20170315-ce-sp Akers

Johnsonburg’s Drew Akers looks to make a pass to a teammate during a regular season game at Brockway. Akers and the Rams, fresh off a PIAA first-round win over Jamestown, play District 6 champ Saltsburg Thursday at Clearfield High School in the second round of the Class A state playoffs.

File photo by Chris Wechtenhiser

HYDE — With a successful, albeit shaky first round showing under their belts and the first jitters of the state playoffs shaken off and set behind them, the Johnsonburg boys basketball team looks to get back to brass tacks Thursday night with a decisive and strong second round victory at Clearfield High School.

Despite defeating Jamestown last weekend by a final of 49-39, the Rams’ roster struggled all night offensively and on the foul-line, sparking some doubts and lingering questions as to the longevity of Johnsonburg’s state playoff run.

However, those questions could be silenced if the blue-and-gold defeat their second-round opponents, Heritage Conference and District 6 Class A champion Saltsburg, by a more offensively and defensively sound effort.

The Trojans come into the second round of the state playoffs with a 25-1 overall record and a heap of momentum after defeating Vincentian Academy 63-57 in the first round. It was the first state playoff game Saltsburg played since 2007, and the District 6 champs made the most of their long awaited opportunity with a more than convincing win.

During the matchup, Saltsburg went 21-for-22 at the free-throw line, with senior Dan Shirley making all 15 of his attempts to end the contest with a game-high 19 points. Seniors Jordan Booth and Skylar Sphon also hit double-digit figures, as the two Trojans scored 15 and 10 points respectively.

That’s not even factoring in Saltsburg’s other top scorers into the picture, as the Trojans possess three players on their roster who are consistent double-figure scorers.

Senior Nick Porter leads the team with a points-per-game average of 21.0, while fellow senior Frank Plowman averages 13.2. Shirley, himself, is the third top-scorer on the Saltsburg team, with his 12.5 point-average and 8.2 rebound-average a key factor in the Trojans’ seasonal success.

Overall, Saltsburg’s offense averages 73.9 points-per-game, a statistic further proven by their regular season record, where the Trojans won eight games by 30 or more points.

With numbers like those, the chances of a Saltsburg quarterfinal appearance are very real. However, much of the Trojans’ success has also been accomplished in a conference with little actual competition.

Saltsburg finished the regular season with an overall record of 21-1 and a conference record of 12-1 to take the top seed, but from there, the differences between the other District 6 teams become apparent.

Ligonier Valley (16-5, 11-1) was the only team to come close to the Trojans’ finishing place in the standings, and they were only the third-seed in the conference. West Shamokin earned second place in the standings at 12-9 and 8-0, but were quickly outed of the District 6 title hunt by the hands of Ligonier. Homer-Center (12-11) placed fourth and Purchase Line (15-10) fifth, with all other teams finishing bellow .500.

Compared to Johnsonburg, which plays against the likes of District 9 champion Elk County Catholic (27-0), Kane (16-8), Brockway (16-10) and a fiercely competitive Ridgway team (22-5), Saltsburg’s schedule is far less difficult than their District 9 opponent’s.

That fact alone could give the Rams the advantage heading into tomorrow’s contest, and coupled with a balanced offense and aggressive defense, Johnsonburg’s shot at a PIAA Class A quarterfinal appearance only grows in size.

Should the Rams be victorious tomorrow night, they would go on to face either WPIAL champion Monessen (20-6) or District 5 champion Shanksville (25-1) at a time and date to be determined.

Johnsonburg and Saltsburg square-off against each other tomorrow evening at Clearfield Area High School with tip-off set for 6 p.m.

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