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FROM THE PRESS BOX: THOUGHTS ON BASKETBALL AND WRESTLING (2021-01-26)

The Athens girls and boys basketball teams have offered up four — two apiece — of the most entertaining games of the young season.

The Lady Wildcats now have a pair of double-overtime victories under their belts after a 60-58 win over Sullivan County Monday night. They beat Northeast Bradford in two extra sessions in the season opener.

Athens is doing the things you need to do to win close games — rebound, make free throws, and take care of the ball.

Junior Caydence Macik has been a force on the boards this season, in particularly on the offensive glass. She scored on an offensive rebound last night with 2 seconds remaining in regulation to send the game into overtime.

The Lady Wildcats were 11 of 13 from the line against Sullivan County, with Macik and senior Kayleigh Miller each going 4-for-4. Sullivan County, on the other hand, made just 13 of 29 from the charity stripe.

On the season, Miller is shooting 93 percent from the line, and Macik is shooting at an 84 percent clip from the stripe.

The Lady Wildcats made more mistakes than is their norm against Sullivan County’s high-pressure defense, but when the game was on the line, they took good care of the ball.

Athens has winnable games against North Penn-Liberty — which upset Wyalusing last week, but were soundly beaten by Towanda and NEB — and Cowanesque Valley, so they should enter next week’s showdown with unbeaten Towanda at 9-1.

The Athens-Towanda match-up should be a good one.

The Lady Black Knights are more athletic, but the Lady Wildcats look to be more disciplined. The team that takes care of the ball, and stays out of foul trouble is the team most likely to win.

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The Athens boys have won five in a row since back-to-back losses to Mount Carmel and Troy, but two of those wins featured dramatic fourth-quarter comebacks on consecutive Fridays.

Trailing Wyalusing by 16 with five minutes remaining, Athens reeled off a 17-1 run to tie the game with 2 1/2 minutes remaining, then 6-4 sophomore Mason Lister canned a pair of 3-pointers in the final minute for a 52-51 win.

Last Friday, Athens trailed Wellsboro by 11 points with 3 1/2 minutes when 6-5 J.J. Babcock took over and scored 11 points in a 15-3 game-ending run.

The come-from-behind wins are exciting, but both were necessary because the first 3 1/2 quarters of basketball were not good.

The Wildcats are an immensely talented team, but are a bit lacksadaisical with the ball, and tend to take a lot of bad shots.

That said, the ceiling for this team is sky high.

When Babcock plays like he did in the final 3 1/2 minutes against Wyalusing — aggressively taking the ball to the bucket, and getting out on the break — he’s as good as anyone in the league.

Lister can score in the low-post, or step out and hit the 3. He can also handle the ball in transition, and can finish. They make a good 1-2 punch.

Junior Tucker Brown has always been very good on the defensive end. This year, he’s looking to score in transition, and to take the ball to the hoop in the half-court set.

Junior Shayne Reid, another good defender, has also been a little more offensive-minded, and 6-1 junior Troy Pritchard remains a presence in the low-post as a hard-nosed defender and rebounder, who can put the ball in the bucket.

And, 6-4 junior Nalen Carling, who played JV ball at Waverly last year, has been a big addition for the Wildcats this year. He can score in transition, and in the low post, He can also step out and knock down a jumper.

The Wildcats can overwhelm less than talented teams with its size and depth, but both comeback wins were against good, fundamentally-sound teams. They can’t make a habit of spotting those types of teams fourth-quarter leads and expecting good things to happen.

If Athens can iron out a few of the rough spots, this could be a really dangerous team in the postseason. Before we get to that, though, I’m looking forward to their rematch with Troy on Feb. 10.

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The Sayre boys are still searching for its groove.

Senior Matt Lane is an athletic point guard, who likes to push the tempo, and 6-5 senior Connor Young is one of the most improved players in the league, but a trio of under classmen appear poised to be the center pieces of this team.

Junior Dom Fabbri is showing he could be one of the top scorers in the league with his ability to knock down not only 3-pointers, but mid-range jumpers. He can take the ball to the hoop, too.

Sophomores Jackson Hubbard and Lucas Horton have also shown flashes of tremendous offensive potential.

Hubbard is a lanky guard with a smooth jumper and the ability to get to the rim, while Horton, at 6-3, can shoot the 3, and play in the low-post. They both need a little more confidence, and a little more polish, but the potential is there for a dynamic 1-2-3 punch for the Redskins.

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On the mats, junior Gavin Bradley has been dominant. He is 14-0, with four falls, two technical falls, and three major decisions. His closest match was a 6-0 win over Benton’s Dylan Granahan, who is 8-2 on the season.

Juniors Kaden Setzer (13-2) and Karter Rude (12-3) are off to very good starts, and senior Zach Stafursky (9-4), and sophomore Jake Courtney (7-4) have been solid, but several Wildcat newcomers are turning heads.

Sophomore Chris Bathgate is 11-4 in his first varsity season, while freshmen Mason Vanderpool is 8-2, and Josh Courtney is 7-3.

Athens is without three wrestlers (one with an injury and two that didn’t come out) it expected to have in the starting line-up this year, or this could have been a very interesting season. As it stands, the Wildcats are clearly the second-best team in the NTL.

It will be interesting to see how these younger wrestlers, as well as a couple of the veterans fare in the postseason.

My guess is Bradley will have some company at the Northeast Regionals, but the odds of advancing anyone else other than Bradley to Super Regionals appear slim.

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