season has had just enough ups in it to give them a shot at reaching the heights of last season, when they reached the final of both the Mid-Penn and PIAA District 3 tournaments.

The Capital Division runners-up have a tall test - literally - ahead of themselves, however. Greencastle will travel to play Keystone Division champion Red Land on Tuesday.

"I went and saw them play, and they're real big," Blue Devils coach Garon Gembe said. "They start 6-7, 6-6 and 6-5 across the front line, and one of our weaknesses a little bit is our size. We don't match up real well, so it's imperative we shoot the ball well that game.

"They didn't win the Keystone division for no reason. They won it because they're a very good basketball team. We're going to be challenged at every position. It will be a very challenging test, I'm sure."

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